The flavour of memory on Mother’s Day
Sarah Morgan Jones
When I sat up in bed all clean and fresh and ravenous after a reasonably short but reasonably fierce labour, I congratulated my baby son for arriving on Mother’s Day. The finest gift I ever had.
Lucky enough to have stayed at home, I celebrated with a saucepan of porridge and great dollops of honey, and I rang my mum to wish her a truly happy Happy Mother’s Day.
She was a long way away and would come visiting the next day with my dad, armed with a dinosaur book for my just turned three-year-old daughter, a woolly hat for my new son, and a home-made lemon meringue pie for me.
I was euphoric – her lemon meringue pie was a prize. Huge gooey meringue with chewy browned peaks, on top of a lemon curd that was so tangy and tart it made my teeth itch, and just enough perfect pastry to contain it all, but not so much to ruin it – ratio was everything: 50:40:10.
Food gifts were something my mum excelled at, some jam here, sloe gin there, and each of her ten grandkids became quite used to her whacky birthday cakes, which would be range from impressionist to abstract on occasion, but always delicious and welcomed.
Growing up, we were many, five kids, four boys and me, so the food budget, while tight, would be carefully worked out, and when it came to main meals, she would countenance no choice or resistance. What was in front of us was what there was, and it was eat or go hungry.
She could not understand when the three of us who became parents would ask our various kids what they wanted once the fussy stage became too much to bear, and when I got to the stage where I had a bland veggie, a creative veggie and a resolute carnivore to feed she would shake her head and mutter about rods and backs with undisguisable disapproval.
When three of my brothers announced their vegetarianism, in what could have been the space of a week, she stalled and became flustered and for a week or two we all had beans on toast for pretty much every meal.
She quickly rediscovered her mojo and set about learning to create veggie food, initially full lentil and brown rice mode and slowly, over years, she developed an exquisite repertoire of red dragon pies, cashew and mushroom layered loaf, caramelised red onion what nots, luscious lasagne…she could have opened a restaurant.
Instead, as she aged, she spent her last dementia free years teaching veggie cooking to single older women through U3A, which she loved.
When she started messing up the recipes and the women – older than her – began to express their concern, when she added quark to my home made lamb gravy, when she would start and end every phone call telling me how to make caramelised onion tart (I have still never made it), we realised that dementia was on the menu, and she soon became unable to cook an egg without wrecking it.
Part of the dementia deal was that she could neither smell nor taste anything with conviction. I took up the baton and cooked for her and dad, loading up the freezer with soups and dinners and desserts packed with as much flavour as I could manage.
Mini versions of her favourite dishes which needed only a popty ping to deliver the delight. She tried to like them, but if the mood took her, she was not backward with her criticism, while dad would roll his eyes at me and hmmm with pleasure as he shovelled it in.
Thinking of you
On our last Mother’s Day together, I brought her to my house on a day out from the hospital, and we sat in the garden eating a dinner of her favourites, in the early, chilly spring sun. A day much like today.
She was on good form, and she remembered what the food tasted like and appreciated it. I even made a lemon meringue pie, and she said it made her teeth itch, which I took as a win.
Twenty years on from the day that I sat up in bed and wished her a Happy Mother’s Day with a newborn in my arms, I miss her, and I miss the kids who have now grown and flown.
I think of all the women out there who got cheated out of a lie in by the clocks going forward.
I think of all those women who are missing their kids, and the kids who are missing their mothers… or not… of the women who are facing this day with longing or regret, or grief or pain.
Of the women who delivered, and those who adopted and those who foster, and the step- and nana-mums.
Of the women who don’t feel part of it, and the women who are overwhelmed by it.
It’s just another day. But I hope some small part of it has given you a small piece of joy.
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