It’s All About the Gravy

I was watching the semi-finals of a children’s cooking competition show this morning, when a small ten-year-old boy began to make gravy for his roast pheasant.  I realize that the fact that a ten-year-old can roast a pheasant is the real story, but for me the story is always about the gravy.

I saw him pour the drippings directly into the pan and “Oh No,” escaped my lips, “He can’t…” I whispered.

An older boy nearby stepped over and asked him, “Are you starting with a roux?”

“Yes, a roux, say YES,” I willed him as he up-ended a bag of flour straight into the pan of drippings and the older boy backed slowly away.

“NOOOOOOOO!!” I howled alone in my living room causing the cats to both exit to somewhere quieter.  Even they knew this was considered a high crime against the culinary arts to create gravy in this manner.

Growing up my mom made gravy every Sunday to go with our Roast Beef and mashed potatoes.  That was Sunday Dinner, a large chunk of meat, a potato dish and a veggie dish. Sometimes the vegetable was green beans and sometimes carrots.  I always felt cooked carrots were only edible with gravy – most food is.  And if I didn’t want to eat them, I could bury them in the mashed potatoes.

As a child of six my part in the gravy making was a small one.  Being eye level with the stove created a safety issue so I was given what tasks I could do that kept me busy and out of trouble.  It was my job to shake a baby food jar of flour and water.  This was the thickening agent my mother would use–a thoroughly shaken (not stirred) flour and water mixture.

The meat would be removed from the pan and set aside to rest.  Amid the drippings of fat and broth, bits of cooked onion, my mother would add water and stir to remove any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan.  As she deglazed the pan, and I don’t know that she ever even knew this term for what she was doing to flavor our gravy, I shook the baby food jar.  I would shake and shake as I danced around the kitchen.

“Is it enough?” I would ask stopping several times to have her check it before she would finally say, “Yes, now.”  The lid would come off and it would be stirred into the simmering base.  The color would shift from a dark brown to a light tan as the flour-water was fully incorporated and began to heat.

“It’s bubbling!  It’s bubbling!” I would announce indicating that I felt it was nearly done.  My mother would stop stirring it with a fork and turn the heat off.  I would hunt for a ladle in the drawer of utensils while she got a medium sized bowl out of the cupboard.  The gravy boat was for holidays.  On everyday Sundays, a bowl was good enough for the gravy.  

Only then, once the gravy hit the table, was everyone called in to eat. Inevitably, my father would recall the first Sunday dinner my mother made just after they were married in the late 1950’s. Friends were invited and there was an uncomfortable pause prior to eating.

“Which one is the gravy?” my Uncle Tom had asked.  Apparently, it was far from obvious that it was a liquid.  Oh dear!  No worries, she continued to make Sunday dinners and over the years the gravy improved greatly.

I don’t know what my mother’s method of gravy making was called, but when I was in college, I learned to start gravy from a roux: equal parts butter and flour.  I learned to melt a stick of butter (that’s universally a half cup) and then add to it a half cup of flour.  This would be blended together with a fork until a thick paste was created.  It was a beautiful dark caramel colored paste.  Slowly, very slowly broth would be poured into the pan and stirred quickly with a whisk.  The whisk made a scraping sound against the bottom of the pan like a whisper.  “Stir, stir, stir,” it said.

When my roux-based gravy was complete, it had a silky finish and coated a spoon perfectly (the doneness test).  It was not chunky or lumpy and never so solid that it required verbal confirmation to differentiate it from the meat dish.  After making it once at home, I became the official family gravy maker and we never saw the baby food jar again.

When I moved out on my own, my first solo Thanksgiving dinner included my roux and the silky result.  I was impressed that somehow, I had managed to get each dish to complete at the same time.  That my mother could do that always amazed me.

I have never been one to entertain and now, being gluten free, my old friend the flour roux was no longer an option.   Being single at the holidays leads to inevitable invitations from well-meaning people to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with them.  Sometimes you get to help with the cooking, sometimes you don’t.

