Of Daring, Joy, and Grief: Mother’s Day

They have made arrangements to pick up his brother; they have quickly packed bags and sorted out treats for the little guy, who will be stuck in the car seat for a long, long ride. Now they are setting out on a long, sad journey.

They are going to spend the weekend with his mother, his sweet, funny, classy mother. She can tell a story like no one else; she can put together a tray of treats that prove irresistible to all comers. She dresses with verve and style; she is a gift-giver extraordinaire.

And a wonderful mom.

And a wonderful grandma. (And they have, all of them, waited so long for the miracle of this baby.)

But the news from the doctor this week was shocking; instead of being conquered (again) the cancer has spread,–spread quickly to organs and bones, and time and its quality are uneasily unknown now.

So they trek, the three young grownups, the one little guy, to see a very special mom on a Mother’s Day they fear will be her last.

**********

It ain’t always a Hallmark card, this holiday–this whole Mother’s Day thing.

*********

So there is a mother struggling with her child’s diagnosis, still reeling from the visits with the therapist and the school counselors. She can’t bring herself, quite yet, to share this with anyone. She is not quite ready to take all those dreams and flush them,–trade them in for a whole new set of expectations. Grief and guilt (Did I do this? Is it my genes?  Is this MY FAULT?) tear at her, and she shrinks from her husband’s hugs. And she cries when she finds a homemade card with an awkward lopsided picture and labored printing: MOM.

So there is a wife whose husband’s mom is recently gone; her red-eyed children miss their grandma. It is a hard holiday to celebrate with a loss so raw.

So there is a mother, aging and alone, who wonders if anyone will call or visit.

So there is another mother, separated from her son by miles and illness–HIS illness. She waits to hear about the progress of the therapy. This illness is insidious, but right now, they can entertain hope.

So there is a young woman with empty arms. She feels like she is the only person who remembers the baby she lost to miscarriage six months ago. She is tired of the advice to move on, try again. She needs to grieve the first loss.

So there is a mom, newly sober, who is at the foot of the mountainous fight to get her children back. She will not see them this Mother’s Day. She has no idea how long it will take until she can see them every day–or if she has the stamina for the long slog ahead.

And there are grandmas being moms again to another generation, and aunties raising siblings’ kids, and there are moms who have been gifted with an adopted miracle. There are stepmoms and step-grandmoms. There are men who fill the mother’s role, and there are caring friends who regularly step in to mentor.

We talk about motherhood and apple pie, but pictures of ‘mom’ can be very, very different.

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And there are lucky mothers who will stay in bed and be served clumsy breakfasts on wobbling trays this Mother’s Day–toast too dark, too light, or too buttery; bowls of cereal whose milk slops over the edge. A dandelion in an olive oil bottle. A Snickers bar, maybe, on the side.

The moms will eat those funny breakfasts with gusto, and maybe laugh about it later with the dad, hungrily sneaking handsful of Doritos out of sight of their happy kids, who are so satisfied with their ultimate surprise.

There are mothers who will have all their progeny around them at church, proud grandmas surrounded by two generations of shining smiling faces.

There will be festive dinners served at home around big, crowded tables, or at fancy restaurants so Mama doesn’t have to cook.

There will be flowers and sweets and books and jewelry; there will be little chins sunk into Gran’s arm as she reads a heart-felt card.

There will be joy. There SHOULD be joy.

*********

There should be joy because it’s a daring thing, this agreeing to be a mother–a gamble with thousands of unforeseeable outcomes.

The kid could shine, fill all the world’s definitions of successful, grow up and meet a loving, faithful mate, have children and be happy.

The kid could stumble, fall, and cause serious worry; then that kid, drawing on all that good stuff inside, could right herself and move on, wiser and stronger and ready to cope.

The kid could be disabled. (And what if other children hurt or mock her? And what if he never has a friend?)

The kid, after a perfectly normal, happy childhood, could have a mental illness.

The kid  could discover he has the disease of addiction.

The kid could wind up hating the mama. (What if I do everything so wrong?)

The kid…oh, my God: the kid could die.

************

And I could die, die while that tender, forming person still needs me. I could die before my work is done.

So MANY things could happen. How is it that we ever dare?

*************

There are faces at the window, waiting sadly. There are faces turned to family, filled with light.  There are wise souls, wisdom earned by letting go of old expectations and building others. There is deep grief because what has been is so very good and so very, very difficult to watch recede.

It is Mother’s Day weekend, and there has been the daring, take-a-chance, I-know-I-am-up-to-this plunge: we will go forward, it says. We will go on. Even if the vision we move toward has nothing to do with a Hallmark family scene…well. We will forge ahead.

