In fact, I barely had enough time to bake banana bread. But when I pulled out the recipe – which happens to live in the family cookbook my mother and I wrote together four years ago – I was reminded that a single batch can be made in one large loaf pan or three mini loaf pans. And also that mini loaves take less time to bake than large loaves, so if I moved quickly, I could easily get the entire job done before I had to leave to visit clients an hour hence.
I had been hoping to make two large loaves. I wanted one to bring to my clients, a couple in their late eighties who are almost finished with their joint memoir project; and one to deliver to my neighbor across the street, who was recovering from a bad fall on the ice. Those three little loaves, when they emerged steaming and fragrant from the oven, didn’t look quite as generous as what I’d envisioned, but now I had enough for both my clients and my neighbor – and one loaf to keep for my family.
As I set the loaves out to cool, I thought about how accurately this little triumvirate reflected my life at the moment. Clients, a neighbor, and my own household. Family, work, and community. Yes, I thought to myself, those are my banana bread recipients and also my main priorities in daily life these days.
It reminded me of a favorite Thoreau quotation: “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” Three chairs represented Thoreau’s chief interests; three banana bread loaves represent mine. In my memoir work, I talk often with clients about the material items that help reflect their story.
Photos, of course, and favorite heirlooms: pieces of furniture, jewelry, books, pieces of art, household knickknacks.
If my house was burning down, I certainly wouldn’t grab the loaf pans. If it happened right now, I quite likely wouldn’t even care enough to grab the banana bread. Bread is a trivial item easily replicated. Never had I thought of it as reflective of my life. But today I did, and it was fun to think about what other small, seemingly insignificant items or objects reflected my character similarly. Toiletries – my favorite hair product or the Advil I take for running injuries? The lap desk that enables me to write with equal comfort on the sofa, in the car, or in the wooden rocker on our front porch? My son takes the same tattered pillow everywhere he goes – on vacations, to sleepovers, to college. My husband has a favorite hoodie honoring a Patriots championship from some bygone year.
There are so many different entry points into our stories and understanding who we are. I often ask clients to tell me about a favorite photograph in order to start the journey into their lives. But the loaf pans reminded me that there are so many other tangible items with which to start a story. If I were to write about my life in 2019, I’d write about how much I treasure my family, value my work, and enjoy my community. And today, banana bread felt like the entry point into my story.
The little loaves were not terribly generous, but the recipients were all grateful. Are there simple objects that reflect your story? Consider the ways you might use them as an entry point – and see what they have to say to you.
Are you ready to start your memoir project – or do you need help continuing it? Contact me any time to discuss how I can help you!