One of the sure signs of recovery from anything is that get-up-and-go feeling that eventually (often very eventually) seizes you, sometimes prematurely (as is regularly the case with me), sometimes just in the nick of time, seconds before you think you might as well jump off the nearest bridge as cope with whatever the infirmity is for another single day.
I’m coming off a broken ankle and seven weeks of non-weight-bearing. What saved my sanity was a kneeling scooter but I digress. That’s a story for another blog. Then suddenly last weekend, I popped back up on both pegs and was raring to go. A sure sign my sanity was still impaired: I spent the weekend cooking up a storm. Let me preface what’s coming with a simple statement of fact: I am not a cook. But there I was, standing, walking around and it just happened to be in the kitchen. Six inches of snow outdoors secured my location.
A quadruple batch of hot fudge for holiday gift-giving around the neighborhood was my starting project. Then I quickly moved on to my mother’s unbeatable corn chowder and a signature gift of hers to me, lamb bone soup. Couldn’t be easier. Or tastier. Cover a lamb bone, preferably one with lots of garlicky bits and extra meat, with tomato juice. Throw in two bay leaves, some celery and an onion. Simmer for an hour. Pour off soup. Save the bones. Pick and shred the meat back into the soup. Season to taste with S&P. Serve. Though, like some many soups and stews, it only gets better with age and it freezes well.
I played Christmas music and let my ankle ache its little heart out as I dirtied every pot in the place and spilled like a chef with a twitch. And, of course, I thought of my mother. I have lived longer without one than with. Back in those mother-filled days, I thought of her as my best friend. Indeed, we have oodles in common. Or had. Have? Which tense to use? People who remember my mother (and they are few and far between) say I am my mother. Same love of words, same build, same hair, same voice, a Lauren Bacall-y sort of voice.
That voice. Given that it’s purportedly exactly like mine I thought I’d know it anywhere. That it was forever in my mind’s ear. I thought, if I had to lose her, and we all do, our mothers, I would always have that. But some years ago I learned that’s not the way it necessarily goes.
Years ago my brother decided to use his then new toy, a tape recorder (this would have been 1964), to record a telephone conversation with our parents. He and his fiancé called his folks to tell them they were engaged. A permanent record of the happy announcement was secured. Time passed. Tape recordings gave way to CDs. My brother’s children got born and grew up, and one decided, when she was an adult and the tape fell into her hands, to have it converted to the more modern format. She then kindly gave CD copies to her father and his siblings, me among them.
I recognized my father’s voice instantly. By then, he too was dead but it had been much more recent, only a matter of a few years. But the other voice on the telephone? I deduced it had to be my mother chiming in with her good wishes to the happy couple because the woman on the phone was on a house extension with my identifiable dad. But I did not recognize her voice. Partly I was stunned to find out she had a southern accent but more critically, hearing her speak again was far from familiar, far from comforting. That was not a voice I knew.
Boy, memory can pistol whip you sometimes.
So, thinking about this while I was revisiting my mother’s recipes, coincidentally at Christmas-time, lamb bone soup took on new meaning. I guess you are never too old to miss your mother and it would be reassuring to think I’d know her if I saw her — or heard her — again. But that’s an illusion that won’t work for me.
What does work every time is pulling out those handwritten recipes and savoring the familiar flavors of the comfort food she rustled up for the years we did co-habitate on this earth. Positively heavenly.
— Belle Songer