Unmeaning Flattery

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Send More Biscotti

Tuesday 01/31/2006 1:01 PM

I can't remember how many years ago it was now, but one Christmas, an over-taped, cardboard box showed up on my doorstep with my sister Shannon's familiar Sharpie printing on the outside, spelling out my name and address.

I brought it inside and opened it up to discover a Ziploc bag full of something edible that wasn't immediately identifiable. It almost looked like an over-cooked chocolate bread loaf that didn't rise. As it turns out, I wasn't far off.

It was my sister's first attempt at biscotti. Well, it was kind of like biscotti. A lot of biscotti has anise (nasty licorice taste — the fact that the word sounds suspiciously like another has never surprised me) and almost all of it so hard it threatens to chip or snap a tooth if you dare to take a bite. Shannon had failed wonderfully in two different ways. First, she had forgone the anise for chocolate and, second, (and she apologized for this the next time we chatted on the phone) the biscotti turned out soft and chewy, not crisp and crunchy.

In short, it was wonderful.

Imagine my thrill when, after a year rolled by, another small cardboard box with familiar printing showed up around Christmas-time. Same Ziploc bag, same biscotti. Now it took her a while to perfect the cuisine, especially considering the fact she only did it once a year. For the first several years, most of the pieces were broken and some of them burned, but the baked cocoa-laden dough with chunks of dark and white chocolate was always the paragon of sugary comfort food that helped make the long nights of winter that much more endurable.

The first time I left my now traditional three word message was on her answering machine wherever she was living at the time. Later, the message would appear in her e-mail inbox, but it never changed. Three words that from here to eternity would encompass all I ever wanted from my sister when she felt the need or desire to grace my life with a gift. Those five simple syllables were a chorus repeating in time with an annual metronome, one precious tick of the Clock of the Long Now, punctuating the ad lib jazz riffs of our necessarily asynchronous lives continuing on so far away from each other — separated in space and struggling to keep time. Having long since lost their surprise, I keep repeating the words, only now there is a new set of ears to hear them and understand and, hopefully, after a while, my nephew Alex will learn the secrets of the chef so he can honor my request year after year until the words seem to lose their meaning entirely and become a string of gutteral sounds like how our dogs must hear us (but understand us just the same).

By now, I'm sure you know the words and are simply waiting for me to speak them here in electrons and ink. Prayers are best aloud and spoken spells succeed, so let me straighten my back and clear my throat, close my eyes and focus. Let my fingers find the keys as I slowly open my mouth with a quiet inhale of breath. Turn toward the north (toward home) and whisper quietly to the wind...

Send more biscotti.

File Under: Food; Shannon
Music: Tori Amos "Crucify"

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