It's a rainy day, and feels so cold after all the heat of the summer and fall. Christmas is coming, and I've had holiday music on all morning. There is pea soup simmering in the crockpot for dinner. Lunch by the fire sounds good. Grilled cheese sounds good, so I fill two slices of sourdough with cheddar cheese and put the sandwich in a pan with melted butter. Hot cocoa also sounds good, so I fill a mug with milk and put that in the microwave.. But I am distracted by a phone call, and when I hang up I realize the sandwich is heading towards burnt. I panic to flip it over with the hope I can rescue it.
Clearly it is too late -- but then I remember one of my favorite dinners as a kid.
We lived in West Los Angeles, and when those chilly, overcast, and sometimes rainy days came around, my mother would set up the card table in front of the fireplace. She'd peel the plastic from thin slices of American cheese, and pop them between slices of Wonder bread, butter the sandwiches, and pop them into the broiler. Milk would be heated in a little pan on top of the stove for hot chocolate.
She would get busy setting the table or tending the fire. So every single time she went to get the sandwiches they were literally burned to a crisp. The edges would be charcoal with the rest of the bread not far behind. But my dad, hearing my mother's cry of "Oh no not again!" would rush in and take over. He'd pick up the sandwiches, cheese oozing from the sides, grab a knife, and vigorously scrape the burned parts into the sink. It was a simple rescue. But it was grand. As impressive as if he had pulled her from the edge of a cliff or cut the rope that bound her to the track in front of an oncoming train. And it was something that he could fix in his otherwise very complicated and unusually fraught life with my mom. It always brought a smile or even a giggle when my mother saw her dinner rescued once again.
The sandwich would be covered with a lot of butter to mitigate some of the damage. The hot chocolate would, meanwhile, have heated to boiling and developed a nice little skin. I could scoop it out with a spoon or pick it up with my fingers and let it slither down my throat, quickly followed by a scalding sip of cocoa. The added benefit of having the milk so hot was that more than one marshmallow could melt into creamy sweetness. A real plus in any kid's life.
Those evenings are some of the best memories I have of my childhood. A simple dinner by the fire, including a dramatic play in one act. The threat of fire, the ruin of dinner, and a heroic rescue. And all accomplished in the space of a scant half hour.
It is the simple things, I am remembering today, that make our lives full, that fill our hearts with happiness.