Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mom is Here

It’s a sure bet- that if my mom were alive today- my sisters and I would be fighting over whose turn it was to take care of her.  "You take her."  "No you take her." It would be nice to think that at our ages, this would not be true; that the lessons life taught us would make us value our mother more, but nothing really teaches you that lesson as much as losing someone.

Mom 13 Years old!
When my mom died, we had her cremated. I think the original thought was to sprinkle her ashes with my brother’s ashes up at Two Rock, but for whatever reason – instead, my sisters chose a beautiful urn, with an Asian style motif my mother would have loved, and deposited her remains therein.

She died in December of 1984, and because I was pregnant with Nick, my two sisters decided I should keep mom the first year. We decided together, that every New Year’s Day we would get together and we would hand her off to the next sister. We joked about fighting over who gets to have mom- knowing this would have never been the case were she still with us.

I can’t remember why I had my mom’s ashes in the car with me the day I was crossing Geneva Ave. in my mom’s old Cougar when a Cadillac ran a red light on Mission and plowed into my right front.  The baby was about three weeks old. I grabbed the baby and ran to my Aunt and Uncle’s drug store a half- block away, shaking like a leaf. By coincidence, my dad (step) happened to be there too and when I told him what happened he took the baby so I could deal with the woman that ran the light. She had been on her way to pick up her grand daughter from kindergarten, she said. She was late. 
Mom with her Godson Peter Scanlon

My baby was okay and I was too, and I attributed that to my mom watching out for us more than the solid build of the ‘67 Cougar. We believe what we want.

It’s not death, but time, which gives us the sorely needed perception to understand the departed. I have no illusions about my mom. I have not remade her into a person without faults or human frailties.  Some of things I hated about my mom when I was fifteen I love about her now. I just needed time to understand them.

1964 34 years old in her Roaring 20's makeup
When I was about twelve my mom worked as a cocktail waitress at a place called “The Roaring Twenties”.  She wore fishnet stockings, and a sequined costume that looked more like a strapless bathing suit. I used to love watching her get ready for work. She would apply her make-up with Hollywood precision. To my eye, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Sometimes, because I was a day sleeper not a night sleeper, I would be awake at 3AM when she got home still looking perfect and she would let me count her tips that she kept in a sequin bag. Her happiness was fleeting-but for a short time in 1964 
I can remember her laughing and lighting up any room she was in.

When lives are cut short- we are always left to wonder… what if?  I like to think if my mom were alive, she would marvel at her legacy. She would be so happy that we grabbed onto the good and left the bad behind. That we took the demons she lived with all her life- and sent them straight back to hell.  That we each in our own ways worked through our own fears, trials and tribulations and came out right side up. I like to think too- that she is watching over all of us; children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  That she sees a little bit of her son in Joanna and her children and a little bit of herself in all her grandkids and great grandkids. I sure see it.

Mom approx. 52
Somewhere along the line the ritual of sharing our mother on New Years Day got left behind. My four years in North Carolina and just life in general seemed to get away from all of us. When I came home from North Carolina I kept thinking I need to go get mom- but then when I was at my sister Linda’s house I would forget. Out of sight out of mind, they say.

Last week Linda brought mom to me. And I feel like it’s good timing.  I’ll put her on my bookshelf (next to Smokie’s ashes now) and I’ll talk to her when I need someone to listen but not answer.

It’s hard to not wonder what mom would be like now. Would all these grandchildren and great grand-children have filled up the hole my brothers’ death left in her heart?

The passage of time has given me the gift of perception.  
Each year that passes without my mom- I realize something new about her. 

I'm glad she is here with me now. I won't argue or be defiant. I'll try to remember the wise things she told me when my hearing was sharp but my ears heard nothing. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's More Than Cooking

I realized yesterday- yep just yesterday, that the most important life lessons I have taught my son- I taught him in the kitchen. Long before the Marine Corps taught him to adapt and overcome- I had him adapting recipes to overcome our sometimes-wanting food bins.

He learned in my kitchen- my philosophy on compromise. Those of you who know me- know I take issue with compromise just for the sake of making people happy. Well- it’s the same with cooking and baking. If the recipe calls for butter- use butter. Period. Margarine should not even be in the house. If you are broke-or have a broken hip and can’t make it to the store – and you have to have mashed potatoes- and you only have margarine- well maybe you can use it then (although you will ruin your mashed potatoes). Never – never use it in cookies- unless you are making some sort of special margarine flavored cookies I don’t know about.

I taught him about the importance of generosity in our kitchen. No matter how broke I have ever been- I will have enough food for anyone that happens to come by. I can make three dinners out of one chicken breast, a little pasta and a can of peas. No peas? Corn will work, or spinach or green beans. No matter how little food we had- we always had enough to feed another person or two. I see him do the same now. He will give away his last dollar, his last cigarette, his last breath if need be.

He learned the importance of having good tools- and making due with the next best thing if those tools were not available. A sharp knife is the most important tool in the kitchen.

It’s in the kitchen that we shared the most stories and the most fun. Family recipes always have stories attached to them. Stories of survival, ingenuity, mistakes… and successes. It’s easy to talk when you are busy doing other things... it’s less intense- more casual. Even the sad tales of being broke and eating spaghetti 10 days in a row don’t seem so sad when you are cooking and telling how you perfected the sauce. For those of us who push emotions away and try to keep an even keel- talking while cooking is the answer. You can cry while chopping onions.

I think the most important thing he learned from me in the kitchen is to have passion in what you do and it will always make it better. I know I am always more animated, more alive, more fun- when I am cooking or baking. I love food- and I love to make people happy with food. There is a reason why all of our celebrations have food. It’s a peace offering, it’s love, it’s friendship, it’s sharing, it’s family. (blood and otherwise)

When Nick was born his dad and I were no longer together. We agreed though- that he (Jon) could be in charge of his left brain-because he is ├╝ber smart and I could be in charge of his right brain as a default prize.

Now- I am glad it worked out that way. I realize now all the left-brain things one needs to learn in life- are taught through right brain activities. Funny how that all works out.Cooking is both a left and right brain activity- but the ingenious part, the thing that makes my cookies better than someone else's is all right brain stuff. (and butter)

Yesterday, when I went to San Francisco to bring my son some of his mama’s lasagna, he was outside in front of his friends’ house and they were BBQ’ing tritip & crab legs. His melting pot of friends all contributing some how to the celebration of food were all smiling and full of life. The twenty somethings realizing what many sixty somethings never do- that life is really all about friends, family and what we can do for other people.

So many older people think young people are self-absorbed. But I saw sharing and friendship and a large dose of ingenuity in their little street feast. They taught me something in their outdoor kitchen.