We had fifty-one beautiful submissions to our Mother’s Day Contest, many of which, with the author’s permission, I hope to reprint here in the following weeks.
Our criteria for the winner was simply, “the contribution that zings us with all that motherhood is: a woman struggling to love and raise children when loving herself wasn’t always a finished project.”
Here’s the zinger. Read it. You’ll agree.
Recipe for Life: What to Teach Your Children
by Sandy Farrell
The gifts from my mother remain as intangibles- no recipe box, no heirloom dish set for the holidays, no special linens rich with memory and smell- but a different treasury that is very special to me. My mother died when I was 10, she was smiling at lunchtime and gone by the time I returned home from grammar school at 3pm. Met by my father, silent and in shock, sitting on the stairs bracing himself for the task of telling his three young daughters that their mother was gone forever.
We didn’t live with dad, my parents were separated and lived as polar opposites in their own Cold War of the 1950s. Belonging to that 25% of New England, the Anglo- Irish mix had torn apart their marriage from the start. We lived with an aunt and cooked out of her borrowed kitchen. It was the Mamie Eisenhower era, years before Jackie Kennedy and Julia Child would give us a different view on the world. This may sound bleak, but what I inherited was an appreciation that came only much later in life: the innovative spirit my mother possessed.
And in order to feel that appreciation I had to first distance myself with all of the hurt and anger that a ten year old girl could muster up to protect herself from such a loss. My mother had wanted to be an artist- and indeed was an artist. I have a beautiful charcoal she did at 14, and pastels done on the back of leftover wallpaper, weekly trips to the art museum on free Saturday mornings, and walks to the park for concerts. The local librarian told me they gave her an adult library card because she had read so much of the children’s library. She had trained as a nurse but the hours were too long for a mom with three little girls so she took a job as a waitress at a small neighborhood restaurant.
Never one to get caught up in recipes, or own many cookbooks, she would scan the fridge for content and swiftly make a decisive move, gather up an armful of ingredients and proceed to the counter. Tasks that took longer got started earlier, missing ingredients were replaced by substitutes, efficient peeling and chopping began, each of us assigned a specific job, taught the basic skills, not a moment or veg wasted, no tears, perseveration, hesitation, or remorse. Supper, plain and simple, quickly executed like a Zen master. First thought, best thought. Never the same river nor stew twice.
Recipe for Life.
Use what is on hand. Don’t let it be a chore. Keep it simple. Use basic kitchen utensils. Plan ahead. Substitute freely and often don’t waste a thing. Serve it up hot and fresh.
Even today, some fifty-plus years later these basic ingredients and recipe for life bless our kitchen. Cooking is fun, it’s relaxing and creative.
I still come home from work and have supper on the table in less than thirty minutes. Repeat last weeks dish? Never. No need, mom taught me more than how to cook up supper.
Farrell is a licensed acupuncturist working for Harbor Health Group in Gloucester, MA. She first started coming to Cape Ann when she was a child; her mother would take one day a year and drive to Gloucester from Worcester with her daughters to tour the Art Galleries. That’s when Farrell first loved “the smell of creosote and dead fish.”
Farrell volunteers at the Gloucester Farmers Market, organizing and setting up the Seafood Throwdowns, and at the Cape Ann Open Door. Quietly, she’s using her mother’s lessons to support a healthy food community for all of Cape Ann.