Memory Muffins

On Sunday morning, as a child, it was muffins from the box. The kind in individually wrapped packages – with five tiny muffins inside, and on a good day, six – enough to eat slowly and individually, my kick-off ritual for the week ahead. If I was the only one awake, I’d steal away quietly to the office chair, by the piano, and pretend as if I was the tea party’s very own guest of honor. I’d pour my milk in a goblet and toast to no one in particular, raising a pinkie in forced elegance.

I’m embarrassed to say that, as an adult, I am only now realizing that love tasted precisely like mini muffins from the box.

When I was young, I thought that surely love tasted like fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, warming from the oven as three blonde girls skipped in from the yellow school bus to be greeted by an aproned mother. Or that love tasted like fresh tomatoes from the garden, plump with juice running chin down. Or that maybe love smelled like homemade bread, rising from the oven – an aromatic Phoenix in the midst of messy, floured ashes.

But for my childhood home, a well-oiled machine, convenience was favored. Dinner, most often, came from a box or a can or the freezer, from the hands of a working mother who spent her days teaching long division rather than braising beef. It was important not what was on the table, but who was around it. And when dinner hour hit, we gathered around with each other, enjoying the creations of Chef Boyardee and Tuna Helper and Campbell’s.

And so, on Sunday morning, it was muffins from the box. They were always there, each and every weekend morning, in the same cabinet spot to the left of the oven. I don’t know that my mother was ever asked to keep them in full rotation, or if she knew how much we all loved them, but they were always there, like clockwork, like magic, like love.

The thing about the muffins that I’m just remembering is this: there were four packages per box, and we were five people. The box couldn’t have lasted longer than a day, unless there were two boxes, and it was always just one. And so, only four people enjoyed the muffins, and I have a sinking suspicion – I could be wrong – that the feet who walked the grocery aisles on Saturday were the same who did without on Sunday.

Motherhood is a funny swirl of sacrifice and service, of commitment and time. Of choices and doubts and Saturday afternoon grocery runs in an attempt to offer our best; in an attempt to stock our pantry with love.

I couldn’t help but think of this as Bee and I made our own muffins last weekend. They weren’t from a box, but they were from a love-stocked pantry, and they were no less magical than the chocolate chip variety of yesteryear. She, in her favorite vintage-inspired dress, and I, in my grandmother’s scarf, mixed and measured and memory-maked as I tried to re-create those boxed muffins from decades ago.

My recipe was a failed experiment – they tasted nothing like what I remembered – but they were good enough, and Bee smiled as she ate them. That’s the thing about memories, I suppose. They taste better in your mind than in your mouth.

I don’t know that we’ll have muffins every Sunday, or that Bee will drink her milk from goblets, or that chocolate chip will be our family’s favorite flavor. But I do know that I can carry on my mother’s tradition of a well-stocked pantry. One filled with time, and commitment, and pure left-of-the-oven love.

p.s. This is an essay for Olive Juice, one of my favorite brands vowing to bring a bit of yesteryear back into our lives – and the lives of our littles. Bee is wearing the Gingham Pia Day Dress, available in Girls‘ sizes 2Y to 16Y. Thank you for reading!

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