I used to offer to make the gravy but I don’t anymore.  One woman saw me using an entire stick of butter and seemed to feel that I was attempting to kill her family with fat. I was unaware how afraid of wonderful things like butter and bacon she was.  It’s really very sad.

What was her preferred method of making gravy?  With the giant turkey resting on a platter in the middle of the kitchen island among dishes of cranberry jelly and sweet potatoes and stuffing, she opens a cupboard and pulls out a bag of flour.  She up-ends it into the pan of drippings and starts to stir the dry powder directly in.

I nearly fainted the first time I saw this.  Now my stomach just flip-flops a little as I thank God that I am gluten free and won’t have to eat it.  Yes, it clumps. Yes, it lumps.  After it bubbles and thickens, but never enough to coat a spoon because that would mean patiently waiting for the flavors to develop and the broth to reduce, she pours the watery liquid through a strainer to captures all the lumps whether flavorful or flour.  Into the gravy boat it goes, where it stays until long after the meal is over.  That is one thing that is remarkably different from my home growing up.  We never had leftover gravy.

The gravy the little boy served to the judges on Top Chef Junior had been allowed to thicken, perhaps a little too much.  The camera zoomed in on it being poured from the spout of the gravy boat and it wouldn’t.  It wouldn’t pour.  It was coaxed out onto the plates and the judges very kindly told him what a nice flavor it had.  He went home that episode.  He was a lovely, kind, sweet little boy and one day he will learn that all gravy should start as a roux.

Others will never learn.

 

#cooking #gravy

Unbreakable

I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t at all that I am missing memories.  It is just that everyday growing up was much the same as every other day.  Every month the same as every other month.  Every year…you get where I am going with this.

For example, every meal we ate as a family ended with the table being cleared, plates scraped into a bowl for the dog, whatever dog was present at the time – my father gave them all the same name – Gypsy. Hot soapy water prepared and the dishes washed by hand by my mother and dried and put away by me into the cupboards across the room.  Let’s say we ignore breakfast and count lunch and dinner – two meals a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year for twenty years – That’s roughly 14,560 times we stood at that old ceramic sink and washed and dried dishes together, my mother and me. I don’t even want to figure out how many times I crossed that room to put away dishes.  It was a mundane task, performed repeatedly.  It blurs in the mind.  Laughter, tears, happiness, fear – that’s what makes one monotonous event stand out from the others in the fog of decades.  We weren’t exactly an emotional family.

I do remember the day the Corel dinner plate broke.  It was subtle, silent break lurking beneath the sudsy dishwater in the plastic dishpan in the sink.  My mother reached in and very quickly drew back her hand. Blood was already spreading from the slice through the calloused skin on her finger. It dripped back into the water coloring the soap bubbles.

“What happened?” I asked grabbing a towel to wrap her finger in.

“I don’t know.  Something bit me,” she said in disbelief.  How would a piranha have gotten into the dishwater?  I wondered but knew better than to make a joke.

I spilled the water from the dishpan slowly into the basin of the old ceramic sink. The dishes and silverware inside rose up as the tide retreated.  I thought perhaps one of the sharp knives we’d used for cutting the vegetables for dinner might have gotten her.  None appeared in the jumble. Then I saw something out of place.  Large and small white pieces of a dinner plate that had shattered at the bottom of the dishpan.

It wasn’t a deep cut.  The bleeding stopped quickly.  She supervised as I sorted out the spoons, forks, knives and other remnants of the meal we just ate from the harsh-edged pieces of the plate.  Like the forensic buffs that we were, we arranged the pieces on a towel on the counter and examined them.  It was splintered into a group of shards spiraling out from the center of the plate that used to be: Unbreakable.  That’s why we bought them, they were unbreakable.  Each broken piece tapered down to a fine point and looked worthy of a role as murder weapon in any domestic violence plot on television.

“Bandaid.”  My mother repeated.  I had been too deep in my examination of the pieces to have heard her first request.  “And Neosporin, I know,”  I responded turning for the first aid in the cupboard across the room.  Neosporin and a Bandaid were as important in our medicine cabinet as duct tape was in the tool box.

