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In This Place

Baking and the Blues, an Essay by Nancy Aronie

Liz Lerner

No more MSNBC. No more Fareed Zarakia. No more Fox News (just to see another perspective). No more numbers going up exponentially, no more mounting deaths. I could not take the pain.

While my husband has been doing Facetime tutorials with our nine year old grandson: electricity, the atom, the Wright brothers, I have instead of all the tv time, been baking. I am not a baker. Baking requires attention to detail. You have to know about yeast and baking soda and folding and sifting and separating.  I haven’t baked since the kids were little and I made an apple crisp, using the sample left on my door by an innovative marketing company. Real lemon it said on the bottle in large letters with a glossy photograph of a sunny yellow tree ripened lemon. Turned out when the kitchen didn’t have that something delicious is in the oven smell and the kids took their first bites and refused to take their seconds and I plopped the thing in the sink and ran the water and it bubbled and created suds that are still foaming to this day, did we realize that soap should not be one of the major ingredients in an apple crisp.


But COVID-19 calls for creative compromises. And what else was I going to do with three overripe bananas. So I made banana bread. Before I was quarantined I swam laps every day. That was how I earned the right to eat. But the swim club is closed. Luckily I don’t like banana bread so even though I ate it, I didn’t enjoy it and we all know there are no calories if there is no enjoyment. But then I made chile and chile as we also all know requires cornbread. As more luck would have it I don’t really love cornbread either so even though I ate it I didn’t over- glom. But about the fifth day in sequester, it occurred  to me that I was baking things I didn’t actually like and eating them anyway. Why not, thought I, make something I love and that’s when the Covid Criss Cross Peanut Butter Baking Company was born. It’s not really a company and I’m not really selling them and nothing was really born except my newly developed double chin. I’ve made three batches so far and no one to give them to. So what’s a girl to do?


Sunday night I broke my no news rule and instead of looking for a recipe for those powdered sugar-dusted pecan wedding cookies, I watched Sixty Minutes. They interviewed a cross section of Americans at the end of their financial ropes. Story after story broke my heart.


The whole next day I couldn’t get the face of the woman who had just started her own catering company and had to lay off her five employees and is down to her last month’s rent, the woman who is the first in her family to graduate from college and at the same time as her 22 year son. Neither of them can find work and she owes 175 thousand dollars in loans, Neither of them has health care. All day I walked around thinking of my charmed life on the vineyard and the hundreds of thousands of stories just like those two. But also knowing that guilt does nothing to help.


I thought about one of my favorite teaching stories about a guy who owns a painting of a sunset. Most of the painting is grey blah bleak. But in the right hand corner there is a swath of magenta that is so exquisite so brilliant and so totally beautiful. The guy brings it to the framer and when he goes back two weeks later, the framer says, oh jeez, I’m so sorry, I didn’t have a frame big enough... so I had to fold over... that.. pink thing. The lesson is not lost on me. The story is about balance. We must have the grey the sorrow the dark in order to have the light. Just the dark and you’re in a depression. Just the light and you’re in baking and eating lala land. I can’t bury my head in the sand and pretend everything is fine but I can’t carry the full weight of these stories either.


So I hereby declare the Covid Criss Cross Peanut Butter Company  is closed for emotional repairs. And the tv is open for occasional news.


Nancy Aronie is a writer who lives in Chilmark.