Tag Archives: Mom

Cook

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I am not an exceptional cook, but I like to be in the kitchen, and I have a few good recipes that I can count on.

From my Mom, I have the ability to make a good pot roast, an excellent boiled dinner, and a wonderful rhubarb crisp. I crimp pie crust the same way Mom did, but the recipe is my own. Mom’s apple pie used to be my favorite, and she often included it “just for Cindy” in her holiday baking.  Her tastes changed as she got older, though, and her apple pie got sweeter and sweeter over the years. At the same time, I was sweetening things less and less. Toward the end, I could barely tolerate her apple pie, and would manage to choke down one slice, just to spare her feelings.

I have altered a few childhood favorites, to better suit my own tastes. I add broccoli to my macaroni and cheese. Also, I make a white sauce and add extra sharp cheddar cheese to it, rather than just stirring in the milk, butter and cubes of cheese as Mom did. For goulash, I use Italian sausage instead of ground beef. I add finely diced carrots and onions to my split pea soup with ham.

Ethnic foods have been a big interest of mine, and I have by turns gained knowledge of Italian, Mexican, Chinese and Indian cooking. I learned vegetarian cooking from the Seventh Day Adventists back in the 1970’s, when I was boycotting beef for one reason or another. Their reasons for vegetarianism were religious, not health-based, and the recipes I came away with were loaded with fat, calories and cholesterol. I still love the Special K loaf and pecan burgers that they taught me how to make. My friend, Sue Knisley, taught me how to make home-made noodles, when she visited me on the island many years ago.

Cookbooks have been a source for other good standards. My chicken and dumplings recipe comes straight from the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book that my mother gave me before I was married. Two favorites, Basque chicken in red wine with olives and peppers, and sauteed chicken breasts in Dijon mustard cream sauce, come from The Supermarket Epicure, a large paperback cookbook that I bought on sale many years ago. My best bread recipe is the Fitness House Bread from Home Food Systems. Second in line is the crusty round loaf from Artisan Breads in 10 Minutes a Day. My best soups, when not thrown together ad lib with whatever is handy, come from This Good Food: Contemporary French Vegetarian recipes from a Monastery Kitchen.

Bachelor living lends itself to another whole series of meals. Scrambled eggs with cheese, hot buttered noodles with broccoli and parmesan, a fried hamburger smothered in cauliflower or cabbage, or – more often than I care to admit – cold cereal with sliced bananas and milk can make a fine dinner, when dining alone.

 

Give Me Comfort

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The combination of a bright moon, a restless mind, and Rosa Parks madly scratching beside me woke me up in the middle of the night. My little dog’s allergies are worst this time of year, and they manifest in red, itchy ears. She scratches them until they are raw. I reached over and patted her. I put one thumb inside her ear, to support it while I gave her a good rub with my other fingers. Sometimes this feels so good to her that she flops over, eyes closed, as if in a faint. Not last night. She continued to dig at the offending ear with the paw of her hind leg, thump-thump-thumping as the leg hit the mattress, whimpering when she caught the tender flesh with a claw. Poor baby!

“I wish you comfort,” I said to myself, in my half-asleep state, a tiny prayer for her well-being.

As soon as the thought came to mind, I realized that was the same wish I’d held close, and repeated often, in the days before my mother’s death. We were past the shock and disbelief. We were beyond hoping for a miracle that would keep her with us for another ten or twenty years. When it came right down to it, the best and only thing we could do was keep Mom comfortable. In our large family, we worked together toward that end, making sure that pillows were fluffed and sheets were wrinkle-free, that her frail body was clean, turned and supported, and that medicines were dispensed on time. Other things – like holding her limp hand, or laying down beside her in bed – were ways of comforting ourselves, too. And the mantra that ran through my head, day and night, was, “I wish you comfort.”

To be comfortable is something I never thought of much, when I was younger. I was stronger in mind and body; my joints were more limber. It was easier both to move and to be still. Now, I don’t dare sit, stand or lay in one position for long. Regular stretching, and rearrangement and readjustment of muscles and bones is necessary if I want to be able to move when I’m ready to. My knees note every step as I go up and down ladders or stairs, and I don’t dare crouch down without assurance that there is a hand-hold nearby to assist me in getting back up.

