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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

An Introspective Moment with A Couple of Mothers


“Remember that story we read once, about the woman who cut the ends off her hams?”

My mother wipes her hands on the dish towel that she has slung over her left shoulder.  She nods.  “She did it because she had seen her mother do it.  Turns out her mother had seen her mother do it – and all because she didn’t own a pan big enough to put a whole ham in.”

“I wonder,” I say, “how many people do things without knowing why.”

“Just about everyone,” she says, smiling.

There is a long period of comfortable silence in which cookies are decorated, spread out neatly on a deconstructed brown paper bag.

“You know your Uncle Sonny?”

Uncle Sonny is my father’s oldest brother, career military, a hardened, wizened man, a bit of sinew and bone far tougher than his 70-some years would imply. 

“Yeah,” I say.

“He leaves his cheese out.”

I look at her, have an internal debate with myself on how many different ways I can mess with that sentence.

I decide against it.

“He leaves his cheese out,” I repeat.

She rolls a Russian Teacake in powdered sugar.  “He likes it to develop a hard crust on it,” she says to the cookie.

“I kinda like the crust myself,” I say.

Now she’s the one to look at me funny. 

“I do!” I say.  “There’s something homey about it.”

“Homey,” she repeats.  She looks at me funny.  “They were really poor, you know, growing up.  Really poor.  Right on the railroad tracks, ice box, everything.”

“Limited room in an ice box,” I say, “So they left the cheese out.”

She nods.  “And it formed a crust –“

“—as a cheese is wont to do.”

She nods again.  “A cheese will do that every time.”

“We hang on to our childhoods long after we become adults,” I say, staring at the rows of Christmas cookies.

She reaches across the paper bag, hands me a warm cookie.  “If we’re lucky,” she says.

36 comments:

Perpetua said...

These moments are the best, Pearl. Now I'm trying to think how many things I do like that just because my mother did......

vanilla said...

And in that moment of receiving the warm cookie, you were exceedingly lucky!

Leenie said...

First, congrats on resisting the temptation to try one of the many different ways you could mess with that sentence.

Second, thanks for the comfy moment in time you created with that little vignette of words. Took me back a few decades to a sunny kitchen not far from the Union Pacific Railroad.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Well, now you've got me thinking...

Vicus Scurra said...

I love you.

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Mom used to parboil all meat, because her mother did, because when her husband came back from the war he made her parboil all meat. The meat they got in the trenches was questionable at best and so it all had to be parboiled to remove dirt germs and impurities. When I got married I parboiled our Christmas turkey...the hubs asked me why, he had never seen it done before. I found out why, then I stopped doing it. Some things aren't worth repeating lol.

Stephen Hayes said...

I feel sorry for people who grow up---completely. We all need to hold on to a piece of our childhood.

Powdered Toast Man said...

I like to leave my milk out so it forms a crust.

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

Only you could make a post about crusty cheese a beautiful, warm (and kind of . . . yeasty) - thing.
:)

esbboston said...

Thanks for indirectly reminding me - Cooper is out of chesse. I also need to renew my (5 week) Lotto ticket. Busy day.

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari Om
...mmmmmm baking with mum in the kitchen. Can smell it from here.

That and the hard cheese.

jenny_o said...

Nice one, Pearl. So warm.

Douglas said...

I see where you inherited your wisdom from. My (lovely) wife leaves the butter out. It does not build a crust but at least you can spread it on a piece of bread without tearing the bread to pieces.

jenny_o said...

Pearl, look for an email from me with unsolicited advice :)

Francie M said...

Love your style Pearl and now I'm worried. What am I doing out of habit! Is there a new and more exciting way to store potatoes? I mean my mom kept hers under the sink and so mine are ... under the sink ... must contemplate this new world view.

NotesFromAbroad said...

Cheese crust stories don't usually make me cry - but this one did .. love you. C

The Jules said...

You write purdeh.

Currently on a diet, and the thought of cheese crust is actually making me salivate.

Mmm . . . Croute fromage . . .

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

Yes, if we are lucky.

Joanne Noragon said...

The tidbits are the best. I still spin mental stories about my dad being lace curtain Irish, not shanty.

Jacquelineand.... said...

A lovely and heartwarming vignette, even with the crusty cheese. Hmmm, what do I do out of habit? Something to ponder.

Kathleen McCoy said...

What a wonderful post, Pearl! I think there are so many comfort foods and rituals we bring along with us from childhood to adulthood, if we're lucky. Now you've got me thinking....

Travis Erwin said...

As a cheese is wont to do ... A phease not said jearly enough.

Great post.

Gigi said...

Oh how very deep...and true. A friend of mine and I were going to make Christmas cookies at her house one year. When she pulled the butter out of the cabinet instead of the fridge, I freaked. But it turns out, that is exactly how her mother had kept the butter.

Daisy said...

But we've always done it this way! :D Lovely story, Pearl.

HermanTurnip said...

Darn you for making me feel.

That was a great post. Really brought out the sad/happy tears in me.

Diane Tolley said...

Hanging on tightly! Never letting go!

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Loverly! A warm and fuzzy feel-good post.

BECKY said...

Oh Pearl, I LOVE this post! So sweet and we can all relate to it! Thank you for sharing it with us!

Rose L said...

My mom always left the butter out in a butter dish on the kitchen counter. We never got sick and it was so much easier to spread.
Mom also used to butter our saltine crackers to eat with soup when we were sick.
I still leave butter out and put it on my saltines. YUM!

Belle said...

Your story reminded me of the first time I had to grease a cake pan and I didn't have wax paper like my mother did. I thought, "I can't grease the pan without wax paper!" I finally decided to just use my fingers.

Jo-Anne Meadows said...

I have to have a tea towel in the kitchen to wipe my hands on and I have to add salt when cooking baked potatos like my nan did. I am sure there are other things I do just because my mum or nan did it.......

River said...

I don't think I do anything the way my mum did, we were such different people. but I've noticed my daughters both do a few things the same way I always do.
Down here in Australia if we left our butter out it would be liquid in no time. We just get it out of the fridge about a half hour before we need to make the sandwiches.

Linda O'Connell said...

I was waiting for the crusty punch, but you squeezed my heart instead. Beautiful story.

Indigo Roth said...

I'm with Vicus; I love you too.

This is a beautiful bit of writing, Pearl

Haddock said...

Like the simple exchange of words here. So meaningful and with so many memories attached to it.
Don't we all do this. There are many things I do because my dad did it.
Wonderful... loved it.

Pat Tillett said...

Great story Pearl! So, isn't using a brown paper bag to lay the cookies on, one of those things?