three years gone
It’s been three years since we lost my mom.
And it’s been one year since I started making my way through our family recipes for this blog – I’ve completed more than 100 recipes at this point (some are still scheduled to be posted). I find myself turning to baking in hard times – it’s my way of attempting to connect with a love from a mother and grandmother who are otherwise no longer here to give it to me.
It’s no secret that my mother and I were not close in her last few years of life. When I spent those days following her death, in her home – the home in which I had been a teenager, I could see how many things had changed. But, so much still felt the same. She still had pictures of me as a kid up on her wall. A watercolour painting I made as a teenager featuring an angel in winter with her wings tucked up around her, protectively.
She had my old make-up bag in the bathroom – the makeup must have been a good 15-20 years old. Had she still been using it? My old curling iron, under the sink. Polished rocks I bought in a trinket shop in Osoyoos in the days before my grandmother died were still on the window ledge of what had once been my bedroom. An invitation I sent my brother, to her address, to attend my second wedding, was under the mousepad in the room where she kept her computer.
Oddly, she had a picture from my first marriage in a frame still sort of out where it could be seen, though tucked in behind some books on her bookshelf. Meanwhile, I had been remarried and with children in my second marriage, at that point. She also had a book my ex-husband had given her sitting on her side table – like she might have just finished reading it (when, in fact, I can’t imagine she ever opened it). I remember the year he gave it to her – I had been complaining about a perceived double-standard; that he was always wanting me to integrate better with his family and parents but, I noted, that he didn’t even send my mother cards or gifts on holidays. So that year he bought her a book by Richard Bach for Christmas. Which inevitably reminded me of the one he’d bought for me – one about soulmates. It somehow finally made sense why he would give me a book convincing me that soulmates exist when the soulmates in the book end up separating.
In a little box on her kitchen counter I found a letter my 11th grade science teacher wrote telling my mom how proud he was of me for being a nice, smart kid. I wondered how many times she might have looked at that letter over the years – did she remind herself that she did good? That she raised a kind and smart kid who turned into a kind and smart adult? I like imagining that.
Next to that box on the kitchen counter I found a mixed CD I had completely forgotten about, but remembered as I looked at the playlist. I had made it for her in my first year at university. I called it “Tina’s Tunes” and the inscription said that I wanted to give her some inspirational music, the sort of music I liked to listen to, when I was down.
It was an album of music to be sad to.
It felt appropriate to play the music on that album today.
After handling the CD, my hands picked up the still-there, but starting to vanish, scent of cigarettes that had permeated my mothers walls and carpets when I was last there. A hit back to being in her empty home, combing through the few of her remaining possessions. A hit back too, to a time where she would sit bra-less in a pair of long shorts and an oversized t-shirt pocked with holes from over-use of bleach, ankle-over-knee, head angled toward the front door, cracked open just enough for her to direct the stream of expelled smoke outside. Even at 30 below, with the rest of us bundled and shivering, all waiting for her to finish the smoke and close the door so that we could return to the comfort of watching the television at an appropriate temperature.
With 20 years since I made the album, it’s now fairly cringe-worthy, but it took me back to a time not long after I had left home, where my mother and I were much closer – where we could poke fun at one another without it being or feeling mean. Where we shared with each other more intimate details about our lives – like that we were sad or depressed, and why.
I had always hoped we’d find our way back to that place. It’s the loss of that opportunity that I continue to grieve – that and knowing she will never delight in my children.
She was always particularly good with toddlers – patient, silly, and immersed in being completely present with them. She ran a daycare out of her home for several years and was dedicated and attached to those kids. She probably took as many pictures of her daycare kids as she did us when we had been the same age.
I watched her with my niece when she was little – the complete adoration. The lifting up onto the counters so she could see what my mom was doing or to help stir the cookie dough. In this picture, my mom had lifted my niece up onto the counter next to me preparing dinner, then took our picture when I was playing around with her – trying to give her a kiss on the cheek.
I remember my mom and all the tickles. The flips she managed with toddlers who straddled her lower legs while she sat on the couch (I still haven’t figured out how to do them with my own kids). The pinches with her big toe if you sat too close to her on the couch. The exuberant pronunciation when reading a children’s book out loud. The telling of silly stories or tongue twisters. Dressing up and painting nails. Big deals made about movies and popcorn. The deep belly laughs watching my 3-year-old niece try to put on a pair of socks. I wish and long for that experience – that my kids might have known that love from my mother too. That my niece might have had more time knowing that love too (she says she’s starting to forget).
So today, we will bake – the one way left that I know how to bring that love to them.