Because the odds and ends of aging make me more aware of discomfort, I am more attuned to making myself comfortable. I opt for comfort over style in clothing, always. If I feel a chill, I don’t hesitate to add a cardigan. If I get a headache, I never wonder if it will go away on it’s own; I take aspirin right away. Though I like a morning shower, in the evening I often run a hot bath, just for the soothing relaxation of it. I find my house is filling with an assortment of little pillows and cushions: one to sit on, if I sit on the hard chair; one for behind my back on the couch; one for between my knees as I sleep…it’s all about being comfortable.

Comfort is one of the little things, big in importance, that are worth wishing for, and worth the effort.

Happy Heavenly Anniversary

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Mom and Dad

I love this photograph of my parents, on the dock of the Beaver Island ferry. It was taken when they were newly in love, not yet married, not yet parents. I didn’t know them, then.

I knew them as busy young parents, fussing and rushing to do the right things and raise good children. I remember Mom, circling the table to oversee projects from her “Rainy Day Cupboard” or, later, homework…with a baby on her hip, and supper on the stove. I remember Dad, on hands and knees, showing us how to put seeds in the furrow he’d made, and how to tamp down the earth around them. As he left for work, Dad always bent down to give Mom a kiss goodbye.

I knew them later, when keeping up with many more children was exhausting for Mom, and work at the factory frustrated Dad, and kept him away from home for long hours. In addition to their own family, there were neighborhood kids and cousins and friends filling the house; Mom mothered all of them. Dad’s little farm had grown to a half-acre of garden, plus pigs and chickens. It seemed like they didn’t have time for each other, but just kept going on.

I knew them when, with children grown and many years of tension and resentment gathered over the years, they barely spoke to each other. They each had plenty of complaints, though. Dad was sure Mom was too easy on David; he didn’t like her having a job, and felt it was an insult to his ability to support the family; he was sure, sometimes, that the only reason she read so many murder mysteries was to find a good way to do him in. Mom knew that Dad was too hard on David; he drank too much and against the doctor’s orders; he was always grouchy.

When Dad died, Mom’s last gesture was a loving pat on his hand and a kiss on his forehead. They had shared a long life. When Mom was dying, more than a decade later, she told me she’d been putting a letter together for Dad, letting him know that their troubles were not his fault alone, and that it was all water under the bridge anyway. How wonderful, I thought, to be so sure of heaven and the people that will be waiting there, that she wants to make amends beforehand!

Today, on their anniversary, I hope Mom and Dad have put all their troubles behind them, and are enjoying each other’s company.

Birthdays Past

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Brenda & Cindy with Mom, on the car deck of the Beaver Island ferry, circa. 1955

Today is my Mom’s birthday.

When we were very small, Mom’s birthday meant a homemade card, and bouquets of dandelions. She was always very gracious.

As we got older, we added a cake to the list, baked in her kitchen, with her ingredients. We probably left a mess behind.

There were quite a few years when one of her children, as a representative for the family, would call Perkins Flower Shop and order a bouquet of roses to be delivered to her. As Mom had a charge there, they added it to her bill.

As adults, the gifts became more thoughtful. A dinner out, a night of entertainment, cards and gifts.

The ones that came from me, more often than not, were late in arriving. It wasn’t that I ever forgot; I was just lax in getting those packages and letters to the post office in time to arrive by her birthday. “It’s a good thing you had lots of kids,” I would say, “so at least some of them are thoughtful and on time!” Still, she was always very gracious.

Like so many things, Mom’s birthday has taken on greater significance since she’s been gone. It never goes by these days without consideration and gratitude for her having been a part of my life. As always, she’s on my mind and in my heart today.

 

 

Who’s the Boss?

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My mother was always “the boss.” Though only four foot, seven and a half inches tall, Mom packed a lot of authority into her diminutive frame. “Because I said so” was her unapologetic reasoning behind any given directive.