A prayer, a candle, a flower on an established grave: we celebrate the ones we’ve lost. A cake, a scarf, a bouquet, a pin: we cherish the time together. And if we wish that things were different, well then. Then it’s time to make a plan, take a step, emerge from the cocoon, work to fulfill the new, emerging vision. To, maybe, pray.

Our work may be lopsided and uneven. And it could be our job to bring our children’s hidden gifts to light. To demand that the rest of the world see and recognize those gifts. It could be our job to step back and let the story unfold without our interference. It may be our job to open our hands and, hardly able to watch, let them stumble on.

Our work may be that of helping to re-build. And, oh, it may be our work to grieve.

***********

Mother’s Day: a celebration of meaning and daring, of the will to go on, of a million different ways to do things right. And maybe, of a million ways to go back and do things over.

Whatever your scenario, may your celebration be rich and warm and filled with meaning. And, however far away–far in terms of feeling and heart and time on earth– may your loved ones live close in your heart.

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The Girl With the Iron Task

Irning station

Our final challenge in WordPress’s Writing 201 was to write a personal reflection.  Searching for a topic, I went looking for lofty, but I came in with ironing.

On New Year’s Eve morning, 2014, I go downstairs to the basement to iron paper.  I am on a re-purposing kick; this Christmas, all of our packages were wrapped in gifted, or reclaimed, or re-created wrappings.  That worked really well, and I plan to continue the practice for birthdays and baby showers and other gifting events.

So, I have brown shopping bags to cut up and iron flat, and a couple of big gift bags of crumpled tissue in all colors.  That, I’ve discovered, irons beautifully.  I fold the ironed sheets and hang them on the rung of a clothes hanger, and they can be used for all kinds of gifting.

I remembered, too, while I was making the bed, that I hadn’t completely unpacked my shiny red travel bag, waiting since we returned from New York State on the 26th.  I pulled out the remaining clothes–my silky, shiny white blouse, my easily wrinkled green blazer, my batik-y looking black and white shirt.  They’re clean, but they’re crumpled.  I will take these, too, down to be ironed.

Mark has just reconfigured what I guess we could call the ‘ironing station’ in the basement. He mounted a holder on a support pipe and added a designated outlet in the ceiling just above it.  The ironing board stands between the pipe and the heavy double laundry sinks–the wash tubs, we dub them.  The basement is unfinished, but it is dry and high-ceilinged and a comfortable place to work.

I plug the iron in, wait while it takes a moment to reach the low setting I’ve chosen, and begin to iron my silky shirt.

It has been ages since I stood by an ironing board just to iron clothes that will then be warehoused in my closet.  Every night, I make sure I have clean, neat clothes for work the next day; if needed, I run downstairs and iron a blouse, some pants, a jacket that’s gotten rumpled, a skirt or a dress. But ironing as a regular chore does not appear on my work chart any longer.  Mark irons his own shirts. Jim, too, fends for self. I iron my clothes when needed–opting, whenever possible, to hang things neatly when they are fresh from the dryer and need little touching up.

Of course, that doesn’t always happen, and often things are hung after they’ve settled, jumbled, in the dryer until they cool and rumpling sets in.  Those are the clothes I iron the night before.  I could, I think, as I press first the collar of my white blouse, then flip it so I can press that placket where the button holes are, and then the corresponding one with the buttons, put ironing on my regular list of things to do.

Monday? Scrub bathrooms.

Tuesday? Catch up on laundry.

Wednesday? Iron.

Or would that remind me just a little too much of what ironing meant when I was growing up? For ironing became symbolic, an emotion-fraught icon, between me and my mother. Ironing was a bridge; she stood on one side and said, “You WILL.”

I stood, lip stuck out, pouting on the other side, muttering, “Will NOT.”

But sometimes I had to.

My very first regular chore, outside of drying or putting dishes away, making my bed, and sweeping the floor, was assigned when I was six.  It was called “sprinkling the clothes.”  My tool was an old catsup bottle, glass, with the label long scrubbed off.  The metal cap, too, had been scoured of anything Heinz-y; it was silver and shiny and punctured about nine times with a small sharp nail.

I would fill the bottle with cold water, screw the top on tightly, and work on the rolled up clothes in the bushel basket where my mother kept the ironing.  That was 1961; nothing we owned was permanent press, and everything had to be ironed.  My mother did the wash in an electric washing machine and then hung it to dry–outside, weather permitting, or in the basement if it was too cold, wet, or snowy.  Anything you wore over your underwear came off the line rumpled and had to be ironed, from my father’s dark blue cotton work clothes, with the coal dust permanently etched into their seams, to the lacy white collars of my mother’s Sunday blouses.

We ironed men’s and kids’ undershirts and women’s brassieres, too, but stopped short of fanaticism at briefs and panties.  We also did not iron socks.

