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  

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