If that wasn’t enough, she had an arsenal of back-up material. She’d threaten to tell Dad, who she allowed us to believe was “the boss,” just because it served her purposes. There was the spanking, or the threat of it. If necessary, that threat would expand to include the belt or the willow switch. There was guilt, and Mom was a master at it.

Mom was in control. If she wanted to go shopping, out to dinner, or to Bingo, she just  said the word. If she was ready to go home, whether anyone else wanted to leave or not, it was time to say good-bye.

When Mom was on her deathbed, heavily medicated and barely aware of her surroundings, my sister Sheila died. The doctor advised us to not even tell her. “Spare her that pain,” was the suggestion, and we tentatively agreed. Yet, as soon as Mom asked where Sheila was, and said, “I want the truth,” Robin and Amy spilled the beans. That’s okay. Any one of us would have done the same. We had spelled it out in the agreement: “We will spare her…unless she demands to know.” Because Mom was the boss.

I’ve never held that much authority. I’ve tended always to cajole, request or beg more than “order.” When I gave my daughters a directive, it was accompanied by a long explanation and a list of reasons. I never wanted to be a “because I said so” Mom. My youngest, losing patience with my wordiness, would clap her hands over her ears and say, “Okay, okay, I’ll do it…just stop talking!” The only time I ever felt like I was “the boss” was the few months before my oldest daughter was due to get her driver’s license. Any misbehavior, and that license was at stake. I felt guilty, but incredibly powerful, whenever I wielded that threat.

Mostly, though, I’ve always tried to be more diplomatic. I don’t like taking orders, and I’m not comfortable giving them. I don’t like the idea that someone needs to be the leader. It would be nice if we could all just talk our way through. However, when a time comes when it’s necessary to be assertive, I have to say, I envy Mom’s style!

 

Continuing…

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Cindy and Brenda, Christmas morning, in front of the partition to the unfinished new kitchen.

My father had built a sweet little house, which his ever-growing family had outgrown in no time.

Before I was three years old, Dad had started the first addition, which was a large, flat-roofed kitchen, off the left side of the house. I remember being allowed in there when he working. As long as we behaved, Brenda and I could slide across the big expanse of floor, smell the fresh-cut wood, stand ready to hand tools or nails to Dad when he needed them.

Eventually, it was finished. A wide archway led from the living room to the kitchen, where the dining space presented itself first. A picture window in the front gave a perfect view of Lake Nepessing on the other side of the road, and created an ideal spot to show off our Christmas tree at holiday time. Windows on the far side offered a view of the garden and field beside our house, the black shed, two little cottages (one of which my mother was born in), the parking lot and – across from that – the Lake Inn, with its sign in cursive pink neon letters.

The refrigerator was framed in, with enough space on top to house Mom’s radio, on the far wall just past the side windows. Cabinets went all the way to the ceiling. The counters were all downsized to suit my mother’s “four foot, seven and a half inch” height. The sink – very modern looking in stainless steel with chrome faucets – was placed on the diagonal, with windows on either wall meeting in the corner, creating a little nook where Mom kept plants and religious statues. Around the corner on the back wall, a shiny electric range top had a strong fan above it to pull out smoke and kitchen odors. Cupboards underneath held stacks of pans. More drawers below and cupboards above continued across the back. Finally, a built in oven with a giant drawer below it and a huge cupboard above finished off the kitchen space.

Every cupboard and drawer were made by hand, painted palest gray, set off by shiny red trim, and finished with bright chrome handles. The counter top was deep red linoleum. The floor was a checkered pattern in red, black and white. The light fixtures were modern circular fluorescent bulbs. There was a slight pause, before the light came on. When we flipped the switch, we’d look with bright eyes at each other and say, “wait for it…” just as our mother had when she first showed them to us.

A doorway led to what was the old kitchen. Now, it was a hallway to the back door, a utility room with the furnace and many shelves for canned goods, and a stairway leading up. The bedrooms, though, will have to wait…

Burnt

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Yesterday, I imagined my house on fire; I was able to save five things.

