It’s the phone call no one wants to get. I could tell it was the second I looked up from the half-packed pile of clothes in front of me at my husband’s face. It was like someone had drained the color from his skin but left his clothes at full saturation. His fingers were threaded through his hair, pushing it upwards, a gesture that I’ve come to recognize over the years as his telltale sign of stress.
In that moment, our packing stopped, our planning stopped, everything just stopped. That’s how it always seems to happen when someone you love dies without warning.
A few months earlier, as Barrett and I were talking over a plate of fried pickles – my spirit food, in case you didn’t know – we asked each other why we were doing what we’re doing. Why were we leaving a home we loved, friends we loved, a city we loved all for the unknown? Were we inspired and adventurous or just plain stupid? There had to be some larger motivation within each of us. I didn’t need long before I blurted out my answer. “Life is short. Too short, too uncertain, one of us might wake up one day and then be gone the next. I want to feel it while we’re both still alive.”
We expressed those same sentiments to my father-in-law Don as the three of us stood in the cockpit of our sailboat having a similar conversation this past summer. “Yeah, you’re right,” he said in return. “Ya never know.” He, much to our surprise by the way, supported our choice to leave our lives behind and move onto a thing that floats (though he did, as we sat in the sweltering Louisiana heat, strongly question our decision to purchase a boat without air conditioning.)
Maybe his support shouldn’t have been so surprising. Don was, after all, the kind of person who lived life exactly how he wanted, no holds barred, no concerns about what the world would think. Want to drive around in a canary yellow car? Done. Want to wear white jumpsuits with hand-sewn patchwork every day of the week? No hesitation. Want to have a bright blue macaw named Cleopatra and train it to greet houseguests not with the standard “Hello” but instead with a squaky-y “Mother fucker! Mother fucker!”? Why not?
Once, a few years ago, Don gave Barrett and I a gift we hesitated to accept and couldn’t possibly reciprocate. We sat in the small kitchen of our apartment and talked about how we could convey our thanks to him, this deep sense of gratitude, in words but words just didn’t feel enough. A card felt trite. So instead, I baked him chewy brown butter chocolate chip gratitude cookies and dropped each golden circle into a glass jar with a brown paper tag that dangled from kitchen twine and said something like, “Words can’t properly express our thanks but maybe cookies can. Love and miss you, Dad/Don!”
These aren’t those cookies but they’re the ones I’ve been making all season for neighbors and friends and anyone who needs them and they’re the ones I’d make today for Don if he were still here. With salted tahini and crunchy pepitas and sweet melted peanut butter chips. And I’d still call them gratitude cookies but I wouldn’t mention that they had tahini in them because he’d be put off by the foreign-to-him ingredient, I know. But he’d eat them and love them not knowing, no doubt.
It’s hard to imagine that Don won’t be here to witness the journey his son and I are just now embarking on. But then I think of all of the times we spent building this relationship. Moments of sweat-beaded sailboat laughter, steak dinners on white linen tables, braised short rib cobblers in our Portland home, foul-mouthed macaws and big long hugs that show love better than some people can say it. Those are the memories that transcend death, they’re the ones that will accompany us on our little unairconditioned boat, they’re the ones we let live on inside us as we let all the rest fall away.
- 4 cups of all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons of baking soda
- 1 tablespoon of kosher salt or ½ teaspoon of regular table salt
- 3 sticks butter, room temperature
- ½ cup of tahini
- 2 cups of brown sugar
- 1 cup of white granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons of vanilla
- 1 cup of pepitas
- 2 cups, about 10 ounces, of peanut butter chips
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the butter, tahini, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium speed using the paddle attachment until mixture is soft and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add vanilla, mixing again to incorporate.
- Add pepitas and peanut butter chips and mix again until evenly distributed throughout the dough.
- Spoon out roughly 1.5 tablespoons of cookie dough and roll into a ball. Place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake in preheated oven until cookies are golden on the edges, about 10-12 minutes.