A Sweetly Scented Symbol
Snowflakes dusted the ground last week, as my youngest son (age 12) came in from school asking if I’d make a loaf of banana bread.
I had been working steadily at my desk most of the day and nodded my head in quick approval of the request – a break from the laptop for a time in the kitchen is always welcomed.
In my twenties, I started baking banana bread from a handwritten recipe I had transcribed when I was a young girl. Beginning around the age of 8, I would sit at our small, round, 80's faux-wooden kitchen table and read the Columbus Dispatch each Sunday, trying to understand as much as I could. When I came to the section where readers could submit their recipes, I would take my scissors, tape, pencil, index cards, and pink index card box and start cataloging the recipes that people loved enough to write the newspaper about, stamp the envelope, and mail in. I think I was drawn more to the story of why they loved the recipe more than the recipe itself. Occasionally I'd handwrite the recipes - especially if it was one that I had asked someone for or saw in a cookbook somewhere. I transcribed and filed hundreds of recipes in those early years into that pink plastic index card box with A-Z tabs. Eventually, when my grandmother passed, I inherited a light grey plastic box with her collection of magazine and newspaper recipes stapled onto index cards and filed. I don't recall her ever following any recipes, though. Other than the copious amounts of Tang we'd drink, mixed from the directions given on the back of the container.
I married young, and those boxes of recipes sat on my kitchen counter, a trusty resource for a 20-year-old bride without a clue in the kitchen. Over the years, many of those recipes didn’t make the cut – but the handwritten banana bread recipe withstood the test (kitchen) of time.
As our little Dayton globe swirled with snow flurries, I mashed the ripen bananas I had tucked in the fridge – set aside for morning smoothies. I measured the flour, borrowed an extra egg, softened the butter. I poured the thick batter into the old stoneware bread pan, which has developed the most beautiful patina over the years and put it in the oven for its long bake.
With the sides of the bread starting to rise and the signature crust beginning to form, a familiar smell started to fill the kitchen. I had forgotten about that aroma. That of banana bread baking. There is a scene in the original Parent Trap where one of the twins smells the coat of her grandfather and says, “Years from now, when I'm all grown up, I'll always remember my grandfather and how he always smelled of…peppermint and pipe tobacco.” I resonate with this approach to memory-making.
That afternoon, the smell of banana bread baking took me back many years. To a time when my boys were small and life was beautiful but very hard. 10-15 years ago, I would bake banana bread, not for an after-school snack, but because it was a meal we could afford. Bananas, flour, sugar, eggs, butter…staple ingredients I tried to always have on hand.
When I learned to bake, it was not a luxury, but a necessity. I learned to bake to feed my family. Understanding the science of yeast bread meant I could make the sandwich bread we used each day. Learning to bake cakes meant we didn’t have to go to the store to buy one for a celebration. We could host friends for dinner, which we did quite often, on just pennies if I could make a pile of soft tortillas and a big pot of beans.
A few years ago, I stood at a podium accepting an award as Business Woman of the Year and shared the story of bringing home my second son from the hospital when he was born. As I began to fill the tub for his first bath, I realized there was no hot water. We had been unable to pay our gas bill that month. In those years of struggle, there were many tears and lots of shame and fear. But there were also, in retrospect, so many silver linings. I don't think I'd trade those silver linings for an easier path. I got my business chops during those years of lack. Quite often, gumption and grit will get you much farther than a college degree and head knowledge ever will.
As the banana bread baked and its aroma filled my kitchen, I felt the weight of the journey from childhood recipe collecting to where I am today. I paused and let the emotion of gratitude and disappointment both have their moment. As I head into the next exciting bend in my road with you all by my side, I give a nod of indebtedness to what tools this journey, thus far, has given me for my toolkit.
I have sat with many of you over a cup of coffee or an email dialog in recent months and heard the stories of your silver linings. Of your grit and gumption. Of your rock bottom moments and your times of shining brightly. There are seeds of dreams you all are ready to plant and have take root here in 2022. And I’m here for you and with you for that.
The world feels weighty with uncertainty most days. I have, as you have, felt this uncertainty along the journey in many ways, and I guess if I have anything to offer, it's simply a recipe for banana bread. A sweetly scented symbol of our overarching connection to one another and our journey together.
If you want to share with me your ideas & dreams. Your moments of gratitude and disappointment, I’d love to hear. My email inbox is always open <3
For the recipe, click here ~