On Ephemera and Eggs

Cake Plate Memories | © Life Through the Kitchen Window.com

“The parents are absent and the house is poised to roll under into memory.”
Frances Mayes, Bella Tuscany

I’ve been reflecting a lot of late on the ephemera of our lives, how the possessions we accumulate — and sometimes define ourselves by — disperse and disappear when our time on this blue planet draws to a close. Some things become cherished mementos handed down to successive generations, but most dissipate like a puff of smoke.

My mother died in June. My brother and I are now emptying her house and readying it for sale. Most of the time that I’m there I work in solitude, and I’ve found the task of sorting through her things contemplative and memory-stirring.

My father died 11 years ago. Although we disposed of his clothes and many personal items, the things that he and Mom collected together over the years were still present in their home. Soon now, the house will be empty, then sold. The possessions that seemed so much a part of my parents and our family will no longer be together. That sense of a childhood home to return to will be gone.

Yes, we have cherished items to remember them by, some valuable only in a sentimental sense, like the china plate that Mom used to serve cake to company as long as I can remember. More important are the memories and stories we have to share, and the photographs in varying states of preservation. My eldest granddaughter already talks about Petje, the great-grandfather she never met, and I know both little girls and other grandchildren to come will grow up with a sense of this generation so far removed from them.

Mom's Roses | © Life Through the Kitchen Window.com

This dismantling and dispersal of the collected items that marked two lifetimes is in the natural order of things. It’s what children do for their parents when they’re gone. Yet it’s a surreal experience to take charge of your parent’s things. Although I feel unmoored and adrift in uncharted waters, I expect that discomfort will pass and I’ll come ashore into this new phase of life where now there is no one between me and mortality.

In the meantime, I’m doing what I was raised to do: tamping down my emotions in the stoic family tradition, rolling up my sleeves and getting the job done in an organized and efficient way. It’s afterwards, when the work is finished and I’m weary and sore, that emotion wells up. It might be triggered by a kind greeting, seeing a rose I gave Mom blooming as if nothing has changed, or a memory that creeps up and catches me unaware. Maybe a few months from now I’ll reach for Mom’s old potato masher and be overcome for a moment as I get dinner ready. When more grandchildren are born I’ll weep for what both Mom and Dad are missing.

I cry. I dry my eyes. I carry on.

Always remembering.

Fried Eggs with Apples

Fried Eggs with Apples | © Life Through the Kitchen Window.com

Two and a half years ago I wrote a post called Breakfast Down Memory Lane, about a dish from my mother’s childhood in Belgium that she used to make for us: fried eggs with apples. Food memories are powerfully evocative, and this dish especially so for its simplicity and its association with a simpler time. This seems an appropriate time to revisit that recipe and savour its taste of home.


  1. What a beautiful plate!!! I cherish that kind of thing, too. And, keep that potato masher close at hand!!! Make sure everyone knows where it came from. Maybe someday, someone else will keep it and reminisce about you having it and it belonging to your mother. I love memories like that!!!

    • This plate was a wedding gift for my parents, so it is now close to 60 years old. I cherish having it. It reminds me of special ‘company times’ when I was growing up on the farm.

      I wrote a post featuring that potato masher a couple of years ago, here: http://lifethroughthekitchenwindow.com/2012/04/09/make-ahead-mashed-potatoes/

      These items of every day or special day usage hold so many memories and stories for me. I’ve picked out a few such worn treasures to use in my home and pass on to my children some day.

      Thank you for your lovely, lovely comment.

  2. The beginning of August, my brothers and sister will be going through my father’a books and notes. There will no doubt be tears. I am grateful for the memories and legacy of my parents. They will sustain me in the years ahead. And it is also a reminder to build memories for those who will come after me. A wonderful post.

    • I think you will find that when you and your siblings go through your father’s papers you will have moments of sadness and also many more moments of sweet remembrance.

      You’re absolutely right that we need to build memories for those following behind us. I just spent two hours chatting on the verandah with one of my daughters. That’s time I could have spent doing any number of things, but none more worthy or memorable.

      Thank you for your ongoing support and encouragement.

  3. Marlene, your words and thoughts are so beautiful, you put into words thoughts which I have had about my own sadness of cleaning out my Parents house…the house I grew up in and now it will be no more. So sad… so sweet as only you could put it. You are a wonderful match for me in this delicate sweet life. Thank you.

