Carolyn J. Rose
Recently—for no reason I can recall—I thought about cheese as a metaphor for my life, my personality, and my growth and development.
For the record, I love cheese. For many years, I was all about cheese sauces, grilled cheese sandwiches, wedges of cheddar on warm apple pie, extra gratings of Parmesan on my spaghetti, slabs of Gouda sandwiched between crackers, and cream cheese slathered—not smeared—on bagels. Beyond that, I never passed up the opportunity to dip my fingers into a bag of cheese puffs or a box of orange crackers in any shape or size. To this day, they have me under their spell. They beckon from supermarket shelves, airport gift shops, and vending machines. I can smell them from across the street. I can hear their crunch above the conversations in crowded rooms.
Given my cholesterol level, however, I now limit my daily intake to a few crumbles, a thin smear, a small slice, or a handful of puffs. But, given the background on my romance with cheese, thinking of it in symbolic terms isn’t a stretch. Neither is comparing myself, at different times in my life, to various types of cheese.
As a baby, I might have been cottage cheese or perhaps ricotta. Without parental arms to hold me or clothing to swaddle me, I would become, if not exactly formless, then more or less a puddle of flesh and baby fat and soft bones and muscles.
As I grew, I became like cream cheese or Mascarpone, soft and perhaps a little sweet, but able to hold a shape and have enough substance to resist—even if just for a few seconds—the knife of authority.
As a teen, I was more like Gorgonzola or blue cheese. I crumbled at the slightest slight. I fell apart over loss or failure.
Time and experience, however, made me firm and sharp, like white cheddar, perhaps Vermont Cabot. Later I grew even more firm and sarcastic, with a bite like aged Gruyere. But, like Jarlsberg, I maintained a hint of nuttiness.
Now, I think of my life as a block of Swiss or Emmental. There is still shape and strength and flavor, but there are also empty places.
They represent interests abandoned because of physical limitations or lack of energy. They represent bucket list items I may never check off. Most of all, they represent people who are no longer with me. There are large holes for those who died, smaller holes for those who moved or drifted from my orbit, and still smaller holes for those whose orbits I launched myself away from.
As I grow older, it’s inevitable that the holes will grow larger and more numerous. The cheese between them will soften and diminish.
How much will be left in five years? In ten? Or twenty?
How long until there are far more holes than cheese?
How long until, as the children’s song says, “the cheese stands alone”?