“I’ll finish the dishes,” I said.   I put everything back into the dishpan and cleared any additional broken pieces out of the basin.  Hot water was soon running and bubbling up.

“Be careful,”  she warned.

I had an odd desire to save the broken pieces.  For what?  I loved a good jigsaw puzzle.  It was kind of like that.  I was curious to see if we had all the pieces.  Curious to see if I could put it back together in a way that it wouldn’t be noticed.  It was a break in our routine.  It was broken and I always had a need to fix.  My mother swept them into a trash can as I was considering the possibilities.  There would be no fixing.

She was considering other possibilities as she shook the towel out over the trash can. “If one broke, any of them could break.”   Dinner plates, desert plates, cereal bowls, tea cups….one break and her trust was broken for the entire remainder of the set.  I nodded in agreement as I rinsed and placed each item in its usual spot in the drainer to the left of the sink.

It is the breaks I remember – the disruptions to the monotony.  Different types of glass break differently, causing different injuries.  It is the same with family.

The dish that broke that day had clean cracks that opened from a particular point of some stress.  A cut from them was a neat slice, not ragged, and would heal with little to no scar, especially if the area was cleaned and the Neosporin had been applied quickly enough.   There would be little memory of it.

Some cuts, from dull edges tear the skin more than slice it, creating a ragged edge to the wound.  First aid will do what it can.  It will heal, but it will be a lasting visual reminder.

Some glass creates small crumbs, deceivingly rounded looking but with sharp facets that can get ground into your skin.  Too small to be rinsed away or extracted.  Later they rise to the surface one by one to continually remind you of the pain that caused them initially.   Those memories are hard to escape from.

Most of the breaks in our family cut you like that, like sand when you skinned your knee but much worse.  They are small pieces burrowed deep into me, that I cannot forget because there is too much emotion attached.  I long for the ones I don’t have cluttering my mind.  There would be a peacefulness to their day to day sameness, their monotony.  There would be a lack of emotion that still connects me to the experiences but at the same time disconnects me.

 

#iremember #idontremember #unbreakable #broken

Feel Like a Smoke?

I am one of those people in whom anger wells up when I see a cigarette butt on the ground.  Intense, aggressive anger. There are better places for those.  One of my neighbors used to date a slug of a guy that would litter the ground and sidewalk from her unit past mine to his truck every day. Her child plays in that yard. One morning, I started to pick them up and place them on her windshield and in the bed of his truck.  They broke up eventually.  Best day ever.

I have been surrounded by smokers my entire life and I never held such massive dislike for them until recently.  I don’t smoke.  I tried in college.  I thought how cool that looked on others.  It did not feel like it looked cool on me. And I didn’t have the extra cash for that kind of cool.

Everyone in my mother and father’s families smoked.  Every time we had company it was my job to make sure that ashtrays were distributed around the living room so that they would be convenient to each smoker.  It was an important job. My mother did not smoke and she didn’t like that my father occasionally smoked those cheap little cigars that came six to a box.  But she would never prohibit him or any guests from smoking.

We had a collection of those heavy glass ashtrays with notches on the corners to balance the cigarette butt.  Round, square, diamond shaped – faceted glass.  Clear and colored.  Today you can only find those in antique stores and on eBay.  I am not sure why I might want one but sometimes in my effort to reclaim memories I go looking for things like that. Things I do remember.

When I was growing up, we use to pop down to the country market to visit with Mildred, the lady that ran the store.  It felt special being allowed to go behind the meat counter and into the kitchen at the back where she made the soups, potato salad and put together sandwiches and other things that she sold.

The market was in a really old two story, white clapboard structure.  It was located at the intersection of two heavily traveled state routes where it was convenient for people to make a quick stop for  coffee and a sandwich, a smoke and some gossip.  Here at the intersection of north, south, east and west was a building that had stood watch over the comings and goings of people without comment for many decades. Inside your feet would creak across unfinished wood plank flooring. The lower level was full of fresh produce where the lettuce and corn watched the commuters flowing into Akron each morning and back out each evening.  Up five steps was the general store, accessed directly from the porch along the side of the building and the deli area with kitchen behind.

