I pad around barefoot, taking in the familiar sights and sounds that have been the backdrop of so many memories. Happy, horrible, and everything between. The faded photographs on the refrigerator. The well-worn cookbooks lining the shelves. The framed wall art and table top trinkets. They all tell a story of love, resilience, and the enduring power of family.

The rich, savory aroma of the budget feast I’m preparing envelops Gran’s kitchen. A testament to my Bajan-Yoruba mother’s resourcefulness. And my Italian father’s influence on her taste buds. Jug Jug. Eforiro. Macaroni pie. Modified Jollof rice. Eggplant lasagna. I move through the space with practiced ease. Chopping vibrant, seasonal vegetables. Stirring simmering pots. And seasoning each dish with a blend of love and culinary wisdom passed down through generations. But I’ve had to substitute a few things—okay, more than a few things—and cut out others entirely to suite Gran’s condition.

Stage three.

I still can’t believe it. And yet, given everything she’s endured in only half a decade, I can’t truly be surprised. Losing her only child. Then her husband. And now, potentially her home.

I try not to go there. Allow these thoughts and fears to get the better of me. She’s had to be strong through it all. For everyone else, including me. Now, I have to be strong for her. For us both.

As I reach for a bottle of spices on the upper shelf, my fingers graze the glass, and it teeters on the edge. In a split second, my hand darts out, catching the bottle just before it hits the ground. The contents settle, and I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding.

Gran, who has been watching me work from her rocking chair, chuckles. “Still got your mother’s reflexes,” she remarks, her eyes twinkling with a mix of pride and nostalgia. “Always quick on her feet, that one. No matter what life threw at her.”

The comparison to my mother brings a bittersweet smile to my face. After she passed, Gran told me she’d always wanted a daughter. And she found that in her daughter-in-law. She and my mom hadn’t always been close. Didn’t always see eye to eye. Ironically, they actually fought like mother and daughter. But even at the worst of their drama, they maintained enough respect for each other that it never spilled over to me. I feel a pang of longing for her presence, but I’m grateful for the pieces of her that live on in me. I remember the way she used to dance around her own kitchen, her laughter filling the air as she cooked up a storm. She had a way of making even the simplest meals feel like a celebration.

I carefully place the spice bottle back on the shelf, my fingers lingering on the cool glass. It’s these little moments, these fleeting connections to the past, that make the holidays both nostalgic and unbearable.

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