“You only live once, but, if you do it right, once is enough”- Mae West.
This past weekend we traveled to Baltimore for Father’s Day. It’s the only weekend this entire summer we’ll be in town so inevitably every second is mapped out. That’s one of the challenges with marrying your high-school sweetheart—we’re constantly shuttling ourselves between two sets of families (who live 5 miles apart) trying to play fair to both. Over the years things have gotten much better. We no longer switch between houses each night. We unload our bags and set up camp at one house for the weekend. This weekend it was our turn to sleep at my house. The house that created so many wonderful memories during my youth.
My house was known as the venue that featured every type of occasion from dinner parties to holiday dinners to birthday parties to book clubs to baby namings to rehearsal dinners to pre-prom cocktails and even a wedding! How unfortunate that my last searing memory of an event at our house was during Mom’s shiva after her funeral.
Every trip home after college, Mom would always come out from the kitchen area to greet me with the warmest smile. Even during her final years, she loved having her children under her roof. I think it grounded her and made her feel as though everything was “normal” again. This past weekend I noticed the house was eerily clean, quiet, lifeless, with very few remaining mementos of Mom. Her clothes have been slowly given away, her handwritten notes have been removed, the “junk” drawer where she used to sneak candy has been cleared and the kitchen looked as though it hadn’t been touched in months.
Even her smell, Amarige perfume, which was so prevalent upstairs is now gone. It sits contained in a sterile perfume bottle on my bathroom shelf in New York City. After I moped around, wallowing, I made the mistake of telling my father that the house seemed to be “sanitized.” I wanted to retract that comment after I said it. And, it was in that moment I decided to stop brooding. Sure it was painful to be there. Sure I missed my mom like crazy. Sure I was robbed of at least 20 years with her. But, life is for the living. I’m living and I have two amazing kids who could either take my lead and be sad their “meema died of that horrible disease” or they could seize the opportunity and celebrate life and create new memories in the house. And that’s exactly what we did!
I wanted to cook with the kids in Mom’s kitchen. Isn’t it ironic? Now that I’m a grown woman and mother, I’m finally starting to enjoy what mom tried to pass on to me during my youth. We decided Earthquake cookies were the easiest recipe to make and immediately went on a scavenger hunt throughout the kitchen to find where Dad stored Mom’s prized possessions: her famous mix master and her worn in cookie sheets. As we cobbled all the ingredients and utensils together I found myself spewing loving memories of Mom’s cooking escapades. The kids relished in the stories and the fact that we were actually in Meema’s kitchen, using her tools, cooking her recipe. You can only imagine the relief in my eyes when I opened the drawers and saw Mom’s organized chaos- forks and spoons and knives and spatulas strewn everywhere – the only way mom functioned. I chuckled.
When we went to place the cookies in the oven, I noticed that the top oven wasn’t heating correctly. Another chuckle. I remember Mom dealt with this dilemmna on a daily basis. Obviously she never got the problem fixed. Dad then chimed in defensively and told me mom had her own way of calibrating the oven temperature.
Throughout the mornings’ cooking exercise I felt like we revived Mom and brought her spirit back to the kitchen. She was with us as we discovered her utensils, probably untouched from her last use. She was laughing as we witnessed her same frustrations with the oven. But, most importantly, she was smiling as we baked together as a family, bringing life back into her kitchen, filling that deep culinary void.
Have you ever helped your kids make lemonade from lemons?