I remember passing a man on the steps once who would years later be my junior high school American History teacher.  The gossip was he was waiting for the just out of high school clerk so that they could make out in his car on her smoke break.  She wasn’t his wife. It was small town scandalous and, to me, somehow very exciting.

Photo Credit: 10/22/2009 - West Side Leader

Photo Credit: 10/22/2009 – West Side Leader

The items on the shelves in the store were generally covered with a thick coating of dust most likely having sifted in through the walls from the street traffic outside. The teenage clerks weren’t really into dusting so it remained untouched except by small fingers spelling the words “dust me” onto the packaging of cake mix and tops of canned soup.  Thank goodness, the deli items were in a case that did seem to get wiped down at least once in a while.  We never bought anything there.  I thought I once heard mom say that the prices were too high.

Sitting around the high worktable in the kitchen on tall stools was a glimpse at the behind the scenes workings.  I always liked seeing how things worked, how things were run.  I secretly loved those factory tours we took on family vacations.  One day we were sitting there chatting with Mildred, the owner. My mother was on one side of the table and I on the other.  My father was still outside chatting with Mildred’s daughter at the register.

Mildred was making beef stew that day.  Everything in a huge stew pot on the stove steaming away.  Mildred leaned against the counter next to it, stirring. Two of the fingers on the hand stirring the pot with a long wooden spoon were cradling a cigarette between them.  Her other free hand was gesturing as she spoke.  She knew all the gossip about everyone in town.  My mother was uncomfortable hearing it but listened politely.  Me, I was, fascinated by the cigarette hovering over the stew.

Mildred stirred that soup so slowly I wondered if it really needed stirring at all.  As she talked the ash on the end of her cigarette grew, glowing ever so slightly in the breeze it felt as it went around and around.   I looked at that ash and began to worry.  I looked over at my mother and she returned my gaze, raising an eyebrow.  We both had a wonderful ability to raise just one eyebrow.  I raised an eyebrow in return and quickly we looked back at the cigarette.  The ash was growing.  Mildred’s story went on.

How long before the ash falls, I wondered.  What will it take?  My mother was staring at it as intensely as I was.  What if our staring at it so hard made it fall?  Would Mildred remember to puff and tap it on the ashtray?  Where was her ashtray?  I looked around.

My dad appeared in the doorway and said it was time to go.  Both my mother and I looked up at him.  He’d broken our concentration.  When we looked back at Mildred, the cigarette ash fell and was being stirred into the soup. Both my mother’s eyebrows went up.  She grabbed her purse and nodded at me.

On our way out the door, she leaned down and whispered, “And that is why we do not buy food here.”

I nodded biting my lip to keep from giggling.

There were far fewer health code standards in the sixties and seventies.  There are far fewer smokers now.

 

 

Dinner is Over

This is a piece about several endings.

Whenever I went out for lunch or dinner with a lady named Bonnie*, I always knew when the meal was over.  Her purse would snap open and she would draw out her lipstick like a magic wand or a light-saber bent on conquering the world. She would apply it with an air of self-confidence I always envied to a mouth out of which words came that I did not always envy.  Bonnie could make me laugh until I wet myself or cut me ‘til I bled all over my soul without a second thought.  And she never seemed to realize that she was funny or that she was sometimes hurtful.  She was just being herself. She was being honest.

She had a bird, a cockatiel that had his own room in her house.  I found all birds amazing and I thought he was stunning.  Even when he was dive bombing my head or biting my toes, I thought he was beautiful.  And she loved that I was the only person who cared about him.  She called me on the phone weeping the night he died.  I drove over in the darkness on a freezing cold November night.  I took with me a special decorative box I had emptied some special keepsakes from. I knew we would need an appropriate coffin.  Under the light of a full moon, I helped dig a grave in frozen ground in her back garden.  I stood with her while she said a few words about him.  Then in true Lucy and Ethel fashion we wrangled a large boulder to cover the grave so that wild animals would not dig it up.

