Cookies for Professor Norris

Gray morning, we may be starting the summer pattern here with the sea fog hanging high in the early part of the day, sometimes dissipating in the afternoon. Hard to concentrate, though you’d think my dark little study would echo the day and allow the best of focus. But I’m not there. I’m wandering about picking up things and putting them down, poking at ideas. I’ll be baking cookies for the memorial service for Professor Norris later today.

Maybe that’s what troubles me. Not the baking, that’s always good except for the days I get distracted and scorch a pan of cookies. Husband always says, ”you have a timer, don’t you?” and I stick out my tongue at him and say “having isn’t the same as using.” Because I can’t seem to bother with the timer. I always feel like I should grock the doneness of the cookies, and ever since I got these ovens from the Restore (Habitat for Humanity re-sale store in town) the insulation on them is so good I get no clues from the smell that the cookies are nearing perfection.

So what is it? Simply that I’m feeling losses today? Missing Professor Norris who was one of the first people to make us feel like we belonged here in California when we arrived over twenty five years ago? With his dry humor and disciplined manner, the twinkle in his eye and his bow ties? He had just retired, and my husband was taking his spot in the department. One bow tie saluted another.

Professor Norris’ passing last year left an empty place. I recall him taking swarms of students out into the field, old desert rat that he was, knowing every stretch of wind-blasted open, every stunted palos verde, every triumphant Joshua tree. Geology by day, tracing the history that brought these stones, these mountains into place and the forces that will in time to come, move them on. Stories in the flickering light of the campfire of the time one of his companions on an expedition to Mexico developed appendicitis and the desperate race to get him back to a doctor and surgery, a wheezing Ford rattling its way in the grim and lonely night.

But he was tired those last weeks, he hated the walker and the falls, missed the questions of the students, the freedoms of his desert territory. Missed tending his own garden. We owe him our garden. He and his wife decided when they heard their neighbors discussing selling their home that we would make good neighbors, and that’s how we ended up here in this rustic corner of land with rows of trees and the land and home that have so enriched our days.

And by the way, those second-hand ovens from the Restore? I had new electronic double ovens that cost me over $1200 but their brains started going. Got the brains replaced by a nice tech, a couple hundred dollars more, and as soon as that one year warranty ran out they started to think their own thoughts again. I used to flip the breaker before leaving the house because I’d caught these ovens turning themselves on to preheat.
I donated some items to the Restore and my eye noted that they had ovens for sale. Big heavy duty analogue control panel ovens. I admired the insulation, opened them– no one had bothered to clean them before donating. I checked the enamel, scraped at the old cheese. I figure these ovens, Kitchenaids, had only been used for pizza – in fact the pizza stone was still inside. Bought them for $29. No, I didn’t forget any zeroes. Installed for $150. Best baking ovens ever, and they never thought of thinking for themselves at all.
Time to bake cookies.



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3 responses to “Cookies for Professor Norris

  1. Wow, what a deal on those ovens. Did you keep the pizza stone? 🙂 I’m sorry for your loss. It sounds like Professor Norris was quite a guy.

    • Yes, I kept the pizza stone! I’m sorry to have lost Professor Norris for selfish reasons but I have this vision of him striding out among the boulders of the Granite Mountains with his hat tugged firmly into place and his pressed shirt tugged by the wind, looking ahead with his eyes narrowed and a bit of a smile. Never looking cold or stressed no matter the temperature or the weather. And maybe it’s true.

  2. lovely description of Professor Norris, and nice story of an oven and how you came to your house.

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