A black cardboard cover, its edges frayed. Wide strips of yellowed masking tape wound vertically around the inside front cover securing the torn flyleaf. My mother’s cookbook found me as we cleared out her closet after the funeral.
It was a small three-ringed binder. The front page, still a vivid pink, bore my mother’s name and the address and phone number of the house I lived in briefly as an infant. Her handwriting, neat and deliberate, not the hurried scribble I tried to duplicate as a teenager looking for absolution. From that address, I infer that the book had been printed no later than the 1950’s.
It was an All American Loose Leaf Index with accompanying blank matrix for noting a student’s weekly class schedule, including Saturday. My mother hadn’t gone to college, so had this been in her possession since high school? The page was blank—each corresponding square of the class schedule x’d out in a moment of declaration, or, perhaps, a silent lament that her formal education had ended too early.
Inside, a tab for Meat. Her sweet and sour meatballs, a family favorite. The page is browned from age and the holes once neatly punched are torn away. I can picture her rolling meatballs, hands in constant motion, a symbol of the hectic pace associated always with her. There was a rush to get through all things. Dinner. Laundry. As if the next event was waiting, impatiently, to begin. I remember little time to enjoy Just. Being. Present, though those words would not be born for decades.
A divider for Kugel. I have no memory of my mother ever making this. The tabs were irrelevant anyway. Matzoh balls. Spaghetti sauce. Macaroni and Cheese, all under the Meat category. Were the pages shuffled over the years? Slapped back anywhere in the book? No time to search for the right place. Busy. Busy. Busy.
There are roughly trimmed recipes pulled from one of her many magazines affixed by strips of clear tape, now waxy and brown. So many subscriptions to cancel after she passed away. Her concentration gone from the narcotics prescribed to control impossible pain. Books, her solace, gone years before, gave way to magazines, until they too, became something to flip, flip, flip through. A distraction. Her hands still requiring something to do.
It is fair to say that my mother was not a particularly good cook. Sundays, a day to recoup, brought her best efforts. Pot roast, cooked far longer than necessary, a workout for even the most exercised jaw. The potatoes and gravy were tasty enough, provided she used russets, and not those canned round ones that tasted mostly of metal. The effort was recognized, I’d like to suggest. Not always.
The back of the book, a no man’s land. Random, unsecured, a panoply of never used hopeful suggestions. Barbecued Spare Ribs in someone else’s handwriting. I imagine the women commiserating about how hard it is to please the palettes of three sullen children and one disinterested man. Further down, a magazine pullout of Campbell’s Souper One-dish Meal Handbook. Shortcuts always useful for a working mother.
I find a recipe in my school age handwriting for Noodle Pudding, another word for kugel. My after-school efforts were limited to inserting frozen Man-Size pre-cooked hamburger patties into a half-warmed oven an hour before Mom came home from work. Remember frozen blocks of spinach? Ruined the concept of vegetables for years. Noodle Pudding: Half lb of med noodles. 3 eggs beaten. 1/8 of lb of melted Oleo. Oleo? Is that what we called margarine? More ingredients, then sprinkle with brown sugar and crushed corn flakes. Bake. Life was difficult back then. My efforts, I suppose, to lighten her load when awareness finally set in.
And tucked in the back of the book, instructions for making a silver sequin dress in a language I do not
understand. Cast on 131 sts. K1 reverse. K2- sequin. I remember that dress and the day my mother slowed the frenetic pace of her life long enough to transform into shimmering starlight. How odd to find it in her recipe book, but I suppose directions are directions. It brings me back to her hands again, always in motion, rhythmic in their purpose, until she no longer remembered how to knit. I still have that sequined dress, tucked in a drawer, alongside her cookbook.
They are recipes for learning to live with loss.