Years later when her husband died, the love of her life, she announced it to me by text.  I would have to say that is one of the biggest pieces of news I’ve ever received by text.  I had to read it several times before I believed it.  I know from personal experience that sort of news can be difficult to say out loud. For her it was also a challenge to face the questions and the condolences.  She was angry with him for dying.  I went immediately.  I was “family” in her eyes and so in my mind I had an obligation to go to her.  This time I didn’t need to bring a box or shovel, thank goodness.

For the four months after his death, I was there for her two to three times a week, baking her sweets because she wasn’t eating, taking her out to lunch, going to the movies or watching television with her – pretty much doing anything that might help her not be alone with her grief.   These bad things had happened to her at a time when my life was turning around.  I was figuring things out about myself. I was changing.  My changes didn’t always fit well with her grief.  I was no longer willing to accept things she said to me that were hurtful.  Her negativity had deepened and my positivity was growing.  It was an unstable combination.

Over the years I had just taken a lot of her verbal hits shrugging them off, telling myself “Oh that’s Bonnie, she doesn’t really know how she sounds.” Or “She doesn’t mean it the way it sounds.”

“Your bag looks like a piece of shit,” she once told me sneering at my much loved hobo bag from a consignment shop. She gave me a used but designer purse as a birthday present.  It looked ugly to me and too dated even for someone my grandmother’s age. The only thing about it I found useful was it had an old Xanax rolling around in the bottom.  I accepted it as graciously as I could and buried it in my closet.

“You’ll never know what real love is. You don’t have children,” She said to me once in the car.  That one was hard to keep my bare lips silently pursed for, but I did.   “After all Bonnie doesn’t know how she sounds.”  Thank goodness we were at a red light when she said it.

Over the years she criticized my clothes, my makeup, my hair, my car and pretty much anything else that came up. As I began to change I realized, as I had with my father, that I did not want this negativity in my life.  But I was her friend and she was my friend.  You don’t throw away friendship, right?  She’d suffered a great loss, the love of her life.  I needed to be there for her.  I wanted to be there for her.

Five months after the funeral, she decided that she would go on a trip to help her feel better and that she would let me watch her dogs.  I did not want to be there for that.  But she hadn’t asked me to watch the dogs, two extremely overweight elderly retrievers that were both in ill health, she ordered me to watch the dogs in front of other people and somehow made it sound as though she was doing me a favor.  I suggested that I could cancel my client meetings for the planned week, cancel those billable hours at a time when I needed the money.  I pointed out quietly that I would have to drive home each day (an hour each way) to take care of my own pets.  I could manage this for seven days, I said to myself, because she needed me.  I had talked myself into it.

In the weeks before her trip, she called regularly talking about the plans as they became closer and more concrete.  At some point it came to my attention that the week long trip had stretched into nearly two weeks.  I held up a virtual hand for attention and pointed out that it was not a week long trip anymore.

“Well, I wasn’t counting travel time,” she said in response.    I was, I thought.

One day she called with what she thought was great news!  She’d found someone to watch the dogs on the weekends so that I could go home and do my own thing those days.  I made the mistake of opening my mouth to point out that I didn’t work on weekends and I generally stayed in, so it was the better time for me to be at her home.

“It would really help me out if they could do Tuesday and Wednesday?” I said. Look at that I was speaking up for myself. I was asking for something for me.

“Of course they can’t do that,” she shrilled at me over the phone line, “they have real jobs.”  Oh right. And I didn’t in her eyes. I froze. My head felt bigger than it was and it was completely empty. I couldn’t seem to open my mouth.  I hung up.

I failed to say good bye or I had to go or you inconsiderate cow….I just hung up.

The next day I got an email.  There was no subject, but she never wasted time with subjects.  The email itself was short and sweet.

“I can’t take anymore of your petty bullshit,”  it read, “I’ve found someone else to watch the dogs.”

