On my way to work yesterday morning I passed a tree. As a conservative estimate I would say I have passed this tree roughly 4,680 times, but this time it was different because I really noticed it. When the tree first caught my eye in the distance, it somehow looked odd. My initial thought was, “Why on earth is someone hanging Easter eggs on a dead tree in the middle of September?” Then, as I got closer, I realized that the tree wasn’t dead, it was just devoid of leaves, and it wasn’t full of Easter eggs, it was full of pears – ripe, round pears and lots of them.

That’s when it happened. 

Suddenly I was young again and back in my grandmother’s kitchen in North Carolina. Granny, as I always called her, was an incredible cook and one of her specialties was dumplings. Usually she made her dumplings with apples, but occasionally she did them with pears. As a child and young adult I was never fond of pears, but my Granny convinced me to love them through her dumplings. They were sublime. It was impossible to dislike pears after tasting her dumplings. In fact, I eventually I grew to love the pear dumplings more than the apple ones because she made them less often, and thereby they became a rare treat.

As I drove along and thought about Granny and remembered how she made those dumplings – peeling and coring the fruit, stuffing the core with sugar and cinnamon, wrapping the fruit in pastry and nestling them six to a pan to bake until they were tender and golden – made me think for the millionth time how much I loved her and now miss her. 

Granny passed way in the spring of 1998, but after all this time, there isn’t a day that passes that I don’t think of her in some way. Often it’s a fleeting thought or memory. Sometimes it’s a wish that my daughter Little M could have known her, or that I could sit at her table and talk (and eat) with her again. Usually the memories are sweet with a gentle tug at the heart, but sometimes – like yesterday, they come when I most vulnerable to them and rake across my soul like a thousand razorblades leaving me raw and exposed.

I spent the better part of the morning yesterday pondering why the pear tree and the memory of those dumplings cut me to the core. I realized that it wasn’t the tree or the dumplings that caused the pain, it’s in missing what my Granny put into those dumplings – all the warmth and unconditional love that defined her character and our relationship – that is gone forever and can never be replaced.