I was being lazy laying in the afternoon sun streaming through the window as a house cat stretched across my comfy bed. I found myself in one of those surreal moments between dreaming and awake. I tried to force my brain to stay there. I could smell something familiar that pulled a memory forward. It was a long ago kitchen scent that filled my nose. A mixture of olive oil, basil, and garlic. Um mm, I thought, pesto.
When I was a kid the children in the family called it Green Gravy.
I have a memory of swimming in a pool at the house of our church’s pastor. He was full Italian American and his wife was Italian. She spoke broken English. We would as most kids will do, whine about being hungry after a long game of Marco Polo in the cool blue water. The pastor’s wife would cook pesto for us. She usually made two batches. When I had my first taste of the green yumminess I asked her what it was called, she said with a chuckle in her heavily accented voice, “Green Gravy. Come I will show you how to make.” She walked out to her garden, picked leaves from a plant and chopped them into fine tiny pieces. Then she stirred the leaves into a pot with olive oil and other ingredients over a stove whispering, “low and slow”. She held the pot down where I could see inside. It sure looked like green gravy to me. Then she drizzled the sweet steamy green sauce over a bowl of waiting pasta tossing it carefully. I was mesmerized. Then I tasted it. I had never had so much fun sucking on spaghetti noodles in my short life until that moment.
I have had pesto since becoming an adult and nothing comes close to my first encounter with the basil olive oil concoction. I can get it real close when I make it, but it is not exactly the same. Never the same.
I am torn between staying in bed letting my senses fill me with happiness and peace or breaking the spell by getting up. The smells from the kitchen, the sound of my husband’s voice and children’s laughter make me smile. The warmth of the sun’s rays through the curtains, the soft heaviness of the quilt and the marshmallow mattress make me what to snuggle down and stay a while longer. However, life has a way that brings reality to my mind. I want to stay in the memory of my childhood. I am warm and relaxed. I hear the soft clink as he stirs the pot of pesto. As I wake fully I realize the amazing smell is my husband making pesto. I seem to remember it was at the request of one of our daughters.
I take a deep breath. realize it is the absence of chlorine and summertime that I am missing in my sense of smell. I have almost a complete recall of that special time, yet it is a weak facsimile of the reality I experienced. Memories are fragile and more precious than gold to me. The memories are what makes us different from other species. We can recall the reasons we live. Sometimes we remember the hurt and the bad stuff, but often we remember the good and lovely. The sweetness of life. Yeah, memory is the gravy of life.