When she took the clothes off the line, Mom would fold them neatly into six-inch wide oblongs and then roll them up tightly and place them in the bushel basket.  I had to sprinkle each item so it was damp throughout, but not wet, and then our old electric iron could press the wrinkles out.

The ironing board made groaning and creaking noises when my mother set it up; it was a heavy old thing.  It often stayed up for days on end, in the archway between the dining and living rooms where my mother chose to iron; that was a bright and roomy spot.  Mom would plug the iron in; it would sputter and hiss and grumble into life. It had a cloth covered cord.  Where the cord met the iron, it was covered with a rigid slinky-like spring.  It was a hefty, searingly hot, almost animate appliance; it scared and fascinated me.

Mom would take a damp item from the basket, deftly shake it out, and begin to iron. As she worked, she taught me: there was a right way to do this job.  She often told me the story about her friend Marjorie, who visited one day while my mother was ironing shirts.  They chatted while my mother worked, but finally Marjorie said, “Stop! Stop! I can’t stand it anymore!” and she showed my mother the RIGHT way to iron a shirt,–first pressing collar, plackets and cuffs; then ironing the fronts.  Then she flipped the shirt over, folded a yoke and ironed the shoulders, spun it around, and then ironed the back.  Sleeves came last, and the shirt was ready to hang.

Before Marjorie taught her that method, my mother said, it took her half an hour to iron one shirt, wrestling with it all the while.  She was very proud of the Marjorie Technique.

Pants and slacks started with the waist band, pressed from the inside.  Mom pulled up the pocket linings and ironed them flat.  Then she pulled the waist of the pants up over the nose of the ironing board, ironing and turning, ironing and turning. She slid the pants off the board; she cracked the cuffs together, matching them exactly, and she ironed in a sharp crease.  All pants got this treatment. Even our jeans–which we called dungarees, back in those days–had sharply pressed center creases.

My mother kept essentials of the ‘presswoman’s’ trade by or on the ironing board; she had an ashtray, usually overflowing with the lipsticked butts of her Lucky Strikes; she had a cup of coffee, endless; she had a sharp sewing scissors to pluck off errant strings and threads. These she’d flick onto the carpet until she could vacuum them up.

The threads were such a constant that my youngest brother decided they were sentient.  He called them ‘fuzzies’ and screamed whenever he was near them.  We ran to get the carpet sweeper to stop his panicked cries.

I hoped sprinkling the clothes was a ticket into the sisterhood of women, and I looked forward to taking the next steps–discovering secrets known only to women, and learning to use the iron itself.

My mother wasn’t particularly forthcoming about the secrets, but when I was eight or so, I got to handle the iron.

I started with handkerchiefs, which I had learned to fold myself and then sprinkle.  We had an allergic, asthmatic, honkering family, and we didn’t use kleenex or paper napkins, so there was always an abundance of handkerchiefs in the wash.  My father’s everyday ones were industrial: some were traditional bandanna style; some were washed to softness and a creamy color far removed from their original white.  Those were bordered with bands of copper and brown of varying thickness.  For school and Sunday, the guys had square white handkerchiefs.  We women had dainty little hankies, printed or embroidered.

The men’s handkerchiefs were ironed and folded, ironed and folded, until they were flat, crisp squares, easily fit into pockets.  The ladies’ hankies got the same treatment, but ended as triangles.

I started out with great enthusiasm.  By the time I’d ironed my second or third basket of handkerchiefs, though, I’d discovered one of those secrets of the sisterhood: ironing was damned boring.

I graduated, reluctantly, to shirts as well as hankies.

It didn’t get better.  Long periods standing, repetitive motions; my feet got tired, and worst of all, I couldn’t read while doing this particular chore.

My mother emphasized what an important job it was.  She had categories for people, and one of the very worst was ‘slob.’  A slob was someone who sent her family out in wrinkled, untended clothing.  A slob slapped iron-on patches onto dungarees instead of meticulously sewing on thick patches gleaned from past pants, as my mother did energetically at her treadle sewing machine.  When that machine was not in use, a basket of mending rested on the treadle.  With five active, outdoorsy kids and a hard-working husband, my mother never emptied the mending basket.

We were NOT slobs.  Our clothes would be sharp-creased and shoulder-yoked.

Oh, joy, I thought.

It was about this time that one of my older brothers, who was in eighth grade or so,  was actively exploring the priesthood. (It was an exploration that didn’t, by the way, take.)  On weekends, the whole family would often go to events at one or the other of the seminaries within a 25 mile distance from our home.  My brother would be an acolyte, solemn and dressed in not just the traditional white and black, but sometimes in priest-like lace.

It was all creakily tradition-laden and boring, although once, at the reception after the service, we had wonderful ice cream, big bowls of it.  And, to my mother’s great embarrassment, one of the priests went and got me seconds–an equally big bowl–which I devoured in a less than lady-like way.