I changed the rules to save all of my houseplants, then chose two photographs, two laptops and a scanner, one book of poems and a big purse. I know that’s more than five items, but it all made sense yesterday.

Today, the question is this:

What things do you most regret leaving behind when the house burned, and why?

With the opportunity to start fresh, I’d have only a few regrets, but they are important ones:

  1. Diaries and Journals: One low shelf in my bedroom is dedicated to these old writings. I almost never look at them, but when I do, it becomes an all day activity filled with giggles, tears and the reliving of old memories. I wrote mostly of heartache and frustration, but also made note of cute things my daughters said, moments of absolute contentment and long lists of aspirations. I would regret not being able to revisit that younger version of myself.
  2. Books: The books I’m reading now,  the books I re-read on occasion, the books I refer to regularly for information and the books I hold onto  purely for sentimental reasons…all would be missed. Those are the items that I’d still be looking around for, then poignantly remembering their loss, for the rest of my life.
  3. My Dining Room Table: It’s old, scratched, stained, and the most valuable piece of furniture I own. Not for its monetary value, but because of its history. My father brought the table home about fifty years ago. It was used, of darkly stained wood with big rolled legs and a half-dozen leaves for expanding it. It was relegated to the back room, which – in our house – was a combination play room, guest room, den and laundry room. The table – except when used for overflow crowds at mealtime on Sundays and holidays – was used for folding clothes. As I was the child most often in charge of laundry, I became very familiar with it. Years later…maybe thirty years later…after all of us were grown and gone from home, after my Dad had passed away and family gatherings were not as big as they had once been, my mother told my brother David that he could move the table out to the garage, to use for projects or parties. “Mom, he will ruin that table,” I told her, “if you wanted to get rid of it, I’d be happy to take it.” “No,” she said, “I gave it to him. It’s just an old, beat-up table.” So that was that. Then, in quick succession, David died and my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Whenever I’d visit, she’d send me home with clothes that she never planned to wear again, and ask what I’d like, of her other belongings, when she died. I always said, first, that I’d like her to just stick around, so that questions like that didn’t have to be considered. When pressed, though, I did mention, once, that I’d like that table. “David’s table?” she asked, “Oh, I gave that to Sheila already.”  So that was that. Then, less than two weeks before Mom passed away, my sister Sheila died unexpectedly in her sleep. We all congregated at the house we grew up in, to say goodbye to our sister and to be with Mom for the balance of her life. My sister Brenda came upon some of her nieces one day, talking about how that old table should be sent with Sheila’s boyfriend “because nobody else would want it.” She stepped in and let them know that, in fact, I wanted it. So that was that. Now it’s mine, a relic of my childhood, carried home by my father, inherited from my brother David, my sister Sheila and  – finally  – my mother, thanks to the intervention of my sister Brenda. I really regret not saving it from yesterday’s fire!
  4. The bright pink, surfboard-shaped rug, that Rosa Parks likes to sit on, while eating her dinner. My little dog will have enough to adjust to already; she should keep something that will make her feel at home.
  5. My daybook. I’d be lost without it. If I’d been thinking, I would have shoved it into my big purse before leaving!

So, having lost almost everything in this imaginary fire, I guess I have few enough imaginary regrets!

Anything is Possible

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Anything is possible.

My Mom used to say that quite a bit.

We’d present her with a far-fetched, nearly impossible development of events. Could it happen? With a lilt in her voice and a bit of a smile, she’d say, “Anything’s possible.”

I always took it as her way of not engaging in our wild, imaginary scenarios, without sounding too discouraging.

It never dawned on me how very optimistic her words were.

Imagine saying – perhaps many times each day – “Anything is possible.”

Imagine believing it!

What a hopeful way of looking at the world!

I tend – more – to expect defeat.

I’m fearful of anticipating wild success.

I don’t even know if the failures and disappointments I’ve experienced contributed to that outlook, or if the attitude preceded (my sister Brenda would say “maybe even caused…“) those events.

I’m just about to the end of my “write every day” month.

