phrasing

D: That’s Randolph Scott on the right.
E: That’s Randolph Scott? I never recognize him. It’s a mental block. I always think of him as a villainous type.
D: He is the villain in this.
E: I mean look like a villain. He looks so harmless. He looks like half of Gary Cooper.
D: Aw.
E: You know what I mean! He looks like if Gary Cooper and Ralph Bellamy got together to make a, a, a second banana.
E: … that sounded so dirty!

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that’s just my face

We join this conversation in progress:

The Fella: Is there anything I can do to help?
Elsa: Naw, I’m fine, just trying to write [thing], get it sorted out in my head. There’s no way to help.
The Fella: Would some chocolate help?
Elsa: … yeeeeeeEEEEEESSSSS. [as he walks to the kitchen] Was I making an “I wish I had chocolate” face? Do I have an “I wish I had chocolate” face? … is that just my face?
The Fella: Your face has elements of that in it, yes.

cookie cutters

Let me tell you about my cookie cutters.

Memory is a tricky thing, so bear with me. I was small when these memories formed, and at the distance of decades, it’s hard to tell the difference between true memory, corroborated reconstructions, and childhood imagination.

But I remember the cookies. I’m certain the cookies were exactly as I describe.

My Uncle B and Aunt M (really my father’s much older uncle and aunt, and rather terrifying in demeanor and voice) gave the same gift each year: a homemade cookie cutter shaped out of an old tin can and a tin or box of cookies made from their own collection of cutters. Uncle B made the cutters and Aunt M made the cookies, every year until I turned seven and we moved away.

Their cookies are among my earliest memories, and certainly my very first memories of Christmas. They were rolled vellum-thin, baked ’til they were just tinged with brown at the edges, and decorated with sparse perfection, a dragée here and a sprinkle of colored sugar there, just enough to lend some details to their shapes. The first one I remember is a whole train of sugar cookies – a locomotive, a string of different cars, and a caboose. I think (but I can’t rely on such an early memory) that there might have been a puff of smoke riding jauntily atop the train.

My family accumulated quite a collection of perfectly turned, finely detailed cookie cutters from this unlikely and intimidating source. My mother passed some of them on to me over the years – when I moved into my first apartment, when she moved to a new home, when I baked Christmas cookies in her new kitchen.

One Christmas over a decade ago, I pulled out my cookie cutters and baked and shaped and frosted cookies. And then, overcome with memory, I washed my hands and sat down at the kitchen table, adrift in the faintly sweet scent of sugar and butter, and I wrote a letter to my Uncle B. It was my first letter to him since Aunt M had died a few years ago, and the second letter I’d ever sent him, excepting my childish scrawl on the thank-you letters we’d send for those cookie gifts.

I wrote about using his cookie cutters that day, how these cutters had always symbolized Christmas to me, and of my fond and formative memories of their cookies. I thanked him both for the long-ago cookies and for the cutters, and I let him know they had been long and well loved.

He didn’t write back, not surprisingly. My family isn’t close-knit, and I was one of a swarm of great-nieces and great-nephews. He probably had little idea who I was, probably couldn’t pick me out of a group as a child or an adult.

In fact, I found out this was more-or-less true a few years later; he could only identify me by my remarkable resemblance to my mother. At the reception after a family funeral, Uncle B walked up to me and my sister, looked at my face, and announced imperiously “You must be one of [_____]’s daughters!” I told him he was right, and I told him my name and my sister’s.

His stern craggy face washed over with softness. “You’re the one who bakes cookies,” he said with wonder, and this man – who’d rarely smiled at me and never hugged me or even shaken my hand – pulled up a chair and sat down knee-to-knee with me, his hand reaching out gently over and over but never quite touching me, and talked. And talked. And talked. All his hardness smoothed away; he was full of memories himself, and he found me to share them with. When it was time to leave, he hugged me. And then he did it again.

I’m grateful whenever I have a chance to revisit that story. It’s a potent reminder that those small thanks are always worth sending, because you never know how meaningful they may be to the person you’re thanking. It’s a reminder to be grateful, to be mindful, to be kinder than necessary. It’s a reminder to keep trying – and failing, but trying! – to be my best self.

[This story is cross-posted to Metafilter.]

things I did not scream on the sidewalk

“SIDEWALKS ARE THREE PEOPLE WIDE. DO NOT WALK THREE ABREAST!” – to the obvious tourist group dawdling their way down a busy downtown sidewalk in front of me. I also didn’t bother with a curt “excuse me” and a bustling break through their passage-clogging cluster; just as I was about to, I spotted a young woman sporting a mohawk walking toward us and thought “I bet he’ll step sharply out of her way.” And indeed he did.

“SHE DOES NOT EXIST TO BE ATTRACTIVE TO YOU!” – to the man from that same tourist group, who waited until Mohawk Woman was just past him, still well within earshot, then dropped a dry “Very attractive” to his female companions. For the first sixty seconds after not-screaming, I was proud of my restraint; for the next 24 hours and counting, I wish I had let ‘er rip, and maybe jammed a “FUCKING!” in there somewhere.

“I DO NOT NEED YOUR HELP!” – to the dude who approached the crosswalk where I waited, gestured at the thinning traffic, stepped out into the street against the light, then looked over his shoulder to see if I was following.

“SO MANY ELECTRODES!” – to the nurse smoking outside the hospital, as we both glanced up from a distasteful survey of the littered street.

thing I did yell on the phone today, for no explicable reason:

“DUUUUUUUUDE!” – in greeting to my sister, who started laughing so hard that I started laughing, too, delaying our conversation by a good two minutes.

overlapping

Elsa: I’m about to learn a new word!
The Fella: What is it?
Elsa: It’s from this review I’m reading: imbricate.
The Fella: Embercate?
Elsa: Im-bric-ate. It means… to arrange scales, sepals — ooop, I’m about to learn two new words!
The Fella: I love you.
Elsa: To arrange in an overlapping fashion, like petals, scales, or roof tiles. I love you too!