#reverb12: if I had a time machine
Is there a time to which you would like to return? Describe it: the sights, sounds, smells, who was there, what was going on. Why would you like to return? (Lee Currie)
I am not big on regrets or carrying around what could have beens, so I'm interpreting this prompt as being more about reliving a moment again, which is actually quite a cool idea. There are many moments I'd want to live again but because I feel like time with my grandmother is so short due to her worsening mental health, I instantly thought of a time when I lived with her.
We are in the kitchen, my grandmother, great-grandmother and I. Cornbread is baking and I am making a roux for gumbo we will add to throughout the day. Granny stands behind me, explaining the steps, telling a story of a time she almost ruined gumbo because she used too much flour when beginning the roux. I say, "I don't believe you could ever screw up a gumbo."
She laughs, her deep-throated whole body laugh, "Oh, no honey, I saved it in the end. I just kept adding in that stock, thankful I had plenty from the chicken I made a few days before. But it was almost a disaster," she pauses, "Almost." This she says with a wink and I breathe in the smell of bay leaves and peppers as I stir. My grandmother peels shrimp at the counter and hums a song I remember her singing when I was a girl. "Heaven, I'm in Heaven..."
I am heady with nostalgia, drunk with the smell of what will become tomorrow's meal. I understand the time a good meal takes, the way cooking like this leaves room for stories, for sharing the way we are doing now, three generations of women in the kitchen.
"Do you remember when Grandaddy had a shrimp boat," I ask her. I recall a smaller kitchen, full of people, stories rising against one another, ballgame in the background, dinner simmering on the stove, someone else's hands stirring while Grandmother braids my hair. I am eleven, in satin pajamas, fresh from a bath. My brother squeals with laughter from another room and I can hear my grandfather making silly voices. I am jolted from this memory by my Grandmother's voice.
"He just decided one day he was going to buy a boat and become a shrimper. Of course, he only went out a few times; mostly, he left it up to someone else to do the shrimping, but for a while, he came home with shrimp every day." She smiles a little, remembering my grandfather and his schemes.
"He was a big dreamer," my Granny interjects.
"I stood him up, you know," Grandmother recalls, telling me a story I've heard before but love so much I only nod slowly as she continues. "On our first date. I told Momma to tell him I wasn't home; isn't that terrible?"
"But he came back." Granny says. "He was determined, that boy."
I try to imagine my grandfather as a young man, courting the woman he met while recovering from tonsilitis. I see him in a suit and tie, flowers in hand and his defeat when Granny tells him my grandmother is out. I wonder if he thought he got the date or time wrong. I imagine him returning home, forming a plan to seek the woman out, possibly at the hospital where she is a nurse.
"Yes," Gran says, "He won me over, in the end. He was cute with his mustache."
"He reminded me of Errol Flynn," Granny says.
My grandmother laughs and pushes the hair out of her face with the side of her hand.
And I remember a photograph of the two of them, my grandparents, dancing and I think of the song she was humming, "when we're dancing cheek to cheek."
Suddenly we are silent. The roux sizzles and I turn my attention back to it. I resist the urge to check the cornbread, trusting Granny's timing. She busies herself chopping more vegetables for the roux. Gran begins to hum again and I am lost in the smells of this kitchen, the moment of the three of us cooking together, the memories of my grandfather, and the stories of us all.
If I had a time machine, I would go back to any number of moments like this, cooking with my Grandmother and her mother, telling stories. Or I could back even further, running around my Granny's house, playing in the leftover scraps from her sewing, imagining all sorts of worlds for myself, making bead necklaces with string and cloth and buttons and beads. Any time that I could relive with my grandparents would be wonderful. I loved my great-grandmother fiercely and she is such a big part of my life as a girl that I can't imagine returning to any other time that doesn't include her. Not a day goes by that I don't miss the woman I called Granny, the one I teased about being a dressmaker, the woman who cared for me, the one I watched the "Price is Right" with and all her "stories," whose yard I made my playground, and from whom I learned most of what I know about cooking. I miss her laugh, her sense of humor, the way she told stories. To relive any day with her again, would be amazing. I hope I could convey in the moments I relived how deeply she affected my life and how much I adore her.