The story I’m sharing probably has nothing to do with the recipe at the end, the peach cobbler bars – or maybe it does, a little. So, if you’re just here for the food (and I don’t blame you), feel free to scroll to the bottom for the recipe. However, if you’re here for the words, thank you.
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I had my own bedroom when I was a kid. I never had to share with my little brother, which was good, because mostly, back then, he drove me crazy. My bedroom was at the back of the house, far away from my parents’ room, and at night, every night, my mother would put me to bed. After turning the lights off, she would stand in the open doorway, her body a dark silhouette surrounded by the glow of light from the bathroom across the hall. Each night, she wished me goodnight, and then she slowly pulled the door part way closed, but not all the way. I liked having the light streaming in. It helped me feel less alone at night. The light made the goodnights – the goodbyes – easier.
In my bed, I made sure that every inch of me was covered by my blankets, despite the warm, muggy air that filled our house. The window next to my bed was open partway but only a stirring of air seeped inside, barely stirring the sheer, once-white curtain. Crickets chirped in the dark outside, filling the silence with their songs. Our old Florida cracker-style house had no air conditioning back then – and my parents wouldn’t have it installed until I moved away to college – so we relied on open windows and rotating fans to keep cool. Or perhaps just a little less hot.
Along with the blankets, I piled my assortment of stuffed animals, at least twenty of them, on and around my pillow, arranged in a fan around my head and tucked under each arm. I wanted them close, where I could grab them quickly in case of an emergency.
For a period of time, I was afraid of fire, irrationally afraid, and I was convinced that our old house would go up in a blaze one night while we slept. I worried that my parents would die in the fire, and that I would end up alone, with no mother or father. Each night, for many nights, I lay in bed, nightshirt damp with sweat from the trapped heat of the blankets, staring into the dark at the low ceiling above me, with my heart pounding and my chest tight with fear.
I developed a plan, though, and that plan involved climbing out my open bedroom window and taking my stuffed animals with me. If I saved them from the fire, I wouldn’t be alone – we would have each other, my animals and me. I had these thoughts for nights on end, and each night, I surrounded myself with the stuffed animals, each within grabbing distance, and I anticipated the fire that never came.
I know now that I was simply afraid of being left behind, of having to say goodbye to people I loved – or of not even getting a chance to say goodbye.
Saying goodbye remains difficult for me. When I leave my family to travel for work, I get that racing heart feeling, that “What if something happens while I’m gone?” feeling. When my husband travels without me – a rare occurrence, but it happens – I often feel my chest tightening in the days leading up to his trip, the anxiety mounting slowly but reliably as I struggle to push it away.
And so it is ironic that I’ve chosen a profession in which saying goodbyes are part of the territory. A majority of the territory, in fact.
I said my goodbyes to a patient this week. I’ve known her, cared for her, for the last several years. I’ve treated her with chemotherapy, and I’ve held her hand and comforted her when chemotherapy stopped working. I’ve learned about her life before cancer, her children and her grandchildren, her unwavering faith. She had a major setback about a month ago, while in another state, and she stubbornly refused to make decisions until she spoke with me. I smiled when I learned she did this; it is so very like her to be stubborn to the end. And this setback, this one, tragically, is a big one. The final one. The one that can’t be surmounted.
So I held hands with her and listened as she told me that she was ready to go. That she had made peace with God and that she wasn’t fearful. She thought I would be disappointed in her, and that she had let me down. This was her biggest fear. She wasn’t afraid of death. She was afraid she had let me down. I squeezed her hand even tighter, not wanting to let go. Not wanting to say goodbye.
I’ve learned over the years that while goodbyes are painful, they can also be beautiful. Goodbyes are a critical part of life, and they can be – should be – a vital part of death.
And being able to say goodbye? Having the chance to say it? Why, it’s the most important thing of all.
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And so this has nothing to do with this recipe except that we’re saying goodbye to our peaches as summer wraps up. I also wanted you to have a recipe, since it’s been so long. Too long, really.
Peach Cobbler Bars
I adapted this recipe from a Southern Living recipe. I'm one of those people whose favorite part of a cobbler is the crust, so this recipe suits me just fine. Heavy on crust, with peaches taking a backseat (well, maybe the passenger seat), this is an easy way to serve cobbler on the run.
16 tablespoons (2 sticks; 227 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (220 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
1-1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar, divided
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3-1/4 cups (406 grams) all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups peeled and chopped fresh peaches
1-1/2 tablespoons bourbon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
Beat the butter, light brown sugar, and 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar with an electric mixer (or in a stand mixer) on medium speed until creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla.
In a medium bowl, whisk together baking powder, salt, and 3 cups (375 grams) flour. Gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture, beating just until blended. Spread 3/4 of the batter in the pan.
Stir together the remaining 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar and 1/4 cup (31 grams) flour in a medium bowl. Whisk in cinnamon. Add peaches and bourbon and toss together to combine. Spoon peaches over batter evenly. Dollop the remaining batter over the peaches. Bake for 1 hour, until golden and bubbly. Cool completely on a wire rack, about 1 hour. Cut into bars.