What I Learned About Food from My Mother


My mother, of Midwestern Finnish stock, made three things:  mushroom chicken, lasagna and pot roast.  I wanted a mother who relished food, who stood beside me as I stood on a chair and stirred steaming sauces and learned about flavor and taste.  But mom hated cooking, and she could never reconcile herself sensuality and pleasure.  If anything, I developed my palate and food sense in opposition to my mother’s:  Where she demurred, I took a whopping bite. 

But like any good Lutheran, my mother had secret, albeit unvoiced, cravings.  To the world she was a good girl:  Pleasant, polite, and never demanding.  But privately, she allowed herself small pleasures.  For example, when I was growing up, someone always ate the frosting off the cake and scooped the top off the split chilled watermelon.  Since my father is Italian and has a legendary personality and appetite, and my brothers were, especially in their teen years, mindless eating machines, it was easy to point my finger at three other parties. 

Only after I’d left home and my mother moved closer because of her illness did I learn what a food sneak she was.  It happened one day when I opened her freezer to find three kinds of ice cream, ranging from nutty buddies to orange bars.  By then, Mom had developed type 2 diabetes and she wasn’t supposed to eat those kinds of things.

“Mom!” I said, in the voice adult children use on their aging parents when it’s clear the roles have changed. 

She giggled like a school girl:  “But it’s so good,” she said, smiling just as wide.

Today, my mother will spend her day in bed, at the long term care facility where she now live and waits frailly for her body to give up the ghost.  I wish in my lifetime I had seen my mother be more voracious about the world.  I wanted to her to have passion and gusto and I wanted to inherit these things from her, to be from a long line of uppity women. 

But, today, I will bring her a box of chocolate covered cherries, her favorite candy, and watch her pleasure as she eats one after another no longer concerned with blood sugar or proper diet.  In the end of her life, my mom is all about the food, and in that sense, she’s the woman I’ve always wanted her to be.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.


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