Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mom's Cookbook

Amongst the several cookbooks on my shelf is a Betty Crocker, 1950 edition, given to my mother as a wedding present in 1954.  This book would  never sell at auction for some astronomical amount of money, in fact I doubt if it would fetch even a quarter at a garage sale.  Its cover is faded, the binding is loose, and its pages are crumpled and spotted with the residue from the use of a half-century.  I seldom pull it out of the cupboard, although I still use some of the cookie recipes found between its old covers, mainly for Christmas baking.  I do so for two reasons; one is that some of these old recipes still make the best cookies, and two, using my mother’s cookbook is a tangible way of connecting with her, long after her death.

My mother, Lois Jean (Meredith) Thompson (1934-1978) suffered from severe depression.  When she was in the throes of this depression it usually took the form of anger and rage.  My father, my siblings, and I were often the target of her rage, but with the perspective of age I realize it was herself she was most angry with.  In January of 1978, at the age of 43, she chose to end her life, rather than live with the illness that took so much from her.

My mom and me in the summer of 1957
My mother, however, was not defined by her depression.  She was a compassionate, intelligent woman who loved to read, to sing, to sew.  She taught me to hate injustice and bigotry, she was quick to come to the aid of a friend or family member who was ill, maybe because she was ill so often herself.  And she was a wonderful cook and baker.   

Because of her illness, however, I never knew which side of my mother would be there when I came home from school.  If she was lying on the couch in her robe I knew things were not good.  But, if she was in the kitchen making cookies, then it was a good day.  Then the aroma of snicker doodles, molasses crinkles, peanut butter, or chocolate chip cookies filled the house.  At Christmas she added Russian teacakes and  almond crescents, drenched in powdered sugar, plus her orange spritz cookies, pushed out of the old cookie press into, what seemed to a child, almost magical shapes.  On the table in the midst of all the ingredients and cooking utensils would be her favorite cookbook, the same old book that I pulled out the other day to make sugar cookies for a party.

I’m sure an analyst would have no problem linking my love for baked goods to a longing for a mother who was healthy and happy.  And, as my waistline will attest, I do not need to indulge in cookies or any other sweets.  But if pulling out an old cookbook and gathering the ingredients for a batch of cookies allows me to reach into the past and reconnect with a mother whom I still miss after over thirty years, well there are worse things I could do. 

Mom and me before my wedding, 23 Feb 1974  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thoughts on September 11th

I am going to go beyond my usual family history posts and use this space to share some of my thoughts as we commemorate the attacks of 9/11.  I read this essay in church this morning during prayer concerns and I hope that it may resonate with others.

As we commemorate the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001 we are a country at war, but it is a bizarre, surreal war to most of us.  We go about our daily business, not affected much by events taking place far away, unless we have a friend or loved one in the military.  We have no rationing, no victory gardens or metal drives.  Gold and Silver stars do not sit in windows up and down every street.  We are not asked to buy war bonds. We do live, however, in a different America than we did on September 10th,2001.

The bitter and poignant reminders of that beautiful day, with its sunny blue sky that suddenly turned deadly, will once again pull the country together as we commemorate those who were lost.  Most Americans will spend at least some time today at a service or ceremony.  We will play the “where were you when you heard?” game, and try to make sense of the senseless.

 I was directed by a Facebook post to “say a prayer for those who lost their lives, and then celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden.”  I can and will comply with the first directive; I cannot and will not comply with the second part.  I will not celebrate anyone’s death, for that diminishes me.  I am an American, but I am first, and foremost, a member of the human race, child of God, and a Christian who has been taught that I must love even my enemies, as difficult as that may be.  If I hold onto hatred and fear then what is there to stop me from taking the next step and becoming an instrument of death against those I fear and hate?
 No, I will commemorate by praying not only for the victims of 9/11, those who were killed, and those who were left to grieve, and the soldiers and civilians who have died in the ensuing conflicts, but for a broken world that cannot seem to learn how to turn the other cheek. But I will also give thanks for the many acts of love, compassion and selflessness that can and do abound during times of tragedy and upheaval, and for the times we transcend our human hatreds and fears and find in each other the image of God.
I hope that many others will join me in these prayers.