On one of these family outings, on a sunny day as we were driving along Lake Erie toward St. Columban’s on the Lake, a thought, bound and complete, fluttered down and settled squarely in my mind.  I was nine, and it felt like a big hand had reached down from the heavens, flipped open the hinged lid of my head, and firmly planted this fully formed idea inside.

This is exactly what I thought:  I cannot be a priest because I do not have a penis.

I was so shocked and so outraged by the realization that I sat up straight, upsetting the delicate ecosystem of four sturdy kids in the backseat of a 1959 Buick.

I did NOT share my thoughts with my family.  But I pondered how ridiculous it was, to make a rule based on anatomy.  Schooled in church history, it didn’t make an impact when someone suggested that gender roles were God’s decision.  I knew they gelled well after Jesus’s physical feet had left the earth, knew it was decided by a man or a group of men.  I was not convinced that those men acted on advice whispered into their ears by God.  In fact, there were many rules I didn’t trust them to have made from anything but self-interest.

I extrapolated the concept to other areas of my life.  My brothers could mow the lawn–I could not, because I didn’t have a penis.  I could, because my anatomy dictated it, serve the male-dominated family by ironing their clothes.

My attitude deteriorated.

By the time I was fully fledged into my teenage years, I had embraced two things: the cultural passage rite of believing that my mother was nuts and knew nothing, and the second wave of the movement for women’s liberation.  I started high school, I liked to say, in pin curls and Peter Pan collars–which had to be pressed. I left high school in torn bell-bottomed jeans and a green Army jacket, which most decidedly did not.

Throughout, there was a basket of laundry standing between my mother and me, goading us into fighting.  Why can’t my brothers iron their own clothes? I demanded.  Their arms aren’t broken, and God knows, it’s not highly skilled labor.

They do other things, my mother retorted, when she was in a mood to discuss.  (Sometimes, a heavy door just slammed down and the subject was summarily dismissed.)

I would do other things, I asserted.  I would LOVE to mow the grass, for instance.

You, my mother would tell me, are a SLOB.

We still didn’t have a dryer, and the clothes, although they smelled fresh and crisp from flapping on the lines in our small backyard, always looked wrinkled.  I fought my way from having to iron anyone else’s garb–leaving it all, I realized later with some guilt, on my mother–to only being responsible for my own clothing.  That sat in a burgeoning bushel basket.  Sometimes, I pulled things out and wore them as was, driving my mother crazy.

Sometimes I’d set up the big, scrawking ironing board and press just one item, putting the whole ironing assembly away after just one hit of the iron.  This, too, made my mother see red.

I blew my nose on hankies that were so crumpled they looked used before I used them.

My mother tried threats and logic and even superstition.  If one didn’t, she asserted, have all her ironing caught up by the time the New Year dawned, one would have ironing to do all year.

Oh, well, I said.

She tried guilt.  I remember when she took my father to the city for his heart surgery and said to me, “I do NOT want to have to come home and face those baskets of ironing.”

“We’ll get them done,” I promised, and she looked at me askance at the use of ‘we.’

A female relative came to stay, to ‘help,’ and she volunteered to take on the ironing.  Unschooled by Mom, she had her own methods, which included daydreaming and chatting and pulling a shirt onto the ironing board then staring out into space while she thought deep thoughts.  She would come to herself, quickly slap the shirt a few times with the iron, and slip it on to a hanger.

Mom came home, thrilled to see empty baskets, but her eyes narrowed when she discovered the ‘ironed’ clothes hanging limply in closets.  When she confronted me, I shrugged.  Nina did it, I said; I was busy enough with meals and work and vacuuming.

My father recovered; I moved into my first apartment.

I did not buy an iron.

I spent years coming to grips with doing the laundry.  I spent the same years coming to grips with my relationship with my mother.

I realized the ironing was a symbolic issue.  I was saying, It’s not right for women to have to be subservient, to take care of jobs that other family members could easily do for themselves.

She was saying, You’re throwing away years of tradition.  You’re telling me that all the time I’ve spent in performing this task has been mindless and worthless.

We were both stubborn women; we did not consider each other’s point of view.  And we both had some justice and some wisdom on our side.

But we did win our way through to true respect for each other before Mom died, when I was in my thirties, of lung cancer.  I valued the things she had taught me–the ability to hem a skirt, sew on a button, iron a shirt, all those homely skills that stood me in good stead many a time.  In my better, more generous moments, I even acknowledged enjoying their practice.

My mother respected my work outside the home, often telling me I worked too hard.

It was the closest we ever came to saying, “I see and respect your point of view,” but the message was received on both sides.

