Mack and I bought our first house when we were 22 years old. We were six months out of college and raring to get started on our grown-up lives together. The snowy January day that we moved in to the new house was the same day that my parents moved back to Detroit for Daddy’s work. I was sorry to see them go, but I was a married lady and thought that I had everything under control. We had said our goodbyes the night before and they were heading out behind the moving van; 1,100 miles away from their eldest daughter.
That first frigid Saturday morning, I decided to make pancakes on the griddle of my new stove. I didn’t really like pancakes all that much, but there was that griddle.
So, I mixed up the batter and started frying up those pancakes for what would be the first meal in our new home. Poor ol’ Mack walked in to the kitchen a few minutes later, expecting to find a happy camper in a brand new house. Instead, he came in to an out-of-character cry baby.
“I should have appreciated her more when she made those pancakes for me,” I blubbered.
When I was a kid, my mother would frequently make pancakes (even though, I really didn’t like them all that much). They were always a bit burned around the edges. She was not a great cook.
But on that snowy day, 40 years ago, I would have given anything for another one of those crispy flapjacks. I wanted my mother.
I am the eldest daughter of a woman who didn’t expect to have children. I was a surprise, to say the least. Run over by a log truck as a child, she was told after months of recuperation, that she would not be able to have children. Married at 18, she found out a few months later, that indeed, she could…and would be having a baby. That would be me.
She was a good mother. Not perfect. But now that I’ve raised 3 of my own, I understand that perfect doesn’t happen.
She never weighed over 100 pounds, but I took after my dad’s side of the family and battled weight my whole life. Food was always an issue. My weight was a problem to her. Now, just for the record…I was never side-show fat. Chubby, chunky, zaftig, yes. Not fat. But, compared to my mother, the homecoming queen with a 19” waist, well maybe fat.
“Your mother is dying” the doctor cooly reported, exposing the fact that he couldn’t possibly understand the need of three girls for their mother – however middle-aged and beyond we might be. My sisters and I assumed our regular roles at the news. Tammy was angry. Kelly withdrew. I thought I could fix it. But, it couldn’t be fixed.
Since the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking came out in 1964 (I was 9 years old), I have begged my mother to quit smoking. I hid her cigarettes when I was a child. I cut out articles from the newspaper. I bargained. I begged…I finally gave up.
After battling COPD for years, she is now in an Alzheimer’s facility in the town where my middle sister lives. I take the 12-hour round trip to see her for a few days every couple of weeks and always bring her a cookie or ice cream. These days, she loves sweets. The Alzheimer’s has allowed her to release the control that she always had over her eating. She’s up to 103 pounds.
I am now a 62-year-old grandmother, with decades of examples of failing to appreciate my mother as I should. We had a life-long difficult relationship. I was not the kind of daughter that she wanted. I never doubted that she loved me and I always loved her. We were just different. Now, of course, I wish I could go back and try harder.
I hadn’t thought of those crispy pancakes in decades. Until this morning.
On Wednesdays, I make and take dinner to my grands. Their mother, a college professor, works late on Wednesdays, so I take over a kid-friendly dinner on those nights. This morning, the taco-making went fine. But, when I started in on the enchiladas, the waterworks began. The last meal that my mom ever cooked for me was a pan of cheese enchiladas. Right before she got sick and had to move to assisted living. Sometimes, it’s all just too sad.
I am intrigued with the way that the memory of food sticks with us and takes us right back to the time and place and sensations we felt when we first experienced it. A whiff of cookies from the oven, the taste of a favorite family recipe, even the distant clamor of pots and pans across the house cause the memory to engage. As with Marcel Proust’s famous petites madeleine, “food causes memories to reveal themselves.” The moment I fried the first tortilla today, I was transported back to my mother’s kitchen on that morning when I thought I had all the time in the world to be with her.
I still want my mother.