March 31, 2003
Memories Are Made Of Meatloaf

She started talking about it a couple of months ago.

"My roommate makes meatloaf," Daughter #1 said on the phone one night. "But it just doesn't taste the same as yours." And she went on and on, at great nostalgic length, about how special my meatloaf is ... how moist, how unique, how sweet-and-spicy, how melt-in-your-mouth yummy. 

"I think about it all the time," she said wistfully. 

Frankly, I was astonished to hear this. Nobody felt that way about my meatloaf ten years ago!  (Or if they DID feel that way about it, they certainly didn't act like it: I used to find big congealed chunks of it stuffed under sofa cushions and crammed into pants pockets.) Being informed that somebody remembers my meatloaf fondly, a decade after the fact, is a surprise. To put it mildly.

(Who knows? Maybe they really liked my Food Bank Bean Soup, too, but they just never got around to telling me so.)

"Would you like me to make you a meatloaf while you're here?" I asked, and she said yes, that would be very nice. So a week or so before she was scheduled to arrive here in the Bay Area, I went to the grocery store and bought all the ingredients I would need to create my world-famous Heart Attack Heaven in a Loaf Pan: ground beef, ground sausage, bacon, brown sugar, onions, celery, eggs, a loaf of sourdough bread, a jar of Skippy Extra-Chunk. I figured that in the interest of time and convenience, I would make the meatloaf in advance and then freeze it. It's a very time- and labor-intensive recipe -- mostly it's a lot of chopping and smooshing and basting and antibacterializing -- and I knew that I wouldn't want to waste a single moment of our precious Mother-Daughter Visiting Time slaving away in a kitchen. So I made the meatloaf on a long lazy Sunday afternoon, while I split my attention between war coverage and the Academy Awards. I served it to David that night for dinner, and then wrapped up the rest of it and tossed it into the freezer. The day before she was due to arrive, I pulled it out of the freezer and allowed it thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

By the time she walked through our apartment door on Thursday night, suitcases in hand, the meatloaf was ready and waiting for her.

"Look!" I joyously announced, waving the foil-covered lump in the air. "Just the way you remember!"  And I offered to make her a meatloaf sandwich, right there on the spot. 

She was properly enthusiastic -- this is what she'd been waiting for, all these years -- but the truth is that we'd just finished stuffing ourselves with enchiladas and refried beans at La Piñata, over on Park Street: we didn't have enough room for an after-dinner mint, let alone a big hunk of processed pork products. So instead she contented herself by opening up the foil and taking a good healthy sniff ("It smells just the way I remember," she swooned), and then we tossed it back into the fridge for later.

"We've got all weekend to eat meatloaf," we told ourselves.

It actually turned out to be one of our nicest *California visits* ever. The weekend wasn't completely without incident, of course: none of our visits ever are. There was a minor Crisis Moment on Saturday morning, when it turned out she wouldn't be able to get her contact lenses after all. That was our Big Plan for this visit: I was going to take her to the same groovy optometrist I went to, a few weeks ago, and pay for her contact lens fitting. Ten minutes after she disappeared into Dr. Shiu's examination room, though -- all jazzed and happy about finally getting her contacts -- she was standing in front of me in the lobby again, fighting back tears. It turns out that since she won't be in town long enough to come back for a follow-up visit, they couldn't provide her with the initial eye exam.  Company policy. (I offered to pay for a couple of Mother-Daughter tattoos, instead, but she declined the offer.) But over all it was a weekend of unprecedented good weather, good fun and good food. We shopped, we gossiped, we walked around Berkeley, we watched the Christmas video together, we sat on the couch and talked ... basically, we did all of the typical Mom-and-Jaymi stuff that we like to do when she comes to town. 

And -- of course -- we ate. 

Besides the Mexican restaurant, we also went to our favorite Vietnamese place on Friday night (carrot chowder, the world's best imperial rolls dipped in vinegar, spicy orange chicken) ... The Dead Fish on Saturday (no Hot Biker Bitch Sauce this time) ... good old reliable Kips in Berkeley on Sunday afternoon (messy burgers and salty french fries, served by the requisite surly college dude). When we weren't eating in restaurants, we were hanging around the apartment snacking on Asiago and Fritos, chocolate chip cookies, fried eggs, sourdough bread.

But somehow we never got around to the meatloaf.

As is always the case when one of the Tots comes to visit, the weekend passed entirely too quickly. One minute we were picking her up at the airport ... the next minute it was time to take her back again.

It was 6:00 on Sunday night before David and I got home from dropping her off at Oakland International for her flight home to TicTac. I sat slumped in front of the computer, feeling my usual mix of high and low -- elated over the renewed connection I felt with my child, decimated by our latest separation, already missing her painfully  -- and immediately started the process of obsessively checking her flight status on the Alaska Airlines website. In the 'old days' we used to be able to sit and wait with her at the gate, right up until the moment it was time for her to board the plane. But in these post-911 days of heightened security it's a hug and kiss at baggage claim, then goodbye. When we dropped her off she had more than an hour to wait before her flight was due to depart. Now I typed in her flight number to see if she would be leaving on time. According to the website, the flight was going to be delayed by a few minutes. 

I glanced at my watch. If I was reading the website correctly, she would be taking off in five minutes.

She'll be taking off in five minutes.

I leapt up from the computer chair, jumped back into my shoes, and went flying out the door with my camera in hand. ("Back in a minute!" I shouted at a visibly startled David, who was standing in the bedroom taking his pants off.) I ran all the way across the courtyard and out the front door and around the side of the building to the parking lot behind our apartment ... the parking lot that overlooks the portion of San Francisco Bay immediately adjacent to Oakland International.

And then I waited.

After two or three minutes, I heard the unmistakeable rumble of jet engines in the distance ... followed, moments later, by a tiny silver needle appearing above the horizon. As it soared across the bay in my backyard, I pointed my camera at the sky and fired the shutter: click, click, click, click, click. The plane was too far away to see the Alaska Airlines insignia ... but I knew it was her plane. I took six or seven pictures, as the tiny silver needle threaded itself through the clouds, and then I stood there and watched it sail into the sunset. As I watched the plane disappear into the evening sky, I comforted myself with the knowledge that my beautiful firstborn daughter was sitting on board that plane with her new clothes, her new CDs, her new puka shell necklace, her new Amoeba Records postcards ...

... and two foil-wrapped slices of her mother's meatloaf, tucked into the bottom of her suitcase.


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