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Kuritzky, Mollie, Hardships and French Toast

KURITZKY, MOLLIE

Mollie Kuritzky
Age: 13, Grade: 7

School Name: Middle School 255 Salk School Of Science, New York, NY
Educator: Ling Teo

Category: Personal Essay & Memoir

Hardships and French Toast

Stab, dip, place.
Stab, dip, place. 
That is how the mornings at Nana and Poppy’s start. Usually on a Saturday, if there was challah leftover from Shabbat dinner, we would make Nana’s french toast with Nana. Stabbing the challah with a fork, dipping it in the whisked egg, and placing it on the old, scratched pan. My Nana would be in her silky sky blue dressing gown, her dark brown hair in a frizz, and one of the grandchildren teetering on a step stool beside her, taking turns stabbing the challah, dipping in egg, and placing it on the pan. Nana’s eyelids heavy with sleep seemed to droop in a similar form as the rest of her slouched body. All of the Koritz side are not morning people, but the recipe was engraved in her mind, practically muscle memory, she could literally do it in her sleep. It really reflected the kind of person she is too, chill and not uptight about the french toast coming out perfectly. It did not matter that she had to wake up earlier to make it. She was glad to do it. Though that seems like a pathetic thing to show her love, it meant a lot to her grandchildren or at least me. 
Stab, dip, place. 
Stab, dip, place. 
Since we were young, maybe around five or six, we needed Nana’s assistance to make the french toast. I could always count on the familiarity of her warm, steady hand guiding me. The big part that I needed help with was the pan. It was burning hot, or at least that was what I thought as a little kid, and we could not place the dripping, challah on it alone. Nana would hold our hand, and gently put the piece on the old scratched pan, making sure not to drop it to suddenly, or the searing butter would shoot up and burn our fragile skin. That was one of the most important parts to Nana of the french toast-making process, that we did not get hurt, or at least if we did, we learned from it. If we did get hurt, she would always comfort us with kisses and tell us that next time, it would be easier. She also acknowledged that we had to gain independence, letting us do more and more of the cooking alone as we got older. Having three kids, and being a retired kindergarten teacher, Nana knew a few things about children and independence.
Stab, dip, place. 
Stab, dip, place. 
As we grew older, maybe about eight years old, we transitioned from the teetering step stool to “tippy toes.” No longer a warm steady hand guiding us, but a warm steady voice. These changes alone meant we were evolving, slowly maturing to the next level of independence. Nothing has changed from the dark stovetop to the seafoam green kitchen. One of us lets out a cough, “oh no!” Nana would exclaim, “you need to wet your whistle.” That was her cue to wipe her hand on a scratchy dish towel, go into the tall cabinet just out of our reach, and get little pink cups with water for my cousins and me to drink. Maybe a dark blue cup if it was for Noah. Because if that is what he wanted, that is what she gave him. She always put our needs before her own. Even when she got sick, she would stay strong, she could not bear to see us in pain, especially if it was because of her. The one time she broke was with me.  She had just found out about the cancer, and we were about to leave the house. I stayed back in the “little room,” it has the comfiest leather-like couch imaginable, that resides next to Poppy’s larger than life recliner, and the walls are covered floor to ceiling with family photos. It is the quintessential grandparent room. The perfect place for a private goodbye-hug with Nana. Although this was not really our style, I decided to whisper some encouraging words into her ear. “You are stronger than anyone I know,” I said, “and you will beat this.” She started to cry. I had never seen the thick tears that were sliding down her face before. And of course, since I always cry when anyone cries, so did I. I just could not and still cannot get over how something like this could happen to her when I thought she was so determined and stubborn, sickness could not even catch her. That illness would literally bounce off of her broad shoulders like nothing more than an annoying pest. I needed to console myself and tell myself she would be fine. It was crazy to think about, that just a few months ago, we were happily making french toast. 
Stab, dip, place. 
Stab, dip, place. 
Fast forward a lot. She did three rounds of chemo and is actually in remission. Now after five months of her in complete and utter pain, it was gone. The cancer was gone. But the pain was not over yet. Even though she was supposed to do six, chemo took her ability to walk along with her pride. It was crazy to me, that the survival rate for women with uterine cancer is 81%. That seems like such a good number, but the pain she went through to be a part of that percent was astounding. We all know that now there is a better chance of the cancer returning, but we are all just taking a breather, basking in the glow of her cancer-free self. Now, we have not made french toast in a while. The old scratched pans retired to the cabinet a little time ago. From hospital visits to live-in nurses to rehabilitation centers, french toast became insignificant. So, we have accepted a new kind of life. We enjoy talking to her, while she sits in her wheelchair, and tries to pretend that everything is the same. We do not know yet that the cancer will come back. We do not know yet that she will have to do one week of radiation, and two years of immunotherapy. We do not know that yet. In a new world where everything seems like a mess, we at least had french toast. Our constant. What kept us grounded. I do not even really have that consistently anymore. I feel that this was what I was judging her sickness by. The day she could not make french toast anymore would be the day she was actually sick. But that day came and went, I had to come to terms with it. People say traditions matter and not to forget them. But, what really matters is adapting when that tradition is gone. Maybe even adapting your entire lifestyle for whatever the world throws at you. I realized that the whole time french toast was not my constant. It was not the familiar Saturday morning process. It was my Nana. My Nana was my constant the whole time. So, when one of my favorite people in the world was near death, my whole world fell apart. I have found that what they say is not completely true. “Continue tradition” and “Value your family.” But, what I think is the main thing to learn from life is to take advantage. Do not just be grateful, take advantage. Take advantage of the fact that you are loved. Feel blessed, feel spoiled. Let it soak into you every day. It is a privilege, not everyone reaps the benefits from.