So I iron, on New Year’s Eve, 2014, with a lighter, sleeker model than the iron I learned on, in a designated space where board can stay standing and fuzzies will not terrify.  The pale winter sunlight slants through the high cellar windows; the iron hisses softly; the good smell of crisp, hot cotton wafts.  The repetitious motions are soothing; they free my mind to wander through those years and the repeated battles of will.  It was once so seriously dire; now It makes me smile to remember.

And now, I can acknowledge the satisfaction in doing this job.  There’s a kind of joy in taking a piece of clothing, sad looking, rumpled, neglected, and applying the heat and the steam that turns it into a proud addition to my wardrobe.  There! I think, as I slip a shirt onto a hanger.  That’s something.

It is New Year’s Eve.  There are dozens of shirts–mine, Mark’s, Jim’s–hanging on the basement rod.  My mother’s voice whispers, in my mind’s ear: If you don’t finish the ironing, you’ll have ironing to do all year.

Shall I iron them all and remove the curse of ever-present ironing?

Nah.

*****

I unplug the iron from its new outlet and set it down to rest, taking the handful of ironed garments upstairs with me.  I accept it with no qualms: my ironing will never be caught up.

I can live with it.

Greaty’s Cookbook

 

Time tested sources of favorite recipes...
Time tested sources of favorite recipes…

 

 

 

Greaty and I are making jubilee jumbles in her warm, sparkling little kitchen, with its organized and well-stocked cupboards. I love it that she always has things like canned milk on hand–she tells me that, when I set up housekeeping, I should always keep canned milk or powdered milk in my cupboard, just in case I’m in the middle of a recipe and realize the milk is gone–or gone bad.  (Of course, she adds thoughtfully, if you’ve got milk gone bad, you can make a cake, too.)

She’s thrifty, my Greaty, born in 1925, a child of the Depression.  She likes to tell stories about that time; I like to hear them.  They say that communication and understanding skip a generation, so that kids and their grandparents click when kids and their parents don’t.  With me, it’s two generations; I love my mom and my grandma to pieces, of course, but Greaty is the one who really gets me.

I like everything old and weathered and seasoned; Mom and Gram say, if it’s old and doesn’t work, chuck it and buy new.  Greaty tells me stories about the making-do she and her family did during the twenties and thirties.  They never threw out a piece of cloth; they’d turn a shirt inside out, make it into a smaller shirt for a younger child, salvage the buttons, save the bits and scraps to make quilts.

I have one of those quilts on my bed; Greaty made it with her mom and older sister Gwyn; it’s a crazy quilt with tiny pieces of everything from cloth flour bags to Aunt Gwyn’s best velvet dress.  The stitches are infinitesimal and regular; the pattern is wild; the colors blend and flow.  I love that those three women, challenged by the economy, chose to create a thing of lasting beauty from the little that they had.

Another thing I love is the cookbook we’re using.  It’s one of those fund-raiser cookbooks, from the Town of Wales Old Regular Baptist Church, and it was published in the 1950’s.  It was a time, Greaty tells me, when people were finally realizing that all the ingredients they needed were on the shelves–you didn’t have to make up substitutions for eggs or butter or sugar.  If you needed the stuff to make cookies, it was available.

That, says Greaty, and the fact that the women were home again, their overalls traded in for housedresses, made cooking and baking very popular in the 1950’s.  She and Grumpy had just moved to Ohio then; and in their small town, it was a big deal when the ladies of the Baptist church decided to put a cookbook together.

It wasn’t her church, Greaty–a confirmed Congregationalist– hastened to inform me, but her best friend, Ardyth was a member, and Ardyth, whose job was to collect all the recipes, kept her apprised.

Greaty tells me the stories behind many of the recipes.  Bertie Bohldocher and her daughter Lillibeth, when they heard about the cookbook project, went right to the library and took out some French cookbooks.  So the recipes for vichyssoise and bouillabaisse are from Bertie and Lillibeth, but, says Greaty, neither one of them ever cooked such a thing in their entire lives.  They just wanted to go on record as being aficionados of grand taste.  And so the recipes are their testament…and probably, says Greaty, those are the only two recipes in the book that have never been tried.

Greaty’s book has fallen apart so many times the tape has been taped and taped again; finally she pried apart the yellowing pages carefully, copied the backs at Staples, and pasted all the recipes into a notebook.  That notebook is open on the counter today.  Like a greased baking machine, we work together, reaching for measuring cups, passing over the eggs, grabbing flour and brown sugar from the pantry shelves. We have been doing this since before I can remember.

“You’re 16, Ash,” she says to me, “and I’m 89, but we don’t need words to talk to each other.”  It makes me glow.  I love my Greaty, and I know I am lucky, lucky, lucky to have her, healthy and funny and a vital part of my life.

