The Ghost in the Recipe Box

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death. It’s hard to believe only six years have passed given all the transitions my family has undergone since 2008. Both sons graduated from high school; one on his own and the other firmly established in college. Her other grandson is days away from becoming a father himself. My father remarried two years later and gave us all a new family in the process before his own death.


I don’t think about my mother (or my father) every day. Losing my mother was difficult and I do miss her at times but our relationship wasn’t always easy. She was never my best friend. I was too different and always foreign to her. Coupled with this, she suffered from depression and for most of my life it went untreated. But by the time I was in my forties, she was treated and I had grown enough to forgive her illness and my father’s enabling behaviors. I think what I grieved most was what could have been rather than the actual loss of Mother.


I love my stepmother because she was so good to my incredibly difficult father. I have a deep love for her, too. That feeling reserved for people who aren’t bound to you by blood but have always been in your life.  My stepmother–Marcia–was my mother’s confidant for over fifty years. It’s no surprise now that my father is gone; I still keep in touch with my extra mother. Mind you, I don’t write or call as often as I should but I do think of her almost every day. When she built a life with my father, she honored my mother’s memory. If she found something of my mother’s—no matter how trivial the ephemera—she would ask if I wanted it or not.


A few weeks ago, she called to catch up and told me about a box of things she had come across and was sending them to me.  I was eagerly waiting for it. And as divine timing would have it, it arrived just a few days before the anniversary of my mother’s death.


The box arrived last Saturday and t\it wasn’t until I opened it I remembered October 15th loomed ahead. The synchronicity of receiving my mother’s old recipe box and VHS tapes of my babies was almost unbearable. Grief did that thing Anne LaMott talks about, sneaking up on me and seizing me around the shoulders. I was held in a tender but strong bear hug, inviting me to cry tears of longing. My mother would not get my unconventional relationship with Mr. C but she would see the joy in my life and be glad for that. She would be worried about my plan to quit my job to start another career but she would have faith I can take care of myself.  I longed for her to see my life.


It’s particularly moving for me to see my mother’s handwriting. Pictures don’t stir me but her hand writing does. Years ago, I found an old shopping list and tucked it in one of my journals. My mother’s handwriting was like the surface of her life: perfectly measured and without waiver, the tilt and formation of each letter exact and studied. No surprises. Impeccable in it’s legibility.


I flipped through the recipes; I could hear her voice reading off the ingredients. Each recipe had it’s own story: the delicious appetizer Nita always brought to bridge and I would sneak in and take a few of them. Jo’s lasagna, the most complex thing my mother ever made, and a confidence builder for my mother who hated to cook because she didn’t think she knew how. The food is unspeakably dated: casseroles for week night dinners, cakes taken to parties, creamy side dishes reserved for company, and boozy punches meant for mid afternoon bridge parties. It’s a miracle my father didn’t succumb to a heart attack.


My extra mother also included a collection of VHS tapes my parents took of my sons when they young. Those were a surprise. I’m not sure I want to watch them; the woman I am in the tapes is someone I will never forget but cringe to remember. I was terribly insecure and extremely depressed. No one needs to see that again.



Over dinner a few hours later, I told the New Boyfriend about the recipes. We shared the same mother as far as kitchen skills and breadth of cuisine were concerned. Big carbs with big trans fats all meals all the time. We also share the same reaction to our mother’s handwriting: longing.



About Laura

When my nest emptied I moved from the big city to a little big town to tend to a ramshackle yellow house on the edge of town. These are my Yellow House Days.
This entry was posted in at the heart of things, Just me, memories. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Ghost in the Recipe Box

  1. I still have my mom you already know but your mother sounds like the same woman across the hall. I love her but we’ve never been best friends. I been thinking about our relationship alot lately, I’m not sure why. My father died suddenly when I was 15 and mom fell to pieces. I understand her grief but she sort of left me holding the bag while she mentally checked out. I don’t blame her for my own poor choices but the ones I made were out of pure survival. She went to work but that’s it. She left my brother and I floundering he was younger than I and needed a mother and all he got was me. In my need for “normal”I married a monster. I got out, I survived and have had a great life but…I don’t know how I will handle her loss, she’s been like my child my whole life and alot of times it seems as if she’s doing a life reversal like “Benjamin Button” only mentally. She’s had Alzheimer’s for about 4 or 5 years now but she checked out on May 10th, 1985.


    • Laura says:

      What a powerful story and how brave you have been to continue to care for your mother. I hope as you care for your mother you can remember the woman before her husband died.


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