When I woke up this morning I had no idea how badly I would be triggered today. It’s Thanksgiving and while we no longer celebrate the way we used to, I enjoy the holiday and the friends and family I get to spend time with. I went to bed last night looking forward to it.
My daughter, Meagan, is hosting Thanksgiving again this year. She (and I) always invite anyone we know who does not have plans for the holiday. There’s always a fun group of smart, funny women along with the family members who can attend. This year I volunteered to bring her grandmother’s apple crisp as my contribution to the meal.
I hadn’t made this dessert in years so I went looking through my old, hand-written recipes that I keep in a yellowed folder. As I leafed through the old recipe cards tears started to fill my eyes. It was like taking a walk through my family history.
There were the very basic recipes my mom had typed out for me when I was a young newlywed. I would be embarrassed by the basic-ness of them if I didn’t remember how absolutely necessary they were at the time. There were a very few hand-written recipes that my ex-mother-in-law had grudgingly trusted me with. There were the typed out or photocopied recipes that various friends and neighbors had given me in the misplaced hope that I would actually cook some of them.
When the apple crisp recipe wasn’t among those old recipe cards, I started looking through family recipe books. In the 80’s my family created recipe books for family reunions. All the women in the family contributed a recipe their family used, and my mom compiled all of those into folders filled with photocopies of those recipes. Some of them are typed, but many of them are hand-written.
Reading through these recipes, I was inundated with love for the women who wrote these. Every one of the women of my mother’s generation who contributed have now passed away. Many of the recipes had been passed down from their mothers and grandmothers. It saddened me to remember the vibrant, busy women they used to be before age slowed them down and eventually gave them permission to pass away. At the same time, I celebrated who they used to be and the love they poured into the food they fed their families.
As I sat there remembering all of these lovely, loving, and loved women, I was hit with another memory. Four years ago today my mom, whose health rose and fell frequently through her last years, was in the hospital for a stress fracture to her spine. She had missed Thanksgiving dinner with her family because of her hospitalization but seemed to be getting better. I am convinced that on this day four years ago, for reasons only she understood, Mom decided she was done fighting to keep her body alive. Mom decided she was tired.
When I went to the hospital that night, Mom was not capable of feeding herself. The food that had been brought for her sat untouched on her bed tray. Talking to her the whole time, I spoon fed Mom, one slow bite at a time. Her big blue eyes stayed on my face the whole time. That night, Mom’s health took a downward turn that she was not able to pull back out of. We lost her two weeks later.
The memory of the trust and love in her eyes, as she ate what turned out to be the last solid food she would ever eat, makes me tear up every time I remember it. I prefer to remember my mother as the funny, intelligent, and loving woman who raised me and my siblings. But some days, like today, I am enveloped in memories of her final days.
Food and the memories it evokes is such an essential part of our family history. Today, when I fix the apple crisp recipe that took me reeling through my memories, I will do my best to honor my mother and all of the other women who showed their love through the food they cooked. I miss you Mom.