The cookies are in, and we sit with tea.  One of us gets up every few minutes to rotate the trays in the oven, then a few minutes later to put the bottom tray on the top shelf and vice versa.  The cookies will be perfectly done, with those nice crisp buttery brown edges.  When they’ve cooled, and we’ve eaten a few each, we’ll make a batch of browned butter frosting, a recipe in Greaty’s head, not her book, and frost the ones we haven’t eaten.  I’ll take a plate to Mom; Gram will visit Greaty and get her share.They like their modern conveniences, Mom and Gram do, but they always love our home baked goodies.

Greaty leafs through the cookbook.  “Look,” she says, “here are ‘MAB’ brownies.  That’s a recipe from Mabel Ann Brown, and there’s no chocolate in ’em.  She always said, MAYBE they’re brownies..and maybe they’re not.  Hence, the name, which she thought was a good joke on her initials.”

We’ve made that recipe–they’re buttery good, with pie filling spooned over the crust layer, and then little splots of dough melting on top of that.  When we have bake sales at school, people beg me to bring MAB brownies.  I always say, “MAYBE I will,” and laugh to myself.

There’s a recipe for what Greaty and I call buckeye krispie treats…crisp rice cereal mixed with a boiled concoction of corn syrup and peanut butter and spread in a pan.  We top it with melted chocolate and butterscotch chips, and we melt them in the microwave, which was not a foreseeable option when Greaty got this book.  But the recipe still works perfectly.

There’s a recipe for the most wonderful fudge in the world, which has become a family treasure.  Even non-bakers Mom and Gram can’t let Christmas go by without making a batch of that special fudge.

Greaty and I usually head right to the ‘Cookies and Candies’ section, but she says there are great meal time recipes in there too–a wonderful method for Swiss steak, and a no-fail recipe for roast chicken.

“When the Baptist ladies finally got the book together and ready to sell,” Greaty tells me, “I bought three copies.  I sent one to Gwyn, who loved it too.  I kept one to use.  And I bought one for your Grammy, but she said, ‘Oh, poo, Mom; I’m not using those old lady recipes.’  She hurt my feelings, I’ll tell you.  I asked your mom if she would like it, when she first married your dad, and she laughed.  Cooking wasn’t on her list of things to do, she informed me.”

I think of Greaty putting the book away, hiding her hurt feelings with a laugh and a shake of her head.  I imagine her selling the book at a Congregational Church rummage sale, picture one of the Baptist ladies finding it, getting HER feelings hurt because nobody wanted that very special collection.

I don’t know why–it’s such a little thing–but it makes me ache. I put down my tea, and lean forward to give Grammy a big hug, but she’s bending away from me, reaching into her capacious black purse.

“And isn’t it,” she says softly, “a good thing those women said no?  Because you’re the one that will appreciate it.  If they’d taken it, it would just have gotten thrown away or left behind.  But now, I can give it to you.”

She hands me a manila envelope.  I open it and slide out a perfect version of the Wales Township Old Regular Baptist Ladies’ Guild Cookbook, 1952.  It’s in pristine condition, although the edges of the pages have turned a rich golden color…almost the color of the edges of our jubilee jumbles.

“Oh, Greaty,” I breathe, and it’s a moment too big for awkward, fumbling gestures.  So I just grin and say, “I promise I will use this and use this and use it, until it’s in worse shape than yours.”

She grins back and gives me a quick hug, and we start to make the frosting.

 

*************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

 

I was looking through cookbooks this week, and, in one my retired colleague Crisanne (a great colleague but not, as yet, a great grandma) gave me, I found a recipe called ‘Marietta Cookies.’ I made the cookies—they’re different and delicious. The name intrigued me, though—was ‘Marietta’ a person? Were these cookies that someone from Marietta always served? I couldn’t discover any answers, but I did find the same exact recipe, under ‘Potato Chip Cookies’ on cooks.com.

The recipe for MAB brownies follows, too; we’ve often speculated about the name. That comes from a book my mother-in-law, Pat Zanghi, was kind enough to share many, many years ago. The cover is falling off; I may soon have to go Greaty’s route and take this book apart in order to save it. The recipes, of course, remain tried and true.

The directions here are just as they appear in the cookbooks.

Marietta Cookies

1 c. butter or margarine
½ c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
¾ c. crushed potato chips
½ c. chopped nuts (I put mine in the food processor and pulsed them fine)
2 c. flour

Cream together the butter, sugar & vanilla. Add potato chips & nuts. Stir in the flour. Roll dough into 1” balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Using the flat bottom of a water glass dipped in white sugar, press each cookie until flat. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes.

Contributed by Betty Stover

–from Iliff United Methodist Church’s Sharing Our Best (2009, Morris Press Cookbooks). The church is in Crooksville, Ohio.

