Grandma died on a Friday. Grandpa died just two years earlier on a Friday. The house felt empty, utterly alone. Everything stood still, frozen in time. Her kitchen, that only a week before was a bustle with baking, now stood lifeless.
My trip back to Grandma’s kitchen was wrought with emotion. Such sadness plagued me with the absolute quiet of the room. I closed my eyes tight, summoning every memory of childhood blessed by that kitchen. I opened them slowly and a calm came over me.
The smell of maple still hung in the air as I went closer to the kitchen counter where the old cookie jar still sat. I stared at the brown, translucent, square container, willing it to open. Finally I reached for it, sliding it along the counter top towards me. I ran my index finger around and around the top of the lid, tracing the shape and contours of the plastic. Holding the container with one hand, I used the other hand to lift the lid, making a ‘pop’ sound that echoed through the room. The Canadian-made, maple-leaf shaped cookies stared back at me. They were Grandpa’s favourite indulgence. Grandma knew I hated them. Just the smell used to make me gag, but now I breathed in the maple scent deeply and let it warm my lungs. I reached in and took one out and set it on the white and yellow, swirled counter top. I put the lid back on the jar and pushed it slowly back to line up with the smaller sized jars. One was filled with chocolate Oreo cookies, the ones I actually used to eat when I visited, but those ones didn’t interest me today. I left the cookie sitting there. I wondered if I would eat it later.
I turned, leaned back, and with mind numb, gazed round the u-shaped room. Near the baseboard, a green leaf floated from the pattern of the ancient wallpaper and beckoned me. I crouched down and grabbed its tip and pulled ever so gently, the sound ripping through the dead air. I stopped to look around, hoping my dad hadn’t noticed my car parked in the laneway. Having your grandparents as neighbours all your life sure had its ups and downs – privacy being a big sacrifice. I wondered how they felt about living next to their son, his wife and four kids.
Back to the task at hand, I continued to pull only to discover wallpaper on top of wallpaper. Of course, the second layer was also green, my grandma’s favourite colour. Not a nice green, but a lime shade that made me scrunch up my nose in distaste. The ghastly colour traced around big, faded white doilies in the hopes of painting a pretty picture. Forty years ago, delicate hands picked out this pattern with care. At some point my Grandma had loved it, but then styles change and so do our standards. With one quick swipe, I tore the wallpaper’s green leaf completely free, folded it and stuffed it in my jeans pocket. Strange keepsake. I wondered if Grandma would understand the sentimental value.
I heard the click, click, click of the electric base heater firing up. I guess nobody had turned the heat down when she went into the hospital. Being November, the air was getting a chill most days now. I turned to face the inners of the kitchen again and rested my butt on the top of the heater that was attached to the wall. I leaned my head back and relaxed it just below the massive gold-trimmed mirror above. I never understood having a mirror in the kitchen, but I suppose she had to put something on that useless wall. I wondered if she paid much attention to her reflection during the years she spent cooking in there.
I envisioned her flitting through the room, opening one dark, walnut cupboard, then the next. She’s standing at the stove, stirring a pot of beef gravy, while reaching up and grabbing spices to add to the mixture. Her gravy was always pretty good, although I think she could have added more salt most times. I wondered if her mother taught her much about flavouring back in the day.
I walked to the sink and glanced outside the little window built just above the tap. My dad’s truck was parked next door. Not sure how much time he has spent here since the funeral, but I am guessing quite a bit. I leaned closer to the glass, licked my finger, and smudged a dirty spot right in the middle of my view till it was somewhat clean. She couldn’t have had time to clean it before leaving for her surgery. Doesn’t seem to matter much now. I pushed the little, white, lacy curtains back a bit, then randomly turned the tap on and off. The noise of the running water was comforting. Her yellow colander would sit in the sink as she ran water over the pasta to rinse it. I wondered where that colander was kept.
I opened cupboards and drawers as I moved around the curvature of the room. She had so many cookbooks jammed into one drawer I could barely open it. Further down there was another one we all designate the ‘junk drawer’ with miscellaneous crap we can’t find a spot for. Below it was a pull-out cupboard that actually ran on a track. When I yanked on the oversized bronze handle the whole piece slid out. This is where she kept her canned goods. It was lined with shelves on either side, and was stuffed full of corn, peas, chickpeas (yuck), and piles of tuna and salmon. I shoved the door shut. I wondered if my Grandpa designed it specifically for her when he built the house some thirty years ago.
Leaning my back against the counter, I spread my arms slowly down the sides of the smooth edges. Closing my eyes, I breathe deeply. The smells flood my nose and spread like wildfire. The sweet maple, a whiff of lilac, and that unmistakable Grandma smell that is unique to everyone who has a Grandma. I closed my eyes and let the memories roll over me. Then bitterness came and it was too much to bear. Sobs came in waves. I curled into a ball, hugging myself. Hard. When there were no more tears, I wiped my face on my sleeve. From my floor seat, I was offered a view of the underside of the kitchen table. A waded up piece of faded pink gum was stuck to the lip of the wood. A giggle escaped me. I wondered who was bold enough to stick gum to Grandma’s oak table.
Picking myself up, I walked towards the door, but the pocket of my sweater snagged on the handle of the broom closet as I breezed by. As if beckoning me to stay, it swung open with the momentum of my body. I stepped back and unhinged my pocket, thankful it didn’t rip during the rather awkward encounter. The inside of the door stared at me. The dark inside of the closet door was covered with newspaper clippings. They were stories I wrote from years earlier when I worked as a reporter for the local newspaper. She cut them from her weekly subscription and taped them in every direction. In the middle of the articles was my personal column about getting my graduated driver license after six horrible attempts, with my smiling headshot attached alongside. I ran my fingers gracefully along the grey, inked paper, smoothing it flat against the door. Years of my work were stashed away in her broom closet. I never knew.
With a sigh, I slowly shut the closet door. I walked towards the counter top and scooped up the maple leaf cookie. I took a nibble. As the maple flavor hit my taste buds, I wrinkled my face in disgust. Blah!
I wondered how long the kitchen would smell of yucky maple cookies. And how long my heart would ache.