The Era

I’ve been craving cheese souffles. The last time I ate one, the kind I’m thinking of, my father-in-law was still alive. Ken and I had just moved home from Los Angeles and we were in a state of limbo, sleeping on his childhood sheets and searching for something that could be ours again.

On Saturday mornings, Ken’s mother and I would wake early, just after the sun, and hop in her car to visit a bakery chain just a few miles away. Hazelnut coffee for me, Pepsi for her (I still cringe at the thought of Pepsi before 9am, or at all, but she is her own and I am my own and we differ a bit on this). And we’d order two cheese souffles, extra hot.

In the event they’d be out of cheese souffles, we’d sometimes settle for bacon, or spinach. But mostly, we’d ask how long until the new batch of cheese would be ready.

Twenty minutes, ma’am.

And so, we would wait. Twenty minutes, we’d had. Twenty minutes, we’d use.

Our first few Saturdays, we’d sometimes bring the computer and hunt for houses. We’d lament the odd placement of the kitchen stove in one, comment on the new roof cost of the other. We’d search and search and search, and I’d feel discouraged and anxious for home – the emotion, not the place – and then the cheese souffles would arrive, steaming, and things would feel better.

When my father-in-law became sick, when we knew it was the bad kind of sick, we stopped bringing the computer on Saturdays. We replaced conversations about mortgage payments and side yards and basement square footage and talked about diagnoses, and second opinions, and plans D, E and F.

Eventually, between doctor’s appointments and hospital overnights and ER visits, Ken and I found a house. It was in terrible shape, abandoned by previous owners as if they’d left in the middle of dinner – open checkbooks on the counter, a molded ham sandwich on the plaid, torn sofa. The basement had flooded, and there were spores everywhere from the years it had been left vacant. But we had hope, and we had stamina, and we had time.

Twenty minutes, ma’am.

Over the next two years, Ken renovated the house, and we landed the HGTV.com show, and he built and filmed and I wrote and styled, and on Saturday mornings, there were cheese souffles.

How long had we slept on his childhood sheets?

There was one Saturday, in warm sunshine, when the end of all of it felt near. The mold was gone, the renovations were finishing, the paint was dry. We’d be moving in soon, in April, we’d decided.

But there were doctor’s appointments and hospital overnights and ER visits and it rained all month long and then, the moving truck.

And then, hospice.

Sometime that spring, we stopped eating cheese souffles together, Ken’s mother and me. I don’t remember the last time, whether we waited for the cheese or decided on bacon, or spinach. There were funeral arrangements to make, after all, and we had to be sensible. We’d lost a bit of hope, and we’d lost a bit of stamina, and we’d lost a bit of time.

Twenty minutes, ma’am.

But today, it is cold but sunny, and it feels like a day for souffles. A day for hazelnut coffee and Pepsi (I still differ on this one), and a day to wait for the cheese. To sit and to dream and to remember and to treasure. A day for gratitude, for the era with the plaid torn sofa and mold spores and Saturday mornings.

How long had we slept on his childhood sheets?

Not long enough.

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