Some days have been better than others, but I’ve kept up with it.

Sometimes I write in the morning, other times after work in the evening. Because of that, more than once I’ve woken up in the middle of the night, fearful that I’d missed a day.

Not so far, though!

I’m beginning to believe I might just get through this.

After all, anything is possible.

Mom’s Old TypeWriter

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I don’t know when Mom got the old Royal Typewriter. It was new – or nearly new – in my earliest memories of it. Perhaps it had belonged to her mother, and came into our home around the time Grandma Thelma died. Maybe Mom invested in it – as she did the large set of encyclopedias – to enhance the scholastic ability of her children. I don’t think Mom knew how to type, but I guess I don’t know that for sure, either. I think it originally had a hard case that fit over the top and fastened on the bottom, to protect the keys and keep it dust-free. The typewriter was an important, revered object in our house.

As I think about it, very few objects in our chaotic household were treated as important. Mom raised nine children of her own, and always had many more around. She fully expected that “kids will be kids.” That meant, to her, that dishes will get broken, toys will be destroyed, clothes will get stained and furniture will take a beating. Expect it, and learn to live with it. Except for those things that Mom set aside as precious, that were to be handled more cautiously, and treated with love.

Mom’s list was not long: the cedar chest that she’d received from her parents at the occasion of her high school graduation…along with the treasures and memories she kept inside it; books in general, and especially the encyclopedias, which had to be handled carefully, dusted regularly, and always kept in alphabetical order; the good china, which was never used, and the frosted iced tea glasses that had belonged to her mother; the nativity set that was put out at Christmastime and handled so carefully that the straw was still intact on top of the stable and the music box still worked for her great-grandchildren to hear; and the typewriter.

When we came home from school with a “really big research assignment”, we could use the typewriter for the final draft. If we had an important letter to write, the typewriter could be brought to the desk. If we had absolutely run out of options for keeping small children entertained, we could sometimes pull out the typewriter to show them the “magic” of their names appearing on the paper, the sound of the bell alerting them that it was time for their job: using the silver arm to push the carriage back over to the left. Always, the typewriter eraser was close at hand. By the time we got to high school and actually took typing classes, the biggest problem was forgetting the “hunt and peck” method of typing we’d grown so familiar with.

My mother gave me the typewriter when I was a graduate student at Michigan State University. By that time – the late ’80’s – her children were all adults, and the machine sat idle. Though a manual typewriter seemed pretty archaic, it was a godsend to me! The only word processor available  for my use – for the multitude of papers that had to be typed – was at the library, a mile from our apartment, with – often – a long list of students in line to use it. I was a single mother with a full load of classes, and no car. Having the typewriter allowed me to be at home with my daughters in the evenings. Many nights they fell asleep to the sound of me pounding on the typewriter keys, cursing as I reached for the White-Out. I still have several papers written during that time, with the characteristic shading from many corrections.

I made cookbooks for my daughters one Christmas many years ago. The opening page says “so that Jenny and Katey can have the food they grew up with, even when ‘Home’ is far from their Mom’s kitchen”. My methods were ancient by today’s standards. I gathered photographs and had them enlarged and/or cropped as needed. I used rub on Chartpak letters to make the chapter pages. I typed all the recipes on Mom’s old Royal Typewriter. A dozen hours over the course of several days and a couple hundred dollars at Kinko’s,and I was done. That was the last big job for the typewriter.

The machine sat unused after that. Over the years, I moved it from the shelf to the attic to the storage unit. I almost forgot about it. Then things changed:

First, my mother died. Which caused me to reassess everything. Caused me to look with new eyes at everyone and everything she loved. Caused me to cherish everything she had cared about, and everything she had given me.

Next, I saw a lovely room in an art magazine where a typewriter was used for making gift tags, and had a place of honor on the desk.Then I saw a piece on a news program about a typewriter repair person who is enjoying a resurgence of interest in the old machines. Last, I reorganized shelves and books to accommodate a new drawer unit, and ended up with one empty shelf.

Now, Mom’s old typewriter sits with dignity on my kitchen shelf.