 


M.A.B. Brownies

1 c. margarine
2 c. sugar
3 c. flour
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 can fruit pie filling (or make your own)

Cream 1 and 2, add 1 egg at a time beating after each. Add flour and vanilla. Spread ¾ on greased cookie sheet. Spread on pie filling, then spoon on remaining batter. Bake 350 degrees, 30 minutes.

Contributed by Bev Barnes

—from Cooking With Love 1987, compiled by members and friends of the Laona United Methodist Church, Laona, New York (Walter’s Cookbooks, Waseca, MN)

Let Go, Let Go, Let Go

 

 

I open the back door of the Escort, and Ella peers at me from her car seat.  Her eyes well tears; her bottom lip quivers.

“Come on, baby,” I say.  “Let’s go meet the other kids!”

“No, Mama,” she whispers.  I unbuckle the belts and lift her from the car seat.  She clings to me, clamped on, across the crowded parking lot.

Inside, the hallways gleam with back to school brilliance.  Ella’s preschool starts at 9:15, an hour and fifteen minutes after the big kids start regular school, so there is a buzz, a hum, an underlying energy that vibrates in the very floor as we walk down to the preschool classroom.

We are early, but other children are already there.  The smiling teachers, Miss Claire and Miss Betsy, have a tempting array of toys spread enticingly throughout the room.  There are crayons and fresh sheets of drawing paper and books  on each of the small round tables.

“Look, Ella,” I whisper, “there’s Clifford and Emily!”

“No,” she says into my neck.  A brown-haired, bowl-cutted, boy, rubbing his red crayon back and forth on a yellow sheet of paper, looks up briefly and shrugs.

Miss Betsy comes over.  “Good morning, Ella!” she says, and she peels my three year old off my body. “This is going to be a great day,” Betsy tells Ella, “and you will make new friends.”

“NO,” says Ella with great finality as Betsy lowers her to the ground. With startling quickness, Ella is wrapped around my right leg, and she is into full tantrum warm up.  “No mama no mama NO MAMA NO! NO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” and she is off and wailing.

Betsy looks at me sympathetically and mouths, “Go quickly.” She removes Ella with seasoned dexterity.

“Goodbye, Ella!” I say.  “I will see you at 11!”

I flee, tears starting in my own eyes, rushing out the door on a tidal roar of, “NOOOOOO, MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

I stand in the hallway for 30 minutes listening to my child wail, and then I go out to the car and cry for half an hour myself.

***************
I pull the Vibe into the parking lot of the middle school and ruffle Ella’s newly cut hair. She turns to look at me; her twelve year old eyes are bottomless.

“I don’t know, Mom,” she says.  She eyes a couple of other girls meandering up the walkway to the big old brick building.  I know she is checking out their clothes–Did I pick right? she is asking herself.

Her little plaid skirt and long sleeved black top will do.  The other girls have very similar outfits.

“We walked this out,” I remind her.  We had come to the open school two days running and followed her schedule–from home room to math class to English to Gym. She knows how to get to the cafeteria. Her afternoon classes are next door to each other.

We have arrived early so she can get to her locker through hallways that are not tumultuous with first day mayhem.

Her hand is on the door handle, her body tensed.

“You can do it,” I whisper.  “You’ll be great.”

She leans over and gives me a quick, self conscious peck; she grabs her not-yet-full backpack, and she bolts out the door.  Head down, she scurries up the walk.  At the big shiny red door she pauses, hand on the heavy metal handle.  She turns to look at me pleadingly.

She looks suddenly tiny next to the massive door, which must be eight feet high, my big girl shrunken and frightened by this new challenge.  She is all long legs, knobby knees, and tension.

“You can do it,” I mouth, and she shakes her head, almost angrily.  Then she pulls herself up, yanks on the door, and disappears.

I sit there for  moment, leaving my twelve-year-old Ella in a nest of strangers.  She’ll be great, I think.  I pull myself up, an echo from a moment ago, and restart the car.

****************

As we are pulling the crisp new blue sheets over the mattress of the bed on the right-hand side of the room–a predetermined arrangement–Abby and her mom Mary come in.  There is hugging and squealing, and the girls dig treasures out of their bags, laughing.

A coffee maker;  I’m learning to drink it!

Oh, very cool–a bagel slicer; we can go to the bakery over on Downing Street on weekends. 

They unpack their clothes neatly, folded things in dressers, hanging things behind the closets’ louvered doors.

They put toothbrushes and soaps, hang towels and washcloths, in the bathroom.

Mary and I hang the curtains we’ve collaborated on, smooth matching duvets, plump up new pillows. We fold afghans over the foot of each bed. The girls flit around, putting books on shelves, supplies on desks, saying tentative hellos to neighbors who poke their heads in to meet them.

