Yet, she never totally left.
Both of my sons and I dived into active parenthood from the birth of our children onward. Babies never made us nervous. Feeding, changing, and caring at all hours came with the territory. This is definitely my mother’s legacy to us.
The battered three ring notebooks of her recipes (complete with handwritten notes to herself in the margins) still sit with self-assurance next to our more modern cookbooks in the cupboard above our refrigerator.
We often use her formal china and silverware when we have guests for dinner at our house in Palm Heights (elevation 14’). In small, soft ways she’s still around and welcome.
My mother came of age as a mother in the early 1950s. WWII was over. The Korean War was on. Women in our neighborhood were housewives and mothers. They prided themselves on the nightly dinners they prepared for their families. They tended toward perfectionism and trying to be Betty Crocker until Peg Bracken started a liberating revolution with her I Hate To Cook Book.
An excellent, enthusiastic cook, my mother prepared a different cuisine each evening. I thought everyone ate shrimp curry with rice and condiments one night, Swedish Meat Balls the second, and Southern Fried Chicken with grits the third. And this was in Seattle!
Men went to work in the morning and came home in the evening. The emergency warning sirens test-sounded at noon every Wednesday. Children played in the yards and streets, required to return home the moment the street lights came on at dusk. Automatic transmissions were still unusual; my mother shifted for herself.
In honor of our mothers and Mother’s Day this year, my wife, Brown Eyes, and I decided we would cook some of my mother’s favorite casserole recipes.
Remember casseroles? Dinner in a dish? The salvation of the modern, busy housewife? Held together by combining the ingredients with canned cream of tomato or mushroom soup? I ate hundreds of them through the years without knowing they were so much work to prepare.
Now I know.
Our experiment began with “John Marzetti,” a simple little casserole that merely requires different fattening ingredients and a long time to assemble. It used to be my favorite. We worked our way across the recipe range from Hamburger Noodle Bake to Canlis’ Caesar Salad to Porcupine Meatballs to Tuna/ Cashew Casserole.
We concluded our trip through my mother’s recipes by throwing a dinner party for some friends. We cooked Peg Bracken’s Fu Manchu casserole, a combination of browned hamburger, onion, celery, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, snow pea pods, and the omnipresent canned cream of mushroom soup.
We used mother’s big, lidded casserole bowl. The Fu Manchu casserole was accompanied by a green salad including mandarin orange slices and cashews. Dessert was sorbet and cookies. A truly vintage meal.
Mom would never have asked what wine went best with this variety of ingredients. We did. Our guests loved the meal. Mother had triumphed again.
Periodically I wish my mother could know who her sons, grandsons and great grandchildren have become. Sometimes I’d still like a hug and a smile from her. My wish for me is that I remain connected to the best of her. My wish for her is that she takes satisfaction from her legacy that lives in all of us each day.
Mother’s Day was officially recognized as an American institution in 1914. Since then it has become commercialized in ways never imagined all those years ago. Mothers come in a wide array. So does honoring them. We had a great time honoring my mother by actually re-living a small part of the reality of her life, making her casseroles.
How do you plan to honor the mothers in your life this month? Let me know by emailing me at george (at) newbrightlife.com