That was that.  I should have been elated and somewhere in my mind I was, but I was stuck on that one phrase, like a splinter the size of a redwood tree had just been rammed underneath a fingernail and absolutely nothing else could take attention from it and the throbbing it was causing. “your petty bullshit.”

I did what any other completely insanely pained person would do, I picked up the phone to have this conversation full of emotion in person.  She didn’t answer, of course.  Damn her, taking all the power again. I was left with the voice mail and I managed to get out a rather lengthy message.  I believe I covered the high points of all the petty bullshit I’d experienced for nearly eight years.  I don’t even recall what I’d said fully. I was shaken and angry and finally speaking up for myself.  It was like moving muscle you hadn’t used in such a long time.  It ached and moved awkwardly but felt good to stretch it out.  I had to take responsibility for allowing her to treat me the way she had all those years. It was my own fault.  But she was going to hear what petty bullshit really was.  It was quite a bit of stretching.

When I hung up and I knew that a weight had been lifted and I was free from a friendship that never really was one. I’d never felt anything quite like it. It was an amazing feeling.  It was at that point that if I wore lipstick, I would have opened my purse and pulled it out and applied it with confidence knowing that this dinner was over.   It was a dinner I would never have to eat again.

 

*name changed for privacy

The Bowls

“Where are mom’s bowls?” I asked.

“What Bowls?” he grunted.

“Her mixing bowls, I don’t see them in the cupboard.”  What bowls, my ass, I thought.

“Oh your brother took those,”  Dad said.  “Can you clear your mom’s things out of the closet?  I want to make more room for my clothes.”

“The Bowls” had become a trigger point since my mother passed. They were as present as any member of the family my entire life and for me, at the end, became the symbol of my place or lack of one in the family.

The Bowls were my mother – how hard she had to work, how creative she was, how she persevered.  Except for the little blue bowl that disappeared while we were on vacation – that one did not persevere. And no one ever owned up to breaking it and hiding the evidence.  It was as mysterious as an alien abduction.  I wanted those bowls. Somewhere inside my raised not to be entitled little heart, I felt I deserved those bowls.  I was her only daughter after all. But I had been raised to not feel I deserved anything.

My mother cooked and baked everything from scratch every day of our lives.  It was rare for her to consider using a mix and when she did, we all agreed whatever the outcome was, it was not as good as what she would have made from scratch. We could tell the difference between a cake made from a box mix and one from scratch by sight. There was no need or desire to taste it.  No pre-made cookie dough ever entered our home.  No frozen dinners or fast food for us.  Except of course for the things considered healthy – Wonder Bread and Campbell’s soups – which I now know weren’t at all healthy.  In doing so, she inadvertently gave us the best start nutritionally as far away from preservatives and processed salt anyone could have hoped for.

Most of her cooking involved “The Bowls”, a set of primary colored Pyrex mixing bowls that she received as a wedding present in 1955.  It is a fairly common set you’ve probably seen if you did not have one in your home. They began to manufacture them in the 1940’s and there are entire websites devoted to them – click here for one called Pyrex Love.  They are in nearly every antique store I’ve ever been in and well-represented on eBay.  You can get a set for between $65 and $100.

They are cheery, bright colored bowls that nested one in the other and were stored high on a shelf in our cupboards where little hands could not reach them for fear of breaking one.  They were a sign of something good to come.  A sign that soon there would be scents wafting through the house signaling a get-together, event, a normal meal or better yet – cookies!

The largest, the yellow bowl, always meant something big was being made, usually a double batch and in a family of seven, everything was likely a double batch.  The best was a double batch of chocolate chip cookies – the Tollhouse recipe from the back of the bag of Nestle’s semi-sweet chocolate morsels (gee that is a mouthful to say and one to look forward to!).  It was also used for Christmas cookies, pie dough and even at times, something savory, like meatloaf.

