The Spice of Life (or a Bottle of Mom Magic)

Shortly after my Mom passed away, my Dad fell and broke his hip. He stayed with us after he got out of rehabilitation – and ended up living with us for a little over four years. When it came time to sell his house, Dad had to endure what every widower or widow must face… downsizing. That’s a terrible word for it, but it beats using words like throwing away or tossing out.

Many items went to a local donation center – some things to his church for a garage sale – and a few went to auction. All those things, those vessels of memory… even the smallest keepsake can be hard to let go of (a pearl-handled hair brush, a picture she painted of an ocean scene, a porcelain bowl she used to love).

When it came time to pack up the kitchen, he told me to take what I wanted. I didn’t have a clue, so I came up with a single criterion for choosing what to put in the box to take home: only take things with memories attached. So… no for the kitchen shears, but yes for the old wooden spoon (an ancient and familiar family artifact) – no for the baguette pans, but yes for the cookie sheets (she used them to make batches of her delicious chocolate chip cookies), no for the oven mitts, but yes for that big blue bowl, and so on.

I tossed all of the stuff in her spice drawer into the take home box. When I got home, I checked the freshness dates on each of the bottles. Because Mom was not well for the last two years of her life, she did little cooking (at least in the way she used to when she was in perfect health). Most of the spices were past their expiration. I tossed the lot into the garbage.

That night, I had strange dreams and remember tossing about and not getting a wink of quality sleep. Something wasn’t right.

When I woke up, I knew exactly what was off. The spices. Those stale, out-of-date spices in little plastic bottles. They had no special meaning, no story that brought them alive to me, but they were what my Mom – a foodie to the core – used to make her magic. That was it – those spices were little bottles of Mom magic and I had thrown them away.

I quickly ran downstairs and out to the curb where the garbage and recycling cans were waiting for the trash truck. Please, please don’t let me be late, I thought as I threw open the garbage can lid. Yes! I got there in time!

My neighbors, if they peeked out of their curtains, would have seen me half-laughing, half-crying as I pushed the garbage can over and began rifling through the spilled refuse to salvage two dozen small bottles. I brought them inside, wiped them down and had an instant vision of what to do with them. I went into the basement workshop and retreived a conical bottle with a quaint little cork stopper that was sitting unused on my shelf.

One by one, I began emptying the spice bottles into the tall vessel. Layer after layer of Mom magic going all the way to the top. With cork in place, I set the spice bottle on the kitchen counter and knew that I had done the right thing. Somehow, more than any of the other items I brought home with me from my Dad’s house, that tower of spices evokes my Mom’s spirit. It has since held a place of prominence in our living space (currently in the corner of our dining room) and brings me great comfort every time I look at it.

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