It is no surprise that our memories and emotions are tied to food. The smell of warm cookies reminds us of coming home the first day of school. The taste of chicken soup when we are sick can be strangely comforting and believed to have healing powers even if it is in our imagination. Psychological studies point to some solid reasons why foods and smells can elicit such strong memories. The hippocampus, a part of the brain critical for forming long-term autobiographical memories, is strongly connected to the parts of the brain responsible for emotions and sense of smell. Our biology has primed us with a portal to transport us into our memories– and it revolves around food. Even the familiar place for family dinners when you were a child, although in my case it was a relative’s home, is a comforting place to be even after you grow up and have adult children of your own. Just walking back into that home takes you back in time and you feel loved. That is how I feel when I visit my Uncle Willie. My Aunt Helen, who insisted that we call her "Auntie", passed away this week after being married to the love of her life for 71 years. Their home was the place for many a family meal and now I am part of the next generation planning a family meal for her funeral at their home. It is our turn to keep the home fires burning.
One of my fondest memories was visiting her when I was a child and she gave me cheese and apples for a snack. I know that this sounds simple but I had never had that combination before and it quickly became a favorite of mine. Now whenever I have it for lunch, you will find a small grin in the corner of my mouth. That is for my Auntie and thoughts of her. She was a kind hearted women who always remembered my birthday even as an adult and sent me a card. Her home was always open, a pot of coffee was always warm and everyone had their own cup up in the cabinet and they are all still there to this day 30 plus years later. Her home was a hub of activity and she was the in the center of it all. The oldest of 11 children all of her siblings looked to her in one way or another to be their leader in some way. Now we will need to find a new leader, for a new generation of our family and decide how we will continue on with this missing piece.
It’s been rough these last few months losing 3 family members in 3 months from this side of our family, but I realize that it is partially my time to follow in my “Aunties” footsteps and do what she would do and what she would want me to do, make some good food, share it with family, love each other and her memory and keep the home fires burning until we all meet again in the hereafter.
*Photo from the home of Willis and Helen Toomes, built by Willis during his life as a stone mason