Preface Note: Recently I had the pleasure of spending the weekend with my writing teacher and a group of marvelous women writers. While we were tucked into the mountains, our brothers and sisters in the Carolinas were preparing for hurricane Florence to make landfall. Our writing instructor asked us to connect with those fleeing the path of the storm by considering what one thing we would take with us if we had to leave home in a hurry. The following is my imagining of being forced to consider what I would feel had to leave home with me and my family.
I can tell you that this exercise was a prayer for all of us. More than a few of the writers shed tears as they shared their reflections. This prompt from our teacher gave us a way to access the compassion and heartache we were, and are, feeling for our neighbors to the East.
I know I haven’t shared fiction before, but I was encouraged to make and exception for this one. May it kindle prayers for those who are and will be returning home to flooded homes and communities.
Derek runs out in the rain, carrying William and yelling at the girls to hurry as they trail behind him. He grabbed the baby portraits and the only photos we have of his father, dead these past eighteen years. My life already is in the car, all that I hold precious to me, in those four souls. I’ve never been sentimental about things because all is illusion except the desperate love that pours out of me towards the car that now shields all that is important in my life.
I turn back to look at the house, frantic to consider last things. What do I take? What would break me to leave behind? I run back in, hoping those quick steps will spur my heart to yearn for something tangible.
I pass through the front door, glancing at my daughter’s room then up the stairs. No, nothing there will matter in the end. No books or clothes or even photos will change the reality of what is to come. I round the corner into living room, already mourning the loss of our favorite evenings spent curled by the fire. We filled this space with our favorite things and bought furniture and art to match our lives rather than any fad or fashion. If I could box up a room, I would take this one.
My eyes look across the room to my beautiful table, a gift from Derek to me and I to him when we married. We knew then that friends, food, and family would be fundamental to our life together.
Behind it, I eye the item I would grab had I the room and the strength: the cupboard made by my grandfather’s strong hands. He was a barrel of a man who built furniture to match his boxey and burly frame. It sat in my grandmother’s dining area in their small home then waited in storage for Derek and me after she departed this earth. The cupboard is hulking, imperfect, wholly unique. The china and crystal it holds is nothing compared to my memories tucked into the corners and drawers. My life and my heritage reflect back at me in the crude doors with their glass panes. One grandparent made it, but within the grains of wood I have tucked every one of my ancestors, my German, Scottish, and British bloodlines painted in the red of the stained wood.
No. I cannot take it with me. It too will have to disappear like the people before it.
I force myself to pass through the kitchen. This is my room, my refuge, my identity, yet I’ve cooked in enough kitchens to know that I can make a home in any one of them. I’m tempted to grab the vegetable cleaver Derek gave me this past Christmas. I love the feel of the wooden handle and the heft of the blade as it slices with ease through round butternuts and beautiful onions bursting with sulphur. To hold and wield this knife is to hold my husband himself, his dichotomy of rough and smooth, strength and ease magnificently manifest in it.
But I move, instead, to the wall at my left and take down my massive cast iron skillet. The survivor in me knows that this is the thing that must travel with us when all else cannot. It is not a family heirloom – it was a gift from Derek the year of our iron anniversary – but my women have used skillets with these same deep walls and sound metal to survive for hundreds of years.
I know that in it, I can make home anywhere for my family. I can feed them, keep them alive, keep them healthy, kindle their souls, and bring them comfort, all through the magic of this pan. Out of its round blackness, the skillet will conjure the memories of generations of our people, something no other item in our lives can do. It will teach my children that out of the blackest of moments, the depth of an iron pot grabbed in desperation, out of darkness can come survival, then memory, then beauty, then newness. It can bear our tears, collecting them for a balm rendered out of that salty broth only our pain can offer.
The weight of the skillet in my hand moves me from desperation to power, not to hope, but to confidence, not that all will be well, but that I will not be broken by this moment and neither will my family.