  4. It’s amazing how nostalgic some dishes can be, Mar. When we readied my parents’ home for sale, we came across many things and we got to know our parents’ in a different light. For example, one of Mom’s neighbors had a weekly garage sale. After Mom passed, we found boxes of knick-knacks and the like that Mom had purchased from the woman, most with the price tags still attached. She had always said she wanted to help her neighbor. I guess she found a way. 🙂

    • Oh, that’s a sweet story, John. When I’m clearing out my Mom’s basement craft studio, which is literally filled to the rafters, I will think of how she was helping all the stores she shopped at 😊.

      Actually, I’m finding lots of lovely cards that Mom made for her friends, and ones she received. It’s a different perspective to see your parents in their capacity as friend, and quite a lovely experience.

  5. I’ve been wondering what’s worse — to keep or disperse the mementos? Circumstances dictated that I didn’t participate in the selling of my beloved grandparents’ estate. It’s a long, sad story and they were more like parents to me than grandparents. There was much that I treasured, that felt to me like the embodiment of who they were, tiny insignificant practically worthless bric-a-brac. It’s all gone. I don’t know where.

    It feels as if they have materially vanished, which is, of course, entirely true. Some days it feels liberating, not to have my memory of them tied to the things which represented them. Other days it feels heartbreaking to have lost so much.

    On those days, I shall eat pink panna cotta or chocolate pudding, or the simple but tasty “hot dish” my grandmother used to make from egg noodles, tomatoes and hamburger, which she called “goulash” (it was absolutely not goulash).

    • Oh, oh, I’m sorry you don’t have some of those seemingly worthless but deeply significant mementos of your grandparents, Tracy. But I’m glad you have your grandmother’s non-goulash goulash.

      My mother had a recipe like that too. I bet your grandmother and Mom found those recipes in some magazine that North Americanized the original Hungarian dish. And I’m sure that I’ll find it somewhere in Mom’s house!

      The experience of going through my parents’ belongings has been comforting and contemplative, but also frustrating and taxing. Everything I touch — and there is so, so much (why so much?) — requires a decision. Hundreds of decisions each time I’m there. Keep? Check with my brother? Set aside for my aunts and uncles? Text the kids to see if they want the game they played with my parents? Charity? Garage sale? Discard?

      And as the process drags on, I have less energy and more pain (my poor wrists are screaming in protest at the overuse they’ve been subjected to). Yet at the same time, there’s a certain grace to this task. It feel like I’m performing an important ritual for my parents, so I try to bring respect and love to it. (But I confess, some days I want to slam the door and run home, but it’s an hour each way so that’s not really an option.)

      My mother was the oldest of seven, and I’m the oldest child in my family, so I find myself with the responsibility of stewardship for all the family photographs and records. Not just our own family albums, but my grandparents’ too. I’m taking it upon myself to act as the family archivist, planning to scan all the significant photos and documents for my aunts and uncles, my brother, and our children someday. When I’m going to do this, I don’t know, and where I’m going to keep all these boxes and boxes I don’t know either. But I do know it’s the right thing to do.

      And I know that when this is all done, I’ll fully appreciate how fortunate I was to have this experience. Thank you for reminding me of that, my almost twin.

      • Keep writing when you can. There is so much here that is touching, lovely, deep, true and universal.

        My story — I stayed out of the process because I intuited that my mother needed me to let her do it alone, without me. My grandmother and I were almost identical and could often read each others’ thoughts, and we often misunderstood my poor, dear mother.

        My mother was an only child and I was an only daughter, and I think she often felt like my grandmother loved me more than her. Not true, of course; it’s just that our relationship was easier because we were so alike, while my mother was so unlike us in so many ways.

        The process, going through exactly what you’re going through (all those exhausting decisions!) was very healing for her, and I think she felt good about having spared me the pain/trouble (which honestly, I would not have been able to physically handle).

        So, it’s all okay now. I sending prayers for you to receive much stamina and wisdom.

      • Thank you for sharing your touching story … family relationships can be so complicated and fraught. I’m so pleased that you’ve found peace with yours.

        Thank you for good wishes … stamina and wisdom are truly needed in times such as this.

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