My mom was never much of a cook. I am not sure if that is because she didn’t know how, didn’t have time, or didn’t have interest, but as I get older, I am able to relate to more of her and think that it may be because she wasn’t appreciated.
Growing up in Oregon, we had strawberries, rhubarb, raspberries, apples and blackberries in our backyard; everyone did. One of, if not the fondest memory I have of my mom is of her making blackberry jam from the berries we picked in the alleyway that connected our house to our neighbor’s. Fingers stained and t-shirts dotted with juice and the occasional swipe of a hand, my brothers and I, along with the neighbor kids, ate as many as we picked and bagged while she stirred and poured in a hot, steamy kitchen. I only recall her doing that once, though the memory is as familiar to me as if it was an annual event. The jam was good so why did she stop? Did we kids make a mess? I’m sure. Did her arthritic back get stiff standing so long? Probably. What happened to make the juice not worth the squeeze?
When I think of that memory, I cannot help but add to it the other cooking classic- her chili. We kids would eat it, along with cornbread muffins, rather than ice cream if given the choice. The making of it included chopping cup upon cup of onions that would have her standing at the counter with tears streaming down her cheeks. With knife in hand she was powerless when we kids would come up behind her and jiggle her butt. We were of course quite young to get away with or to even want to do such a thing but it caused us all to laugh hysterically. The entire experience was satisfying to the palette, to the appetite, and to the soul. We were so enamored with the result that I suggested she could make extra money by making it in bulk and we kids could sell it to people as they pulled up in front of the house. What a compliment it must have been to her. In addition to chili, she prepared five other dishes and only those five. We would tease her about it to everyone and her response was always the same: “I make what you kids will all eat”. So those five, an occasional TV dinner or a treat of pizza or Chinese, as well as dinner with her parents, made up the full week’s menu. We were all fed and there were never leftovers.
By the time we were all teenagers, sports, friends, and boredom with her limited menu, meant that we seldom were home for dinner. We left her to eat alone and pretty soon, she just didn’t cook any longer, which made me even more critical of her and her lack of creativity, enthusiasm, and commitment to making meals for her family. It became one more reason to withdraw affection from her, as if puberty and teenage angst wasn’t enough. It never once occurred to me that she could have been going out to eat on dates, dining at friends’ homes, as she is a lovely conversationalist whose laugh sounds like music and with a charm and wit that graciously spares a room those dreaded dull pauses. All I knew is that I was never going to be like her and thankfully so.
As Gomer Pyle would say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!” I am just like my mom, except for three things: I have a daughter who is fiercely loyal, respectful, and honoring of me, almost to a fault, and who is the creator of the handiwork featured in this post; I have a son who loves to cook and who has assisted me, competed with me, and cooked for me, adding to all that I taught him; and I have a son who is a reminder of what it is like to be an angsty, angry teenager, but whose saving grace is that he is much more compassionate than I was and therefore will dole out compliments along with the criticisms.
So what does that mean for today? It means that I get to build on those fond memories that I have of my mom, as well as pay her the respect that she so deserved that I neglected to give her when I was young. With each morning comes a day without any mistakes in it. In the midst of writing this, I called my mom and told her how much I missed her and how I regret that I live so far away. I read her the beginning of this memoir which she found so sad which left me crying and my mom doing what mom’s do- telling me how much she loves me and to not cry because there is still time.