She’d been here since arriving Christmas Day with 20 pounds of her extraordinary cookies in tow. Every one of them still frozen after the 800+ mile drive here from Ohio with my sister. Ma’ is kind enough to come visit for weeks at a time once or twice a year. But, her place isn’t here. It’s back in Ohio with my older sister and the life she has built over the last seventy-nine years. It was time for her to head back.
When my mother is here, she stays busy. Cooking, baking, helping me get one thing or another done. Much of what she does is meant for the enjoyment or benefit of others. Especially the food.
Some things haven’t changed though. I’m fifty-six years old and she still tells me, “You need a haircut!” and asks me, “Where’s your coat?” when we go out for a meal or to run an errand.
She will turn eighty this year and can out work anyone half her age. It’s absolutely amazing what she is capable of. She grew up in a time when life was so much simpler but difficult as well. It’s also a little embarrassing when I see how much she can knock out in a day compared to me.
The last few years though she has been moving a bit more slowly and her hair is almost completely white. You can see the change from one year to the next. More aches, more pains, injuries and such. She does everything she can to push back against the natural decline due to time. Vitamins, exercise and knocking out enough work for two people all make her seem younger than she is. However, a sometimes slower shuffle of her feet instead of the brisk pace of her walk ten years ago betrays her efforts and whispers the truth at you.
One visit here, fifteen or more years ago, my mother suggested I buy a chest freezer so she could fill it when she would come to visit. I still have that freezer and she still fills it every time she is here.
Plastic container stacked upon plastic container filled with chicken or ham and bean soups, chili and stews. All of them heavy on the vegetables. Homemade lasagna with sauce made from scratch and individual chicken-pot-pies’ in their own mini-loaf pans. Pie crust or biscuit crust you might ask… well, she let’s you choose. Baked goods galore. Cookies, cheesecakes, pastries, tortes, tarts, cakes, cinnamon and pecan rolls. You name it. She makes it. As good as any five star restaurant can dream of serving to a customer.
People stop what they are doing just to get a chance at tasting the food she prepares.
She’s been cooking almost hourly for the last 65+ years. Last October there were eighty-five people here one Saturday afternoon. All of them showing up for her cooking. One item sticks out to me; her marinara sauce. She will brew up 8 or 10 quarts at a whack and then fill zip lock bags so we can have a meal size portion at the ready. For pizza or pasta, whatever we want to whip up in a hurry that day.
When I look into the freezer filled with individual portions of marinara sauce, what I really see is Love. Love for the people who eat it. Love for the art of cooking. Love for the nourishment derived from it. My mother infuses her food with love.
Love fills those bags. Love disguised as tomato sauce with garlic and onion sautéed in olive oil and oregano. A love that warms your soul as it warms and fills your belly. Love in action. Love meant to make a difference in your life if just for 30 minutes.
One day though… a day that I hope is in the very distant future, I will reach in that freezer and there will be, but one bag of sauce left.
One day also, my mother will not be able to refill the freezer. She will be to old, or to frail or her time on earth will have come to an end and she, like all of us, will have gone on to meet our Creator. I’m here to say, I don’t know what I will do that day…
Tapping out these words on my computer alone fills me with emotions at the thought of that day’s arrival… It’s hard to reconcile my heart with it. Yet, it’s a reality I must be prepared for. I don’t want to have to say goodbye. Even if it is temporary.
I hope when that day comes, I will be smiling with the memories of a woman who carried me in her womb and brought me into this ever changing, sometimes scary and sometimes beautiful world.
A woman who did her best in a loveless marriage.
A woman who had little resources to draw upon emotionally. as she had been robbed of her youth by abuse, neglect and emotional detachment from her own mother.
A woman who found herself in the first half of the 1960’s raising five children at once, all 4 years old and younger simultaneously.
A woman whose cooking made people feel good.
I suspect it will be a mixed bag that day. Joy, sadness, anger. And of course, that very real feeling in your body when the physical connection on this earth to someone you love so dearly is broken.
One morning last week, Ma’ was in the kitchen cooking. Preparing a meal for 18 us the night before her departure. Two main courses. Hungarian dishes we frequently enjoyed around the dinner table of my youth.
I told my mother that I will miss her when she is gone. She thought I meant her returning to Ohio in a few days and she responded from that perspective.
I looked her in the eyes and said, “No Mom… I mean when you are gone from this earth.” She just smiled and said, “All I ever wanted was a good man and you kids.” Sadly, she only got half of what she wanted.
Life deals us in childhood ingredients for our future. My mother’s childhood was difficult at best. She did something truly special. She took the ingredients she got in her own childhood and turned them into a recipe of love.
My mother didn’t need my validation but I wanted her to know nonetheless. I wanted her to know she made a difference.
I needed to say what I said, before the freezer was empty for good…