A note to my readers. The instructions of Day 14 are as follows.
Today’s Prompt: Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What’s the first word that jumps off the page? Use this word as your springboard for inspiration. If you need a boost, Google the word and see what images appear, and then go from there. Today’s twist: write the post in the form of a letter. SO… I opened the book and the first thing I see is LETTER, (it was written in bold letters) and then there was a picture of a woman who looks like she is regal. My mother loves all things queenly. In actuality I wrote this letter to her several years ago and titled it the letter I can’t send. I’ve been debating publishing it and have decided in the past it is too personal. When I sat down and opened the book, it occurred to me that I could publish it and it fit the spirit of the assignment. I’ve taken out names, because although this story is my truth, I’m respectful of the thought that for my mother, father and sibling, my truth is not theirs. Truths can be divisive. SO, (deep breath) here goes.
I saw your hands in mine tonight. Your fingers appeared as I was making a blueberry buckle. Remember when you would make that for us when we were growing up? It is one of the happy memories of my childhood. One of the recipes that you passed down to me by giving me your red checkered cookbook. Do you remember that day too, Mom? The day before my wedding you took all the cookbooks you hadn’t already thrown away. You were in a screaming rage and you threw them all at me on my bed, yelling at me to take them. We were in my bedroom, with the lovely flowers dad had painted for me on the aqua windowsills. My bedroom you would redo, selling my furniture before I was out the door. In those last few days before I left your home you made sure I knew it was time to go.
There is often stress around life events, but I’d come to be hyper vigilant regarding these screaming fits of yours and try not to cross you, believing for years it was my fault. There was often, no way to know what would cause such rage. Where was your happiness for me, Mom? What stopped you from throwing your arms around me and telling me I’d picked a wonderful man? Even then, before I had realized it would be up to me to say enough, to finally stop you from hurting us directly these thirty years later, our happiness only made you angry. You could act like you felt happy for strangers, and maybe you felt it for my sibling.
As I cream the shortening you no longer eat, I remember the fun we had when you could keep your rage under control, Mom. When your words were not like nails on a chalk board. Cruel shrill shrieks that pierced with wounds that still have power to sting.The days when I wasn’t terrified of you, when you taught me how to cook, or took care of me when I had an ear infection, I had a lot of those when I was younger. I learned to love ritual and find the connection of it with food. As I measure the flour and blend it with the baking powder I wonder what kind of unhappiness I’d visit upon you if I told you that I learned in part to love tradition and ritual and religion through these experiences of you and food, my earliest experiences.
You often said that when I was little we got along well. Did it ever occur to you that little children are totally dependent on their parents? We need you not just for food and shelter but for acceptance, for safety, for knowing that we are loved in spite of who we are, not just because of. Actually, we need your acceptance, love, and we look for your approval no matter how old we are.
I wanted to go places with friends. None of them ever met your standards.The older I got, the more I wanted to try things out. The more our lives didn’t work. As though we lost the rhythm of those cooking times, those apple pie afternoons, those days of apple picking; a treasured tradition in my family now, even with adult children, who might humor me, but who come all the same.
All the recipes you tossed the day you heard that butter was bad and no one should eat all the treasured foods of my childhood. In one fell swoop, your impulsive and compulsive need to control the uncontrollable. Your mania overcame you and with it went the possibility that before my wedding or when your grandchildren became adults you could pass along your amazing crescent cookies shared at an annual cookie exchange. Or the crab meat appetizers I can never figure out how to recreate or even explain. Remember the time we put the apple pie in the oven and went to see Take the Money and Run? We came back and the pre set on the oven hadn’t worked right, the pies looked like over sized charcoal briquettes. Even that was a great food memory.
You were such a talented cook, setting stunning tables, throwing dinner parties and putting on a good show. But often after the parties were over there would be the fighting with your own parents. Their unreasonable expectations and demands, which you have romanticized. Then with Dad, the yelling the tears, the drama. Somewhere in the earlier years of your life I can’t believe that this is what you hoped for.
The blueberries are plump and sweet and I pluck a few from the colander before they top the sticky dough in the pan. I tell myself that perhaps you couldn’t follow the recipes anymore. You were the rule maker. The creator of the recipe of what a child should be. For half a century I’ve been trying to measure up. Always an under performer according to you. Caught in the middle of being a daughter, a wife, a mother and trying to get it right. What ingredient did I miss? When will I get it right? Where is the recipe? When I think I know it, even by your recipe, you change an ingredient. How does a daughter explain a mother who does not know how to mother to her own children? How does a daughter decide to forge ahead, trying to put her own needs aside, at what cost? Where is the recipe that could make us right? Where is the answer that would allow me to release this struggle? When does a daughter stop being a daughter? When does a mother need to let go of her own to be a better mother to her children?
From the time I was a teenager things were not so good, although I can see that we both tried in different ways. I own having trouble forgiving you for opening my mail, for your controlling ways, for assuming the worst of me. I was a kid mom. Kids make mistakes and need a safe place to do so. I see the loving things you tried to do. A sweet sixteen party. How did you know to invite all the people you did? The time I was in a car accident and I was so scared to tell you and Dad. It wasn’t my fault but I was terrified. You were great. How many times can I tell you I appreciate you and am grateful for things you and Dad did? Will you ever hear? You have stored up mistakes I’ve made since I was a little girl, even dating them. Telling the family therapist you now insist we see, (even though our pleas fell on deaf ears years ago), “when she was eight she… and we can’t move ahead until we resolve this issue.” But I’ve learned that there is no resolution, Mom because you never forget or forgive and you are always right. Increasingly, for me and for you it seems that getting it right means not being in touch.
Deciding that 2 cups of blueberries isn’t enough I double the fruit and my hands become my own again. There is no recipe Mom. Just as there is no card for mothers and daughters that acknowledges our kind of relationship. For us, mother’s day is just another Sunday. You are my mother. You would not have chosen me for your daughter. Odds are you would have only chosen sons. It seems an easier fit. Knowing this is painful but acknowledging it is part of my recipe. You can’t antagonize me anymore.
Some families are born. Some made by choice. Some work, some don’t. What we want to work doesn’t always, Cakes rise and fall. Ingredients come and go. Recipes change. My blueberry buckle recipe now sits in a larger than called for pan to spread out the cakey bottom. I find it a medium for the doubled blueberries and the tripled crumbled topping. The top two layers seem weighty and I thought they would sink the cake at first but it rises in spite of itself. Or because of its sturdy underpinnings? I don’t know Mom. But thank you for the recipe. And, for its ability to stand up to my creativity, my playfulness and for its being a part of our heritage.
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries Double the Blueberries
TOPPING: Triple the recipe
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- In a medium bowl, cream shortening and sugar. Beat in egg. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add alternately with milk to creamed mixture. Pour into a lightly greased 11 x 7 -in. square baking pan. Arrange blueberries on top.
- In another bowl, cream butter and sugar. Combine flour and cinnamon; add gradually to creamed mixture. Crumble over blueberries. Bake until the cake is set and the topping is a golden brown.
- Bake at 350° for 45-50 minutes. Yield: 9 servings.