My Mom died of brain cancer suddenly when I was thirteen years old. I had just left her in Colorado to come spend the summer with my Dad in Indiana. In typical Teenage Girl vs. The Mother fashion, I couldn't wait to get away from her. I remember boarding the plane with a smile and a light heart even though I saw tears in her eyes at the gate. She had been forced to face her alcoholism and gotten sober that past year. She had also slimmed down to a healthier weight and started taking better care of herself. I'd managed to throw her a surprise party for her 46th birthday and life was getting good. I was proud of her and relieved to see such positive changes but...I was still a kid, and she was still my Mother. I was glad to go away for the summer to my Dad's.
Then we got the call. We got a series of calls over a few weeks. I had only a few talks with my Mom on the phone, none of them THE TALK ONE SHOULD HAVE before someone dies. No one expected her to die for another six months, maybe a year. We thought there was time and my choices were made for me including not rushing out to see her when she got sick. I never saw her alive again. I carry the hurt of her tear filled eyes being my last view of her. It is one of my few regrets in life. I know I was a kid and I don't blame myself, but...I regret.
Wow. Kind of hard to type through tears. I just meant to post about the recipe box, but this wants to be written, so...
My Mom, Katherine Teller Lutes Curlee, was an AWESOME COOK! She could throw pretty much anything together, just like I do. She made lots of homemade pizza, steaks, casseroles and nasty liver and onions. Her beef stew....OH! I know I am a lot like her. She gave me the freedom as a child to bake, make candy, cookies, create. I think I absorbed the delight of food and kitchen adventures through both of my parents, but my Mom and I are, I think, quite alike in the randomness of our culinary stylings.
My Dad made her a simple wooden box to store her recipe cards. You know, those index cards people used before there was the Internet, cozi.com, Foodnetwork.com, epicurous.com? The recipe box is ugly. The cards are jumbled and scribbled on in her very personal hand. I rarely use it. I think I used a donut recipe and my favorite sugar cookie recipe(the secret is POWDERED SUGAR instead of granulated!) But that is about it.
I dragged that box, unused, from our apartment storage unit to my first apartment on Pleasant Street. To my second, third, fourth apartments. To the big city of Chicago on LaSalle Street. Then to Armitage Street, then Wilson Street apartment also in Chicago. To Denver, Colorado on Pearl Street and back to South Bend, Indiana and my Dad's house on Sampson. From another apartment on 8th street into the home on Altgeld I bought on my own just before I turned thirty. Then to my new husband's house on McArthur Court. Then here to Elmhurst Street in Valparaiso, Indiana. My mom's unused recipe box moved everywhere with me.
My growing girls dragged the box, the recipe cards out more than I ever did. One day I was so annoyed and frustrated by kitchen stress and the box broke as I tried to replace it tucked away into a cupboard. The cards were everywhere from little girls playing with them and I handed the whole broken mess to my husband John and told him to just throw it away. I said I was clinging to the sentiment of it, it was neither beautiful nor useful and it couldn't replace my Mother.
Those of you who know about my husband know he is far too wise than to listen to a crazed domestic rant and follow that order. He saved the box. He saved it! The next day he gently suggested I buy a new box for he cards, organize them and keep them. I realized they could be precious for my little girls to have one day in their kitchens as they make their cooking adventures happen.
We went to Michael's crafts. We bought a gorgeous box. I spent a morning puttering laughing crying through the cards. The memories. The recipes I have made: Sugar Cookies, Yeast Donuts. Things I want to make: pretzels! And the ones I would never make: Cornmeal Coated Franks, Grape Aspic with Melon Balls. The one I'd never seen before, and made that morning: Bacon & Peanut Butter Muffins.(Recipe Below) Others I feel nostalgic about simply because no one cooks that sort of thing anymore. Then there is the letter from her to my Dad, when he was away in the army. Not only was it filled with "My Darlings" and "I Love Yous", but she had sketched patterns she was sewing to wear for him when he returned and included small fabric swatches too. Precious. A view of their early love before they both chose to divorce when I was eight.
I'm used to not having my Mom around, but there are certain markers in life where the loss of her laughter and counsel really aches. Graduations. Coming of age (Thanks Dad, but...uhhh you are still a GUY!) Finding a boyfriend, losing a boyfriend. Getting a great job. Loosing a great job. Buying my own house. Buying my own diamonds. Getting engaged, married, and then of course pregnant. Loosing a baby. Getting pregnant again. Having two precious girls, one with my moms name as her middle name. Writing and reading in a "Listen to Your Mother" show. Going through the recipe box at my dining room table as a forty year old woman who is grateful to God for her life and it's joys, but a bit undone from time to time without my Mother.
I'm grateful for the way I turned out despite being a motherless child. And there have been plenty of mothers that have come alongside me to love, nurture and raise me. Peg Carmen, Sandra Winicur. Peggy Weissert. Jennifer Arndt. Jean DeWinter. Margaret Lutes. Laura Wiseman. Monte Novak. Pam Curlee. Jim Curlee. Beth Parvu. Tracy Stefaniak. Lori Page. Whitney Hibbits. So much love. So many mothers. Many my own age, teaching me through our friendship, our time together, how valuable I am even if the dinner burns. Even when I set the toast on fire. More than once. Even when I just do not make dinner and we eat eggs or carryout. Again.
I have found my Mother in many places, and I remain grateful for this. And I am glad to have her recipes, her handwriting and her presence in my life today. Would you do something for me? Please call your Mothers, if you can. People need to know they matter and that they impact another person's life for good. Life is to be enjoyed fully, and perhaps fleetingly. Whether the person is your mother mother or someone who mothers you well, make sure they know their love is a needed ingredient in your life today. Maybe bake them some bacon peanut butter muffins. I'm just sayin'.
Bacon Peanut Butter Muffins
2 C Flour
1T baking powder
1 t salt
2T melted butter
1 egg, beaten
1 C milk
3 slices uncooked bacon, chopped
about 1/4 C Peanut Butter *
Sift flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. (In separate bowl) Blend melted butter, beaten egg, milk and bacon. Stir into flour mix just to moisten. Pour a dab into bottom of tin, add a small dollop of peanut butter, then pour batter to fill muffin tin 2/3 full. Bake 400 Degrees 20-25 minutes.
*we used almond butter & cooked bacon, still awesome.