My mom, Freda, died nine years ago this month. I've been thinking about her a lot lately. She was a woman many would describe as brusque... but those who knew her well, really well, loved her softer side, her gentle side, her laughing side, her "I'll do anything to protect a child" side. Had circumstances in her life been different, she would have been a wonderful teacher, but her path lead her to become a cook, a fine cook. Often I thumb through her Household Searchlight cookbook and think of her; though most times she didn't use a recipe. She was that good!
I was reading When You are Happy by Eileen Spinelli the other day and I thought of mom. This book is on my list of "Top Ten Favorites." These lines remind me of Freda: When you are lost, I will search for you with my lantern. I will follow the tangled path and find a way when there is no path. I will wear out my shoes and a dozen little rays of hope, but... I will find you. Mom would do anything for a child! When You are Happy would be a book my mom would have loved.
So, I hope you'll indulge me for the next few entries as I tell you a bit about Freda. Let's start with a notebook entry from my reader's/writer's notebook from November 6, 2001. The crock bowl I mention was one of the things my mother gave me, she knew I loved it. But it isn't the bowl I cherish, it is the learning. I was writing from the quote, "All one can really leave one's children is what's inside their heads. Education, in other words, and not earthly possessions is the ultimate legacy, the only thing that can't be taken away." (Dr. Wernher von Braun). With that quote in mind, I wrote:
I sit at the old kitchen table watching as you pour ingredient after ingredient into the huge crock bowl--flour, milk, eggs, cold coffee, raisins, vanilla, this and that--never once stopping to measure, never once noticing the excess flour falling to the linoleum floor, it didn't matter.
With the strength of a weight lifter you lift the bowl. I watch as you heave the twelve pound bowl into the air and rest it on your left bicep and hold it tight against your ample bosom. In your right hand, the huge wooden spoon begins to churn--slowly at first, then with the speed of an outboard motor. You beat each ingredient into a batter--thick, rich, and creamy. The consistency is spongy and wet. You dip your finger into the concoction, taste it, and look up. "Perfect!" you say with a secretive smile.
I sit amazed as your body moves in perfect syncopation with the rhythm of your right arm. Like a dance. Your hips churn and your arms churn as the mysterious ingredients--a bit of this, a touch of that--become your famous coffee cookies. Often imitated, never duplicated. There is a joy in your spirit. You are happy.I love watching you cook!