The world is a very uncertain and frightening place. We all have our little things that get us through the day, or the week, or the winter. Mine was muffins. A certain kind of muffin, made by a certain lady. Maybe I took those muffins for granted, because even with my tendency to imagine the worst, I never imagined a world without a muffin-shaped vessel of sugar, flour, and pure home-baked comfort.
This Saturday marked the end of an era.
A woman named Mary (who my family has always called “The Muffin Lady”) has been selling the most amazing muffins the world has ever tasted at the farmer’s market in my hometown since 1982. My dad has faithfully bought muffins from her every Saturday since before I was born. Recently, he did some calculations, and came to an incredible conclusion.
Ever since, his goal has been to get to 5,000 muffins. He talks about it all the time. Instead of “How’s the family?” or “What have you been up to lately?” his friends ask him, “How many more muffins until 5,000?”
When we were little, my dad and my sister and I had a ritual of going to see the Muffin Lady every Saturday, then grabbing a spot on our favorite bench in the park and playing the car game, you know, guessing what color car is going to roll down the street next. With a giant double chocolate muffin with extra chocolate chips slowly melting in your hands and the sun shining and the whole weekend ahead of you, it’s pretty much paradise, especially when you win because you know more people have blue cars than your idiot sister who always picks purple.
The Muffin Lady has always had a special bond with our family. She knew both of my late grandmothers by their first names. She welcomed A as a member of the family the first time I brought her to the farmer’s market, and last fall the Muffin Lady actually hugged me while we both cried over my parents’ favorite dog being put to sleep (since he was a faithful visitor every Saturday as well). We all thought the Muffin Lady would be there for us forever.
Well, the Saturday before last, I got there at my normal time, ready for my hardest decision of the day to be “Do I get one of my favorite muffin—cinnamon chip—or two? I should get two, because I like to stress-eat one during Game of Thrones,” and what do I see at the Muffin Lady’s stand? The same stand that she’s occupied in rain, shine, sleet and snow since 1982?
A sign that said, “Our last market will be next week. Moving to Texas. Thank you for 35 wonderful years.”
I was gobsmacked. I didn’t even notice the line forming behind me of fellow freaked-out townies, all asking questions like, “Can we order the muffins online? Will you be my Facebook friend? Will you ever come back?”
Mary’s assistant, Robin, said to me through tears, “How are you going to tell your dad?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not emotionally prepared for this.”
I never call my parents unless someone is dead, but I called my dad from the market.
“No more muffins?” said my dad. “Oh the humanity!”
“And your parents’ new dog just graduated from obedience school too,” said Robin. “He’ll hardly know us!”
My parents have always kept the Muffin Lady updated on everyone’s academic achievements.
I was so thrown off my game that I only bought one cinnamon chip. My dad went to the market later, and I asked him to get me one, if they had any left.
I did not tell him to say this, but my dad inquired, “Do you have any cinnamon chips left? Elizabeth needs one for Game of Thrones.”
“Do we have any cinnamon chips left?!” cried the Muffin Lady. “Elizabeth needs one for Game of Thrones!”
And Robin gasped, “We’re out of cinnamon chips! Will Elizabeth be okay for Game of Thrones?!”
No, Robin. No, I wasn’t.
So, last Saturday was the final farmer’s market for the Muffin Lady. I put on my sunglasses and my little farmer’s market bag like I was going to a wake.
My dad made the Muffin Lady a card with our family’s picture on it, along with pictures of all our family dogs that the Muffin Lady has befriended, and a letter thanking her for being a part of our lives and our town.
We weren’t the only ones getting emotional—people were posing for selfies with their muffins, taking pictures of their kids with the Muffin Lady, giving her lots of hugs and well-wishes.
In the midst of all the tears and the commotion, I grabbed the last five cinnamon chip muffins in existence, with all the stealth of Indiana Jones stealing a priceless artifact from a tomb. I mean, I paid for them, but still, what a rush.
My dad was only 42 muffins short of 5,000. He considered buying 42 muffins in one swoop, but immediately thought better of it, since that wouldn’t be fair to all the other people getting their final muffins.
He’s always put other people before himself. I really admire that. Did that stop me from grabbing the final five cinnamon chips? No way in hell.
By Sunday, we were still grieving. My sister announced her plan to freeze two of her muffins—one for a year, “So we can eat it next fall like people do with their wedding cakes, and then we’ll freeze one muffin forever.”
“Why would you want to freeze a muffin forever?” I said.
“What do you mean?” said my sister, like this was a silly question.
“If you freeze the muffin, you can’t eat the muffin. That’s a wasted muffin,” said A.
“I know a guy with a vacuum sealer,” said my sister’s boyfriend. “We could borrow it.”
“I could keep it in the freezer,” said my mom. “Ooh, what if the power goes out? We’ll have to get a generator.”
“You could always bury it,” I said. “Worked for Otzi the Iceman.”
“And the mastodons!” said my mom.
“We’re not going to bury it,” said my sister. “Just freeze it forever. Why do you have to hate on my plans?”
“We should vacuum seal multiple muffins and put them in different locations,” said my sister’s boyfriend. “Just to be safe.”
“I don’t understand anyone in your family,” said A, later on. “Your sister wants to freeze a muffin just so she can hold it up in twenty years and shout ‘MUFFIN LADY!’ at the sky. But you can’t eat a frozen muffin!”
“It’s more like a symbol,” I said, mentally counting how many cinnamon chips I had saved.
“It’ll be a doorstop that takes up space in your mom’s freezer,” said A. “Until your dad accidentally eats it.”
“Then he’ll be closer to 5,000,” I whispered.
I have three cinnamon chip muffins left.
I shall guard them like I’m guarding the last three dragon eggs in all the known world . . . while my family is taking a different approach.
A said, “They’re sacrificing my FAVORITE muffin to the muffin gods?!”