The next size down was the green bowl.  It did not get used very much.  Every other bowl had to be dirty before it got selected.  It was like the last kid left standing when getting picked for kickball.  Poor bowl.  It just wasn’t big enough for most things my mother needed to make and too big for others.  It was most often used for mixing icing.  Now that I watch the Great British Baking Show like an obsessed dieter, I understand there are many many types of icings and coatings for cakes.  In our house it was fairly simple.  There was the “hard” white icing and the “soft” white icing and, of course, the chocolate fudge icing.  Both of the white icings were soft but one was a soft meringue (a word my fairly simple mother never used – and I don’t mean simple stupid, I mean simple, plain and clear) The other, more often used, was a sugar packed royal icing made with milk, powdered sugar and a teaspoon of almond flavoring. The almond flavoring was Mom’s signature flavor. It was that little something extra people couldn’t quite put their finger on when they ate her baked goods but they knew it was hers.

Next came the bright red bowl.  I recall it as the smallest bowl (but I hadn’t been told about the missing blue one – much like that uncle that we didn’t talk about).   It usually held something until it was poured into the larger bowl, melting butter and cocoa, for instance.  Melting butter with cocoa in it meant mom was making chocolate fudge icing usually for banana cake.  Mom would put the butter and cocoa in the bowl and set it at the back of the stove while the cake was baking so that it could naturally and slowly soften and melt in the heat that rose off the stove.  This was pre-microwaves. The smell that came from these two basic ingredients was amazing and called out to us like sirens luring sailors to the shore.  And much like a sailor might crash into the rocky coast, we were unable to resist dipping in a finger and were always disappointed.  It was so bitter at this stage without sugar, all you could do was grimace.  How could something that smelled so tantalizingly good, taste so horrid?  And how could we keep trying it in hopes for it to change? There was no enjoyment there except to just keep inhaling and hoping for one of the beaters from the mixer later after the sugar and milk had been added.

It was tough in a house of seven to share two beaters equally.  To be one of the lucky one’s to get to lick a beater or the bowl meant being painfully well behaved during the entire mixing and baking process.

I stood next to my mother doing my best not to be in the way, but to be near enough to get her something, if I could reach it, whenever she was cooking. I learned how to gather everything together before you start so that you aren’t caught off guard by a missing ingredient.  We couldn’t just pop out to get it in those days.  It went on the list and could be a week before the next trip to the grocery store. We did not have much counter space so everything was done on a small area between the sink and stove that was just a bit larger than a checker board.  Really big projects, like Christmas cookies and rolling out pie dough would mean taking over the kitchen table – that multipurpose surface on which homework was done, projects were planned and created, newspapers were read, card games and visitors socialized and meals were taken.

I stood next to my mother and watched.  I watched and learned without really knowing the words, the difference between stirring, mixing, folding, creaming and beating.  She wasn’t explaining what she was doing as she went along, she wasn’t intentionally teaching me. There wasn’t time for that. I stood there and observed and absorbed it.  I knew how to level a measure, noticed the differences in the way the old wooden mixing spoon was held and the speed with which she turned it and when to use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom.

These were “The Bowls” I have been obsessed with since my mother died.  These were “The Bowls” that before I made it home the day after her death disappeared from that high shelf in the cupboard into the possession of my younger brother. My younger brother?  A boy?  Who made that decision?  How did that come to happen?  I knew it was the wrong time to question it, what with funeral plans being made.  Objects weren’t important.  Objects are just things. But I have allowed objects have haunted me.

I recently got a chance to ask him.  I didn’t need to see him to know he was back-peddling to come up with some answer over the phone. He insisted he did not take them.  That he was given them many months later.  And that they were now no longer three, but two as his second ex-wife had made the poorly thought out decision to cook something on a stove top using one. It was a mixing bowl, not a casserole dish….apparently she hadn’t spent much time at her mother’s side learning anything.  He offered to get the surviving two from his adopted daughters.  I said no, they had a new place now. It was enough for me to finally get to ask out loud, “Did no one think of me?”  and finally learn that no one had.

I have my own set now from an antique store, a full set of four, yellow, green, red and blue.  I cook her recipes and my own in them.  They are no longer “the bowls” they are “my bowls”.