The Colonel drilled into me the importance of the right tool for the job. It’s a refrain I hear often in my head when I’m working in the garden or the kitchen. Because I was raised in a throwaway culture, though, it’s taken me awhile to learn the importance of regular and proper maintenance. I’ve re-oiled the cutting boards a few times since sanding them. I was thinking I should invest in a new big cutting board and really take care of it from the beginning, sanding it and the others regularly, but I hadn’t gotten around to it when Cousin Melinda offered to send me one for Christmas.
And she did! I’m grateful for this new cutting board, and will tend it well for many years. Melinda lives in Kentucky, not far from Berea College, the first integrated, co-ed college in the south, with a remarkable zero tuition, work-study program that includes student crafts industries like high-quality brooms and… cutting boards. I’m grateful that I got to visit Berea one year when I stopped at Melinda’s house for a few days on a cross-country trip. I’m grateful for the student who made this cutting board, for the teachers who taught him or her, for the trees that gave up the wood…. In gratitude practice, you eventually figure out that everything is interdependent.
Though we didn’t grow up together, Melinda and I connected a few meaningful times in our younger years, and then about sixteen years ago we reconnected for good and for real. I couldn’t be more grateful to be family with my wonderful cousin, who comforted me after my mom died with the promise that she’ll remember that I love peanut soup. She’s probably forgotten that by now; just this morning we talked at length about our fading memories, how we can remember some things that happened but not when. I asked her when it was that I had stopped by her Kentucky home that first time. I had to look it up, and she had to ask her husband.
I was driving back to DC in the fall of 2003 when my dad mentioned that his niece lived near where I had stopped for the night at a hotel. “You should call her,” he said, so I did. I think I left a message. Six months later I was making the same drive east, with two dogs, a tortoise, a snake, and a carful of possessions as I moved back to help my mother through her last months with PSP. Melinda and her husband welcomed me and my menagerie with open arms, and since then we’ve been fortunate enough to visit here or there about once a year. Until this year, of course.
I’m grateful for the long, easy conversations we share by phone at random times, for her wisdom, medical knowledge, and wicked sense of humor. I’m grateful that through her, I was able to connect with her brothers and their families a little bit, and her dear father who will be 98 in February. Her mother and my father were siblings, and died a couple of years apart some time ago. I’m grateful to be able to explore family history with her in our conversations, comparing our sibling parents and their upbringing, to gain insight into who I was growing up and who I am today. I’m grateful that she’s game for any adventure I dream up while she’s visiting here, and that she’s eager to share her life in Kentucky with me. I’m grateful that even though my other mothers are gone, I still have Cousin Melinda to love me.