“But when from a long distant past, nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remained poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering , in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.” excerpt from Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust.
If you asked me, I would drop everything this very moment and make you a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.
I would make it with the bread, ham and cheese you like.
I would slice it in half and serve it to you on my finest china with a grateful heart. Maybe with a gherkin on the side.
Then I might exorcise my guilt.
Then again, I am not sure that anything will take this guilt away.
I don’t eat grilled ham and cheese sandwiches anymore.
They were a childhood favorite. The epitome of comfort food with tomato soup.
I swore off of them one cold, sad January night.
Call it silly. I just can’t stand the sight or smell of them anymore.
Proust was right about smells…the aroma of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich hurtles me into a pit of shame and regret.
My husband was dying. He was bedridden for the most part and unable to cook for himself. Not that it mattered.
He had lost his appetite for almost all foods except for a few. He loved strawberry smoothies, canned peaches in heavy syrup and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches.
As his wife, best friend and now caretaker, I divided my time between work and taking care of him.
We had a team of friends and professionals who came to our home daily. Nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, priests, friends and neighbors.
I never locked the front door. It was easier for everyone to come and go as necessary.
Also, as my husband slept on the second floor he was concerned about being trapped in a fire.
Everyday I left for work at my job a few blocks away. I had a professional position. So, I wore a suit.
Everyday I came home to make his lunch.
His standing order was a grilled ham and cheese sandwich cooked in butter in the black cast iron skillet.
After a few weeks, I began to make the grilled ham and cheese in the toaster oven with a dab of butter on top.
I saved time. It was less messy…no chance of grease spots on my suit. No heavy iron skillet to clean and dry.
Who was I kidding? I knew that there was no substitute for a buttery grilled ham and cheese.
He was so gracious but I could tell that he hated it. Yet, he insisted that it was fine.
So, that’s how I made them everyday.
I kept my suit clean and was able to return to work on time.
There was so little that I could do for him. At least I could have made him a grilled cheese and ham sandwich everyday.
Since his death, I have relived those moments… my frantic need to get everything done, help my husband beat cancer, bring home a paycheck, be there for our sons, take care of the house and the dog.
Someone once told me that a little guilt can be a good thing as it can push us to do the right thing even if we don’t want to do so.
I wanted to do the right thing for my husband and I did in many ways during his three-year illness.
He would insist that I did everything. I was exemplary.
Still, I ask myself why was I so busy that I could not make a proper grilled ham and cheese sandwich.
I am not so busy now.