Courage at Twilight: Cherry Cheesecake

Do you know the sound of stainless-steelware clanging on a ceramic tile floor, that ear-thumping clatter that causes a physical cringe and sometimes an annoyed bark or expletive? When I hear that awful sound, I jump up from whatever chair or sofa I am occupying and bend to pick the knife or fork up, because Dad cannot.  “The floor is no-man’s land,” he looked at me with a rueful chuckle.  He cannot bend to pick up the knife, or the onion ring, or the paper between the Swiss cheese slices, or the potato chip that falls to the floor.  “This is such a joke!” he laughs, looking at the butter knife on the floor.  But his laugh is all wrapped up in sadness and frustration and a growing discouragement, and his reference to the “joke” is chagrined—not bitter or angry or hateful, rather just recognizing the irony and perhaps cruelty but inevitability of one’s late-life dis-abilities.  I am certainly not laughing at this life-joke.  Watching his painful struggle for every inch of territory crossed, charting his daily deterioration, pains me into my own sadness and frustration and growing discouragement.  It just is no fun to watch a loved one march steadily toward the end of life.  The beginning of life brings an entirely different set of challenges, which most toddlers handle with a combination of cheerful enthusiasm and intense determination.  I invited two-year-old Lila to help me start the cherry cheesecake by crushing graham crackers inside a zip-loc bag, pounding them with our fists and grinding them with a rolling pin, a smile playing on her whole face from the unanticipated joy of harmless destruction.  Lila, and her parents, and my parents, and our neighbors (and myself) vastly enjoyed that cherry cheesecake.  I felt pleased with the culinary triumph, though besmeared with the butter in the crust having leaked through the seam of the false-bottomed tart pan and puddled smokily in the bottom of the oven for me to wipe up at night when I was too tired and never wanted to see another cookbook or dirty mixing bowl again.  But that weariness will have worn off by tomorrow, and soon I will bake a tarte citron or soufflé au chocolat, which we will all enjoy a bit too much.

French chocolate soufflé from Julia Childs.

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