This is 210 McHenry Hall: Ella’s new home for the next academic year.  She is 18, still leggy, but the knobby colt-like quality is gone; this is the classy legginess of a young woman.  And this is her dream school; this is where she’ll decide between the physics degree and the writing degree.  She will take her intro physics course, her calculus, her two English classes, and begin determining: Do I want to be a scientist? Or a writer?  Can I do both???

She and Abby, another bright, ambitious, over-achiever, have met twice, corresponded and emailed all summer; she is ready.

But–as Mary and I look around the room, knowing it’s all set, knowing it’s time to go, both girls begin to shimmer just slightly.  I feel Mary doing what just I am doing, girding for goodbye.

We hug our girls hard, we demand that they call that very night.  They roll their eyes,–eyes that threaten to leak.

I pause in the parking lot  as I dig out my keys to the Scion, and look up.  Her face is pressed to the second floor window, a hand flattened on either side.

You can do it, I mouth.  She gives me a thumbs up, peels herself from the window, and I climb into my car and start the ignition.

*****************

I love Andy; he loves Ella.  He is kind and good and smart and hard-working.  She glows when she looks at him.

She has lived in the city for three years; she is independent and savvy.  But when she emerges, changed from her tulle and lace extravaganza into a beautiful flowy top and tight and trendy jeans for the start of the honeymoon, her eyes are the frightened, sorrowful eyes of my little girl.

I hug her hard, rock her back and forth, make her giggle.

She and Andy open their Jeep doors–my liberated baby is driving; she looks at me long and hard over the roof of the car.

It’ll be great, I mouth, and I see that little shimmer; then she grins and slides inside, and they’re off to begin a marriage.

*********************
They call me when they’re ready to go, and I meet them at the hospital.  Her contractions are three minutes apart; she’s in her fuzzy robe, her long legs hunkered up in the wheel chair, her hands on either side of her big belly.

She breathes like they taught her: Huff.  Huff. Huff.

Andy signs papers and answers questions and a cheerful, motherly nurse pads out in pink and blue patterned scrubs.  The woman at the desk smiles at me and shows me where to sit; the motherly nurse rounds up Andy, deftly turns the wheelchair around, and starts to roll my Ella away.

She cranes her head around, looking for me.  There is panic.  I don’t think I can do this, she telegraphs.

You’ll be GREAT, I telepath back, and she disappears to birth my beautiful granddaughter, mysteriously named Devon after an English river neither Andy nor Ella has ever seen.

****************************

Ella arrives at my door; she has just taken Devon to her first day of preschool.

“Oh, my God,” she says.  “How did you ever do this?” and she tells me about the teacher peeling her four year old from her leg and shooing her, (Goodby, Mom! We’ll be fine!) out the door, and about standing in the hallway listening to her baby cry for her.

I do all the right things: I smooth her hair, I cradle her cheeks for an instant; I plant a firm kiss on her tensed up brow, and I take her out for coffee.  I tell her stories about her own stubborn little self until she is laughing shakily.

“Does it get easier?” she asks, and I tell her that it does, little by little.  And that Devon is great, so smart, so ready; she’ll do really well.

I don’t tell her everything, though, as I look fondly at my daughter, a mature woman, a wonderful mother, who is right now surreptitiously stealing half of my warm and oozey chocolate chip cookie.

I don’t tell her that I’ve decided each leaving is like having a stitch removed. If the skin is healthy–if the child is ready–it hurts just when  the stitch is pulled.  Sometimes, in fact, it stings like hell, the sudden pain vibrating up and down my body.  But then under the pain, as what was stitched together starts to separate a little bit, I discovered, there is a tiny glowing orb,  a little pearl-like nugget–a little jot of freedom.

I don’t tell her that in a month, Devon will be bolting out of the car, anxious to see her friends, forgetful of the mama dragging in behind her with a Hello Kitty backpack, a Scholastic book order form, and a signed promise to send in two dozen cupcakes for the UnBirthday Party the following week. Or that she will say goodbye and drive off and feel a rush of joy at having two hours to herself,–two hours in which she can take her tablet to the coffee shop and pound the keys in blissful quiet, or–what luxury–when she can take a deep, sucking-in- sleep-like-a-parched-runner-downs-water, nap.

I don’t tell her that each leaving signals a growth in her daughter…and a little more freedom for her, the mama.  She will savor that freedom, feeling a guilty pang for doing so, and she will help her daughter reach and grow and get sturdy and strong.  And each time they say goodbye, she’ll know: Devon is ready for this. She’ll be great.

If I told her this, she’d be brought up short; she’d think, Mom!  You were GLAD when I was gone???

I’ll let her discover the flip side of the leaving on her own.  Right now, I grab her hand, studded with dots of melted chocolate, and we laugh.  It’s these moments, I tell her, the moments between the leavings, that we savor.