The Middle Distance 2.4.11: “Our Daily Bread”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

photo by Sean Cayton

February 4 would have been my sister Kim’s 58th birthday. She died three years ago on March 10.

She has been with me this week as I’ve been padding around the house, unpacking and arranging things, wandering from room to room trying to find a warm spot. The Colorado winter turned bitter and brutally cold on Monday, and I turned into a happy hibernator. Kim showed up in the blue-framed cross-stitch snowflake I propped in the bedroom window; in the small ceramic vase that I keep in my study, stuffed with pens and pencils. She keeps watch over my kitchen where an embroidered sampler of hers hangs above the door.

Most of all, she is with me when I can sit back and enjoy just being. She was a master of just being, of always knowing what she wanted, of wanting very little. Her essence was simplicity.

Our house was in a state of disarray when the cold front hit and paralyzed the city. We had pulled the old electric stove out to install a gas line for its replacement. Ever since we moved into the house, we had complained about the inconvenience of having only one functional burner. But with a day to wait for delivery of the new stove, and no hot water in the house because the gas man had inadvertently knocked out the supply to the water heater, I spent the coldest day of the year huddled over the old stove.

One burner was sufficient to boil egg noodles and poach chicken breasts and whisk together a lemon-cream sauce. The oven warmed the chilly kitchen and my knees as an apple pie with a brown sugar streusel topping bubbled inside. Across the room, Kim’s sampler issued the simplest of prayers: Give us this day our daily bread.

One year, when she was a little girl and my mother asked what special dessert she wanted for her birthday, Kim announced she wanted a strawberry cake. My mother knew how to make a strawberry pie and every summer she put up strawberry preserves, but she’d never heard of a strawberry cake. So she invented one, a yellow cake batter sweetened and flavored with some of her preserves. Whipped cream frosting. It became an annual tradition: strawberry cake on Kim’s birthday.

We gobbled up our good chicken-noodle dinner and settled in for the night. The next morning our kitchen pipes were frozen, the back door had blown open during the night, and the linoleum floor was as cold and slick as an ice rink. Due to weather delays, our new stove wouldn’t arrive until Wednesday. But the old stove with its one functioning burner was still there and breakfast could warm us. I shuttled back and forth from the kitchen to the bathroom when I needed water. Scrambled eggs with bacon, shallots, cheese, a little smoky chipotle chile, and crisp corn tortillas. The dog jumped up and licked the chipotle as I was carrying it to the bathroom sink for a rinse and that entertained us well.

Time was not an issue on this second coldest day of the year. I wasn’t going anywhere in a car enshrouded in a layer of permafrost. So I piddled and read and wrote emails and consulted with students and cooked a big pot of black beans. I filled the soup pot in the bathtub. The house filled with the scent of bay leaves, and later, onions, garlic, cumin, oregano, and a splash of sherry vinegar. Dirty dishes piled up, as we still didn’t have hot water, but we had a fresh pot for the rice. Again, we feasted and slept, our old house imbued with the complex aroma of two days cooking on the one-eyed stove.

Wednesday came, and with it the delivery men. They unplugged the old stove and hauled her off to wherever old stoves go to die. We had hot water again and, in the kitchen, a shiny new spaceship of a stove with digital touch controls and timers and four big burners. The gas man came back and hooked up the gas line, but there was to be no flame. The new model came with a simple plug that didn’t match the clunky old receptacle. We would have to wait another day for the wonder of multiple burners, until the electrician switched the outlet.

I longed unreasonably for the old stove and its single reliable burner. It is bleak February and I miss my sister. I need a strawberry cake, sweet and warm, straight from the oven.

Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feaest: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at KRCC.org. “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.

Tagged with:
 

2 Responses to The Middle Distance, 2/4/11: "Our Daily Bread"

  1. Paula Benell says:

    Can’t wait to see what you’ve done Miss Kathy.

  2. Gina Dellinger says:

    Kathryn,

    Your story brought me memories of my sister, who I had lost in 2009. She too, loved simplicity and had an amazing ability to bring me a sense of peace whenever I was with her. Thank you again for making me realize what a special bond sisters have.

News

Getty Images
July 6, 2015 | ProPublica · The latest data on drug and device company payments to health professionals largely exclude nurse practitioners and physician assistants, even though they play an increasing role in patient care.
 

AP
July 6, 2015 | NPR · Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, was greeted by hundreds of thousands in Quito. He is scheduled to visit Bolivia and Paraguay next.
 

AFP/Getty Images
July 6, 2015 | NPR · Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said his resignation could help the prime minister negotiate a better deal with the EU. However, he said, he will wear the “loathing” of Greek creditors “with pride.”
 

Arts & Life

July 6, 2015 | NPR · Shark Week is here, and scientists are afraid. Not of the toothy swimmers — but of inaccuracies, bad science and the demonization of animals that aren’t as ferocious as Discovery Channel has made out.
 

Getty Images
July 5, 2015 | NPR · It’s an understatement to call the man busy. With a new book out, a movie due soon and another wrapping up on set, Apatow caught a breath and reflected on stumbling blocks, Freaks and Amy Schumer.
 

Courtesy of Doubleday
July 5, 2015 | NPR · Initially, the CIA was suspicious of Soviet aviation expert Adolf Tolkachev. But he earned their trust — and provided blueprints, documents and plans that were crucial to the U.S.
 

Music

YouTube
July 6, 2015 | NPR · In a soulful singer-songwriter’s new video, an idyllic outdoor reverie is not as peaceful as it seems.
 

Getty Images
July 6, 2015 | NPR · The tribute, which strives to update Simone’s ability to capture the hope and rage of the ’60s for a contemporary audience, features six songs performed by Ms. Lauryn Hill.
 

Courtesy of the artist
July 5, 2015 | NPR · At 25, Barthe was already writing songs for pop stars, but life outside the studio felt like a battlefield. She speaks with NPR’s Arun Rath about the hard road to her full-length debut.
 

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac

Radiolab