Friday, May 18, 2007

More Mother's Day Observances

Remember Katharine Hepburn, in "Stage Door," saying in that inimitable voice of hers, "The calla lilies are in bloom"? Well, the snapdragons are in bloom. They are popping! And the callies and the wave petunias are all settled in and happy, and the alyssum are perky and fragrant. Man, this is cool.

Last weekend, between all the gardening, other things happened which were, in retrospect, Mother's Day observances. I did something I do only occasionally: I cooked my mother's recipe for spaghetti sauce and meatballs.

You must understand, my mother was 100% "lace curtain" Irish, not an ounce of Italian blood. But for ten years, early in their marriage, she and my father owned a neighborhood grocery store, and a number of little old Italian ladies patronized it. As time went by, they shared recipes with my mother, she, herself a newlywed, and a hard worker-- anyone could see that. She drove an army surplus jeep to deliver groceries, she cleaned chickens and turkeys, she was unfailingly kind to all her customers, carrying bags home herself for the more infirm among them. Thanks to the patronage and appreciation of those ladies, my mom became a most accomplished cook of what a friend of mine used to call "red lightning" Italian cooking: sauce, various items parmegiana, bracciole, meatballs, etc.

My high school boyfriend commented once that our house had a "culture of food," a remark that got him banned for a month or so. I suppose it hit my mother in a sore spot. It was the truth: my parents were (and my dad still is) exceptionally concerned with food and eating and with providing their children exactly what they wanted to eat, with providing nourishment-- and treats-- in superabundance. For my mom, at least, this was a direct result of her experience as a child during the Depression. She knew what it was like to be hungry. She knew what it was like to be ashamed of that very hunger. She never failed to weep when she watched "Gone With the Wind," and Scarlett O'Hara held up that grimy root and proclaimed through clenched teeth, "As God is my witness, I will never be hungry again." That was my mom.

So I made my mother's recipe for spaghetti sauce and meatballs. We (my children, Beloved and I) feasted on it with angel hair pasta, sourdough bread dipped in a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic, and a salad of field greens with the same for a dressing. It was only later that I realized what a fitting Mother's Day observance it was.


Cynthia said...

My father owned a grocery store, and my mother was a phenomenal, traditional Southern cook who expressed her love with food. They too were children of the Depression, and feeding, nurturing others was a huge and complicated part of who they were (are). You've brought good memories up to the surface for me today.

Songbird said...

It sounds lovely, on many levels.

more cows than people said...

mmm... yummy. glad to add these stories and images to earlier conversation.

you can make that meal for me anyday!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Cecilia, what a beautiful Mothers' Day story. A lot of folks who remembered the depression days and doing without seemed to have a "culture of food". I remember my mother-in-law saying that at one point, all they had to eat was the potatoes dug up from their garden. At least they could fill their stomachs with potatoes. By the way, she was an excellent cook.

seeking chivalry said...

1) Man, now I'm _hungry_.

2) A 'culture of food' -- I have to say I'd consider that a compliment, but hen, I've been reading a lot of Michael Pollan and what he's had to say about our current 'culture of fast food' and longing for the days when people ate _food_, and not foodlike substances.

Nina said...

It sounds like you honored her as she would have liked: by using what she taught you and doing what she did.

Thank you for feeding us with the story.

Catherine + said...

Dear Cecelia, can I come over for dinner!? I crave Italian food!

My mom's childhood was like your mom's. And she was from the South during that time, which in some ways, was worse for her. She always made sure my brothers and sister and I had three squares regardless of anything else.

It's a wonderful story, and thank you for sharing it.