I miss my mother. But that’s only natural, as the holidays are upon me, and I am in the kitchen without her, but with the memory of her and her good direction. Last year, she was so frail that all she could do was sit in the chair at the kitchen table and mine her own memory, which was down to a flicker.
As I cooked and she watched, we debated the real truth of the pumpkin pie recipe. “I used the recipe on the can,” she said. But I knew she did not. Her pie tasted like no other pumpkin pie I’d ever eaten. Therefore, when offered any other than my mother’s, I politely declined.
I remember, as a young girl, mixing up a bowl of filling with her at our kitchen table and I don’t remember a recipe. I see clearly in my mind’s eye her tasting, dumping in spices at will, and adding whole milk instead of evaporated, and a little more nutmeg and melted butter at the end.
This year I am thankful for many things, but in the way of my human nature, I am more thankful for my mother than ever. Now that she’s gone, I understand like I never could when she was here, just what I had. She loved me unconditionally, like good mother’s are famous for. But when the holidays came she pulled together, yes, in the kitchen, a feat of affection that I can only now appreciate. A single mother with little money, she mixed and beat and baked up a Thanksgiving and Christmas that left the imprint that we wanted for nothing.
As much as I like nice things—and I do—my mother valued simple things, and that is what she gave me. Our lives weren’t traditional. It was the 50s and 60s, and my mother worked and did not stay at home. But, somehow, in her wizardry, she made a home that was clean, and warm and loving, a home that, of course, smelled good, and was a place I wanted to be. While our car was a little old and our carpet a little thin, the kitchen was opulent. It was an extravagant place, even if she was simply boiling beans and making cornbread, because my mother was a wonderful cook.
When the holidays came, everyone got their favorite pie. That meant a chocolate pie for my sister, a coconut cream for my brother. Someone must have wanted a lemon meringue, because there was one of those, and of course, there was mom’s pumpkin, which was my favorite. She stood over that tiny tiled counter and cranked the handle of her egg beater to mix up the egg whites. Then there were more egg whites for the divinity. Add to that the fudge and the cookies, and of course the dressing and potatoes and green beans for the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.
My mother nurtured and cared for me in many ways, and she taught me much more than how to cook, by example and instruction. In all of it, I wish I would have paid more attention. But in the years that I’ve been heading up my own kitchen and the marathon that starts about now and ends in a few weeks, I’ve been given a peek into her heart. I realize now, how in a plain but eloquent language, that she knew well, she was expressing her love. I’m forever grateful, mom. Love you too.
As much as I love my mother’s pie, I messed with it a little and added a pecan strudel topping. I think she would approve.