Posted by: jeannineatkins | April 25, 2016

What Disappears and What Stays

Write every day, even if just a bit, is advice I’ve been given and give. Writing likes you to show up for at least a peek. The sentences you compose one day encourage your mind to return to a project more gracefully the next morning. But we should also remember that each day is different. Its tone may need respect.

Saturday night I baked a lemon cake, following the instructions to beat in each of the six eggs one at a time and to alternate spilling liquid and dry ingredients before stirring. I made sure the grated orange and lemon peel soaked in the fresh squeezed juice for the requested hour. And I thought of Jane, a friend from childhood who I hadn’t seen in a long time. I’m usually pretty loose about baking directions. What’s the big deal about adding the eggs all at once? But I remembered making cookies with Jane when we were about ten and she insisted on following the cookbook’s instructions to the letter. The idea was that we should at least once try to get things just right.

Jane’s sister had asked me to bring a dessert to the memorial service. Entering the parish hall on a day when the doors could be kept open, I added my cake to a long table of desserts made by other women who knew the woman who’d liked to bake. As I caught up with some old friends, one told me that the house where I’d grown up was gone. “Really?” Yes, others thought that was true, though with the house having been on a hill behind trees, no one had gone to look.

After the service, my husband and I climbed a hill that was shorter than I remembered. I stared at grasses and brush, trying to imagine a house with a big yard and forsythia bushes I used to play under and a stone wall where I set up toy animals.

“You never showed me your old house,” Peter said.

“I guess I just waved my hand as we drove by. I never thought it would be gone.”


The friend and the house haven’t been part of my life for a long time. But nothing is nothing, even dried leaves, grasses, stones, or questions that can’t be answered. Why do I remember the way Jane so diligently followed a recipe that day? Why has so much else disappeared?

Houses, friends, even memories vanish. But important things last, too. That’s what I’ve learned from getting to the age where I sit in a church and squint my not-so-good-eyes at gray-haired strangers for signs of a young person who I might have sung with in the choir with or walked with on the hill behind the church to see the stained glass window and wonder why a velvet curtain covered it in the sanctuary.




Age has also taught me to take gifts where they come. Since there were many desserts, cake was leftover that I was told I should take home. I swept off the wedge before someone else might stop me. I ate some for breakfast, though the sweetness didn’t entirely break my melancholy. And I’m slowly finding my way back to the work waiting for me. Write every day. Yes. And honor the mood of the day. The same person, but not quite the same person, will compose the sentences to come.



  1. When one of my Israeli nieces was in elementary school and saw me after a three year spell from my last visit, she said, “A person has many faces.” Dailyness, too, as you point out, has many faces. The important thing, as you say so well, is to visit.

    • What a lovely and wise niece. Like her aunt.

  2. A beautiful, sad post of reflection. Sorry to hear about Jane. Just the other day I was thinking along similar lines — how it is that I remember certain small things from the past, and mourning how much I’ve completely forgotten. Also wishing that I was the type of person who tended to remember more happy than sad or disappointing things.

    • We don’t get to choose what we remember, as you well know. But you certainly create many happy things in the present. So many posts that make me smile or bring awe. Thank you for that, and stopping here.

  3. Many hugs, Jeannine.

  4. How loving that you followed the lemon cake recipe as carefully as the long ago day when you and Jane baked cookies. It’s all in the process, whether cooking, writing or nurturing friendships, I think. Being present to it all, and as you say, “take gifts where they come.” I’m sorry for the loss of your childhood friend. Thank you for sharing with us.

    • Yes, we do try to be in the process. And how mysterious what we remember, and forget. Thanks for all your kind words and the reminder, which we can never hear too much, of being in the present. So hard, so important. Thank you!

  5. How do we remember such little details when such large ones seem to be lost? I love your conclusion, “The same person, but not quite the same person, will compose the sentences to come.” Loss changes us. We need time to grieve and remember making cakes and following every exact step of the recipe.

    • So true, and profound, your words of loss changing us. Thank you for sharing the contemplation of such mysteries with me, Margaret. Truly, deeply appreciated.

  6. Jeannine, What a wonderful, eloquent poem of a post, and the photograph of the sun’s rays where the house used to be (I presume?) gives me shivers. xxoo

    • Thanks, my word-cherishing friend. Yes, that’s the site and I didn’t really see the sun gleam until it showed up in the photo. It definitely was chilling standing there, with few signs of what had been. Except, I guess, in me.

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