We like to think of them as less obligation, less duty, more familial generosities. Genuine gestures of care, of good will, of applause.
But I’ll say this. If I had just returned from a week-long excursion in Arizona, had just flown the red eye and landed at Logan at 6am, mere hours prior, I don’t think my butt would be at this modest little wedding shower. But Maria, my stalwart sister-in-law, was there no matter. Better than me. Brave to do the drive down the Pike for a little fete of family (our side, mostly) and a couple select friends.
“It’s OK. I stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts.” Caffeine fixes everything. Or at least it helps when you’re exhausted. Like when I’ve only had three hours of sleep. I’d grappled a mocha protein shake myself. Probably not as much jolt as a medium iced with milk so sugar, but it did the trick after I’d forgotten to eat breakfast in my haste to get to the store to baguette and olives and berries—items to augment my already fairly full bags of cheese and grilled vegetables and heirloom tomatoes and prosciutto and salami. It was later than I hoped it would be and the store was packed, packed, packed. It was clearly family shopping day at Whole Foods.
I enjoy shopping. I enjoy the hunt. Usually. Grocery stores offer that color hit and aroma experience, especially when the bread or pies are getting pulled from the industrial ovens. Or when it’s time to take the rotisserie chickens off the spits. Sometimes the peaches and nectarines simply smell amazing.
It’s the other stores I don’t always love. Take Michael’s for instance. It’s a chain of crafting stores that pepper the area. I walk in and immediately I know I don’t belong. Rows and rows of dried fliers and silk flowers, the row ends capped with all things orange and brown—festive fall and Halloween. Then there’s scrap booking central. Candy making depot and the cake decorations station—they share some items and doodads and curious gels and goos and all-manner of showery and wedding-ish things. I was looking for a recipe box, the intention to offer our soon to be sister-in-law a box of family history: recipes of my mom’s (notably Cranberry Coffee Cake, Apple Knobby, Mayonnaise Cake, Sweet and Sour Meatballs (the ones make with chili sauce and grape jelly) and assorted other curiosities my mom regularly made. Nothing in the frame or photo box aisle. Nothing in knitting or hooking or embroidery or hot glue sections. But I did spy several rows of unfinished wood boxes. I even found some that were recipe box size. Most had crummy latches. Some were sanded better than others. OK, I guess the deal was you were supposed to stain or paint these things. Make then personal.
It’s long been determined: I’m not crafty. I have no patience for this whole “making” thing. I’m terrible with a paintbrush (evidence: my apartment walls) and I’m no good at attention to decorative detail (evidence: my apartment walls). I love my soon-to-be sister-in-law, but I am not putting on three coats of stain and a coat of poly to prove it.
I leave Michael’s empty handed. I move on.
Three more stores. Nothing. I recognize that a recipe box is old school, what with recipes in the web and the wave of iPads appearing in kitchens. But still.
One more chance before I give up: Christmas Tree Shop. Land of rotating inventory. You never know. And everything is cheap, if not chintzy. Made in China. Not made by hand.
I hunt. I manage to get past the inexpensive glassware, barrels o’ baskets and endless supply of gift bags and ribbon and cheap shampoo. I wonder at the cookies and jams and all manner of drink mixes and other packeted concoctions lining the aisles. (No to White Chocolate Wonderful peanut butter, only $3.49; and yes to Kashi’s Autumn Wheat cereal, $2.49!)
And look, just when I had lost hope, when I was headed to the checkout to buy my cereal and cheap (hopefully not too cheap) exercise ball, I find them: three shelves of recipe boxes. None beautiful and stained with three coats of honey walnut, but all kind of traditional and sweet. I find one I like—one I think Brenda will like.
I pay the cashier for the box and my cereal. Less than $10. Yup, I pay cash.
In the car, I look over my gift, expecting buyer’s remorse, expecting to find something wrong. Nope, all good. And really, it wasn’t pricey, and it isn’t a rare piece of local folk art or craftsmanship. But you know what? It’s worthy of a wedding shower, a portion of an otherwise more complex gift. It’s worthy of my wrapping it in pink tissue paper and putting it in a floral bag.
Most importantly: it’s worthy of an authentic recipe card for Apple Knobby, my mother’s handwriting included, as well as the grease stains and batter blips of oh, so many years of use.
Welcome to the family! My mom would have been happy.