I called her randomly one day. My own recipe was fine but it was just fine, and I finally felt ready to try to tackle hers. I scribbled notes as she ambled through recalling what she had been doing by muscle memory for decades. I don’t know that I could call it a recipe. But she talked and I wrote, and we got distracted and then we started giggling about something before we eventually wound our way back to the subject.
“I dunno, baby,” she said in that particular way New Orleans women say baby, “you just feel it. You know what I mean. You cook. You just feel it.”
We got distracted again. We laughed some more. Her other line beeped, and she had to go.
Before she clicked off, she asked, “Did I give you everything you needed?”
Oh, of course she did.
Too few months later, she was gone.
I thought I’d thrown it away. I felt like I remembered tossing the scribbled sheet out in one of the fits of purging and cleaning I am prone to. I distinctly remembered thinking to myself as I tried to decipher what I’d written down between our laughs, I can just call her and ask her again.
Except now I couldn’t.
I tore my house up looking everywhere it should have been. I looked everywhere it shouldn’t have been. And it was nowhere. I laid down on my kitchen floor and sobbed until my body was too dehydrated for tears. How arrogant with our time I’d been.
Maybe a year later I found it, sandwiched between the pages of a notebook. I gasped with relief and cried as I gripped it to my chest. I cried because I hadn’t been so careless after all. I cried because she was here on these pages, but she was gone. It was like finding buried treasure. I put it away for safe keeping.
Every year when the air chills, it seems I stumble upon it. I look at my scribbles, the doodles I drew in the margins as the conversation meandered from its purpose. The tear stains and the wrinkles. I run my fingertips over it like sacred text. I say a prayer of thanks.
And then I put it away, because I can’t bear the idea of making it without her.
It’s fall again and I’ve found it. I run through the particulars of the memory again so that I never lose it. I was in Atlanta. It was spring. I was in the last apartment. Standing at the peninsula. Use chicken necks. Pan fry the okra first. Take your time with the roux. Do you remember how I showed you that time?
I remember everything.
Maybe this year I’ll make it.