With all the ballyhoo today around diet and nutrition it amazes me, as I look back, how I ever survived my mother’s culinary endeavors. According to modern nutritional experts, she did everything wrong.
At the time, however, I thought my mother’s cooking was the greatest in the world. I had a reason for believing that. I had nothing to compare it with. If it was suppertime, the food magically appeared on the table and when my brother and sister and I were called to supper we ate it. We had nothing comparable to snack foods. All we had was what was on the table.
Today, youngsters are spoiled with the ready availability of food all around them. Not so when I was young. If you were hungry, you ate what was set before you. My mother would always say, “Clean your plate; there are starving children all over the world who would love to have what you’re eating tonight.” As I got older, I wanted to know names and addresses.
I distinctly remember my first day at school. I had never eaten anywhere outside of my mother’s kitchen. At lunchtime, when I entered the cafeteria, I could not believe what I saw. I had never seen so much food in all my life.
And the beautiful thing about the school cafeteria was not just the variety but I could choose what I wanted, and most important of all, I did not have to clean my plate if I didn’t want to. But I did, out of habit.
It was not long before I began comparing the food. How was I to know mashed potatoes weren’t supposed to be lumpy? Mother’s always were. I just assumed mashed potatoes were something you chewed and chewed and chewed.
My mother’s mashed potatoes were unlike anything else. Well, not quite. There was a subtle difference between my mother’s mashed potatoes and her vanilla pudding, but not many could tell the difference.
I once put chicken gravy on her vanilla pudding and didn’t realize it until I had eaten half of it. The amazing thing was it tasted pretty good. Well, as good as her mashed potatoes.
I would not say Mom’s cooking was bad but the cockroaches formed a union and picketed our kitchen. If it were not for the fire alarm in our kitchen, we would never have known when mom’s meatloaf was done. Nothing she cooked was biologically degradable, but my stomach came close.
In second grade, my mother got it into her head to pack my lunch. Not only was it a discouraging thing but also it was the most humiliating thing in my young life. Nobody wanted to sit with me at lunchtime; they were afraid my lunch was contagious.
Mother was proud of her meatloaf and felt obligated to take it to every church supper. I must admit her meatloaf had biblical proportions to it. If thrown into the river it could definitely part the waters and you had to be Sampson to lift it from your plate, and people avoided it like an Egyptian plague.
The only person who loved her meatloaf was dad and he had to live with her so we never were quite sure of his motive.
”Mother,” he often said, “you’ve outdone yourself today.” Then he added something I didn’t understand at the time. “Really, you shouldn’t put yourself out like this.”
She always smiled, but looking back I’m not sure she understood what he was saying.
In conjunction with her cooking, or maybe because of her cooking, my mother became an expert in homemade cure-alls, especially of the stomach variety. She would have nothing to do with any store-bought remedies or medicines.
Most of her medicinal potions were handed down from her mother. At least, that was the story she stuck to, and we were in no position to challenge her authority on the matter.
These potions were so bad we would rather be sick than let our mother know. My siblings and I conspired to keep from her any illness one of us might have.
She had cures for diseases not yet discovered. Her favorite, first response medicine was cod liver oil. According to her, it could cure a thousand ailments, although I cannot ever remember having one of those ailments. Even now, cod-liver oil makes me shudder.
Mom’s homemade “recipe” took her a month to concoct, and 17 years to get the taste out of our mouths. Even when I burp today, there is an essence of her “recipe.” Sometimes when I perspire I think I smell that unmistakable aroma.
Not a germ living could stand up to my mother’s “recipe.” They could not mutate fast enough to get ahead of her “recipe.”
Throughout my boyhood, there was a running battle between boyhood diseases and my mother. Mother finally won. Mothers in general are the invention of necessity. And boy, are they necessary today.
In the Old Testament book of Proverbs, Solomon, the wisest man in the world, extols the virtues of the godly woman.
“Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.” Proverbs 31:29-31 (KJV.)
I have learned the value of mothers lies not in what they do, but that they are.