I want to tell you about this brisket.
It is making me want to cry, but the tears and the sobs are stuck, like heartburn, somewhere in my chest and throat, wishing they could escape and offer some kind of relief or consolation.
I learned to make brisket from my friend Trudy, who learned it from her mother. I serve it at every Jewish holiday, and for many family gatherings. When I asked Zak what he wanted me to cook for his engagement party, he said “Mac-and-cheese-and-brisket” as though it was all one thing, but it is not– or is it? These are his tastes of home. His go-to Mom foods.
This year, the confluence of Passover and Zak’s engagement party meant that our house has been filled with the aroma of 50 pounds of simmering brisket for days. Fifty pounds of Sunday dinner at Trudy’s house; fifty pounds of sitting in Trudy’s kitchen while she stood stirring at her old Garland stove; fifty pounds of sharing my deepest, darkest, worst and happiest times with the woman who would treat with equal important the question of whether we should go for a third opinion about chemo and if I would look better in wispy bangs.
I can’t have those conversations with Trudy now: she is in hospice care and no longer able to communicate. I talk to her each time I visit and I don’t know if she understands. I tell her Zak is engaged and I have been cooking her brisket for days: I tell her the smell alone is making me gain weight, and I look for a glimmer of smile around her lips. Some days I tell myself I see it; other days I am sure she doesn’t understand. Every day, I am both sad– so sad– and grateful beyond words to have a friend with whom I have shared the grave and frivolous stuff of life, and who taught me to make the brisket that would become my children’s taste of home.