A few weeks ago, I committed myself to thoughtfully go through mountains of boxes in my basement to clear out the spirits of the past and create some breathing room for myself. You may recall my massive paint chip collection, which ended up in the hands of kids at a local craft camp. Even though it was a minor purge, the relief I felt was pretty major. The next box I tackled was a small, dusty one with no label and some pretty sticky spiderwebs. I wasn’t off to a pleasant start.
I shook the box. No clues there. It was light, so I knew it was packed with photos from the 80s or my rock collection. When I opened it, I was met with some shiny and some dull metal pieces that took me a moment to place as my aluminum mold collection. Please know upfront that I have never made a Jell-O mold, but I have enjoyed many from the deft hands of my Grandmother, Margie. This is why I have them.
I grew up drawing my fair share of flowers and princesses, but what I was really dedicated to was menu-making. I designed diner menus, snack shack menus, and ice cream shop menus, but my favorite ones to work on were fancy menus — the kind for restaurants my grandparents frequented on Saturday nights. The necessity of a decorative swirl or swoosh on these particular menus thrilled me. The fact that I needed “special paper,” stationery from my mom’s desk drawer, made me giddy.
Looking back, creating the fancy restaurant menus was a tactile version of a child’s process of imagination, a reasonable excuse for peeking into those glamorous places where my grandparents were royalty. These menus confirmed Margie and Myron’s larger-than-life status didn’t exist just in my head or in my biased opinion of them. They were, indeed, the king and queen I knew them to be.
I imagined they dined on culinary delicacies served from silver trays by white-gloved waiters, who smiled when my Grandfather said “More, please.” They sat on polished, wooden captain chairs that were too heavy for my petite Grandmother to handle by herself. They expertly managed the many glasses placed before them and they never lost track of which to drink from and when. They knew everything there was to know and they were kind and generous and always left a huge tip.
When dessert was presented on a garland-trimmed rolling trolley, they always chose a colorful gelatin with ripe berries floating in the middle and fresh whipping cream on top because it was flavorful and beautiful but also light. They’d had such a fine, four-course meal that there was no room for heavy puddings or rich cakes.
When I gaze at my aluminum molds, I see these fantasies before me as if I were seven years old again, waiting for my grandparents’ return in my pink nightgown, trying hard to keep my eyes open. I smell Margie’s perfume as she carries me off to bed. I see Myron’s silhouette in the doorway as he turns off the light. I feel the softness of the blanket that I still have today and I remember the kind king and queen who always let me have Jell-O for breakfast after their sophisticated Saturday night.
This is a box I will keep forever. —Caitlin