WHY I SHOULD GIVE UP BAKING
She is walking toward me on the sidewalk. Her round face is a bit puffy and her eyes droop at the outside corners, but I know her face. She sees me, says, "Hi!"
I assume a pleasant smile while I frantically search for her name in the library of my mind. She was in my Algebra class. She lives down the street from Mom now. "Hi!" I say.
She gives me a hug, steps back. "Chris told me about your mother. I’m so sorry."
Chris is my younger brother. "Thanks," I say.
"How long are you in town?" she asks.
"Until Saturday. I’m trying to empty the house." My brain churns. Sheila? No. Lois! Lois Bannerman.
"That’s the toughest job in the world," Lois says.
"I’m really going to miss your mom. I loved visiting her."
"Why don’t you drop by later?" I say. "There’s so much stuff I have to get rid of–you might find some things you can use. Mom would like that."
"Really?" says Lois. We say good bye and go off in our different directions.
Lois is right. Emptying your childhood home is the toughest job in the world.
"I want people to have the things that are important to them," Mom had said. I have spent months now trying to keep my promise to her. I have dug through closets and chests and suitcases and folders and file drawers and envelopes, sorting thousands of newspaper clippings and letters, photographs and souvenirs. I have prepared and mailed off boxes of trinkets and memories to relatives and friends. My two younger brothers have hauled away carloads of stuff.
I don’t know what to do with Andy’s things. I collected them in a cardboard box-–his Boy Scout sash, his science fair ribbons, his well-loved books, including this one. He loved "The Rescuers," a story about brave mice. My younger brothers took their boxes away but Andy’s two daughters only want to take a few photographs. I understand. They knew the Andy who was their father. They never met the sweet and serious ten-year-old who first read this book to me.
I hold his high-school graduation picture in my hands. The frame is nice and might sell at a yard sale. I suppose I should discard the photo. Mom had so many copies made of this, as well as of his Navy portrait and the one of him with his bagpipes and kilt. Everybody in the family already has this photograph. But I can’t bear to throw his image away. This is my big brother Andy, my childhood protector and great friend, who died twelve years ago. I swaddle the portrait in bubble wrap and put it on the floor.
I have completely forgotten about Lois, but here she is walking up to the porch. I provide her a cardboard box and invite her to poke through the cabinets and bookcases. Now she is sitting on the floor in front of the big china hutch, wrapping wine glasses in newspaper.
"Your mom is the one who taught me how to cook!" she says.
"My mother died when I was ten."
I don’t remember knowing that, but now I have a recollection of Lois' earnest face beaming from beneath her Scout beret at troupe meetings at our house. I’m embarrassed to realize how very nearly invisible she was to me then–so mouse-like and quiet. But Lois Bannerman is not quiet now. She is animated, smiling, telling me stories about my family.
"I loved to watch Andy practice his bagpipes in your back yard," she says, then she whispers, "I was crazy about him!"
"Really?" Lois could only have been a freshman the year Andy was a senior.
She drops her hands into her lap and looks up at the ceiling. "Do you remember the dances at Lake Ocquiac?"
I shake my head. All the Boy and Girl Scout camping trips are a blur to me.
"Girls got to ask the boys. I was so shy, but I promised myself I would ask Andy Hogg to dance with me if it killed me! But other girls kept getting to him first. Finally, it was the last dance, on the last night. I ran to up him and opened my mouth. I was standing right in front of him and he was looking at me and then Marilyn Dedyne -- do you remember her? -- she literally pushed me over, grabbed him, and off they went!"
"I felt like such a failure! I was devastated!" Lois says these words, but she is smiling now, almost grinning. "The coolest thing happened!" She closes her eyes. "The music ended, the lights came back on and everybody started groaning. Marilyn walked away. Andy looked at me, and just then – like magic! like an answered prayer! -- the scoutmaster said, ‘Oh, all right! Just one more!’"
"They played another song?"
A tear traces its way down Lois Bannerman’s cheek. "Cherish," she says. "That song by the Association. A slow dance. My whole life, whenever – "
She doesn’t finish. She doesn’t have to. I realize she isn’t even here. At this moment Lois Bannerman is at Scout camp in Northern Michigan. She is twelve years old. She is slow-dancing under the stars with Andy Hogg.
Her eyes are still closed. She doesn’t see me place the bubble wrapped package in her box of wine glasses, trinkets and memories.