When my mother was alive, I missed a thousand opportunities to have a chat with her. I could have easily picked up the telephone, but didn’t. My letter writing was pretty hit or miss: I’d write pretty regularly for a while, then neglect the practice for months at a time. I am ashamed to admit that sometimes, arriving in my home town, I’d deliberately drive past my parent’s house, waiting until I felt “more prepared” for a visit.
In the last few months of Mom’s life, when I knew the end was imminent, I regretted each one of those missed opportunities, and cherished every chance I had to speak with her. Though she’s been gone almost nine years now, there are still things I wish I could talk to her about.
Dear Mom, the pussy willows are blooming, now, off the King’s Highway. They always make me think of you. I first noticed them growing there more than thirty years ago, when I saw Madonna McCafferty, parked at the side of the road and trying to navigate the ditch to cut some of them. You always had a big bouquet of pussy willows every spring. I wish I knew where you got them. You put them in a glossy, mottled gray ceramic vase. The vase sat in the back room, on top of the clothes dryer. The blossoms seemed to last for months.
The few times I’ve followed in Madonna’s path and waded into the ditch to cut them, they seemed hardly worth the effort. After only a few days, each gray fluff would send out a myriad of tiny threads with yellow ends, that would drop in a powdery mess all over the table. How did you make yours last so long? How did you keep them from going to seed?
Dear Mom, the snowball bush is in bloom in my front flower bed. Mine is much more upright in habit than the one that grew beside the cinder driveway in your parent’s yard, but the blossoms are the same. Their’s grew rounded, like an igloo, with each of the branches tipping over to the ground. It left a hollow space underneath. You’d walk us on the path from our house to theirs, then go inside to visit with Grandma, while Brenda, Ted and I, tiny children, played in the cool shade under the snowball bush. I wonder if Grandpa Ted pruned it to make it grow that way. I wish I’d thought to ask you.
Dear Mom, after working in the yard and garden for most of yesterday afternoon, I was ready for a simple summer supper. Grilled kielbasa and potato salad was my plan. I always use your recipe for potato salad: potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, radishes and cucumber. Cooking for your big family, you always made two large dishes of potato salad: one with onion; one without. Most of the time, I don’t bother with the onion, though I like it both ways. The dressing is mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper. I’m a little more generous with the mustard, but otherwise, just like yours.
When making pasta or potato salad, I always make a big batch so that I can eat it all week. Not a “big batch” by your standards, mind you, but enough to fill my two-quart covered bowl. So, I set the potatoes and eggs to boil while I cleaned up and changed out of my gardening clothes. Then, as you well know, it took a concentrated effort to drain, cool, peel, slice and dice all the ingredients. By the time I mixed it all together and put in in the refrigerator while I grilled the meat, it was almost 7:30! Not such an “easy summer supper,” after all! I blame you for that, Mom. You always made it seem so effortless.
Dear Mom, my rhubarb is doing well this year. I’ve given quite a bit of it away and, three times this spring, pulled out your recipe for rhubarb crisp. It’s a nice dessert when it’s warm, fresh out of oven and topped with milk, the way you used to serve it to us. After that, I’ll eat it for breakfast, cold, until it’s gone. I was still in high school when you gave me the recipe. I wrote it right inside the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook that you’d gotten me for Christmas, on the contents page for the chapter on desserts.
1 cup flour, 1 cup oatmeal, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 stick of butter
Mix together until crumbly. Put half of mixture in a buttered 13 x 9 inch pan. Top with three cups of diced rhubarb. Cover with remaining crumble. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and two tablespoons of water. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes.
The ingredients were written at a forward slant; I hadn’t yet gotten in the habit of writing with the upright letters that I was certain looked more creative. Oh, and that reminds me, your beautiful handwriting…
I could go on and on.