I didn’t date very much in high school. Too nerdy. Spent more time with my best friend, working, shopping, listening to music, going to school. Day dreaming.
But there were occasions.
And on one such my mother stuffed a sawbuck in my pocket.
She said, “Never go on a date without money. Money means you don’t have to stay where you don’t want to be. Don’t have to rely on someone else. Don’t have to do what you don’t want. Leave.”
All these years later I always have a hidden Ben. And a credit card.
Because. It means I can leave.
Checking the rear view mirror I see Mom so serious about this. Where and how did she come to hold this so dearly? Given her generation and her Italian home with a mama who spoke broken English. Did Grandma Fanny do the same with her?
This morning’s baking adventure took me to a recipe, a flavor and texture, I haven’t experienced for years. Five for sure, because that’s how long Mom’s been gone, three before that because my folks were in assisted living, and probably three or four before that. When Mom declared she’d cook no more.
Her Meyer Lemon Mousse pie. Tangy to make your eyes water, smooth as my new grandson’s bum. Add a flaky crust and little dollop of sweetened whipped cream, a blackberry or blueberry garnish. Heaven. Silky heaven on a plate, served with a tart blink while taking in its beautiful, pale yellow hue.
I loved this pie and Mom would make it for my birthday and sometimes, just because.
It’s not hard to make but it’s a bit of a pain. A dozen juiced lemons. Meyers, of course, a cross between lemon and Mandarin orange. Two kinds of zests. The easy kind for the mousse and long curled threads for garnish.
A double boiler’s involved, constant stirring, an ice plunge and more stirring before folding in whipped cream. Then the pie hits the fridge for a nice little rest.
Not difficult. Not many ingredients. Time consuming. Plenty of clean-up. Doesn’t even include the pie dough flour and fuss.
As I was making it I was also noticing the mess in my wake — which I was okay with. Not normal for one with obsessive-compulsive personality traits. Messes not welcome.
Because it’s for my kids. Coming to dinner tonight. My kids. And after this mess will be the bigger one, fried chicken, followed by the chaos the kids bring. The noisy, loving chaos of diaper bags and baby bottles, crayons and toys, cell phones and keys, sweaters and shoes piled at the front door.
Mom must have felt that way, too. In the rear view mirror I see her standing at the stove stirring, wanting nary a lump to disrupt the velvety perfection of her lemon custard. Because it was for her daughter. She would want it just so. She would want to best her own record pie-baking prowess.
She would have made the pie not for pie prestige or baking kudos, or even a thank you but for my smile and the gleeful words, “Mom, my favorite pie!”
In truth all of her pies were my favorite pies.
A smile and a twinkle would have been her thanks.
In the rear view mirror I see I missed that. I smiled and I thanked but I missed her key ingredients. Love, joy, and the fun of creating a delicious, little surprise. All these she added. I missed appreciating those. Many times over.
I hope you knew, Mom, when we traveled our road together.
One night after a new boyfriend offered my father a floppy handshake, Dad had a talk with me about his handshake theory.
“Always offer a firm grip. Not a tight one. You aren’t arm wrestling. Just a firm one.” Then he demonstrated what he meant with a resolute clasp.
“You’re a female so men are apt to offer a softer hand. But you still grip firmly so they know you aren’t a pushover.”
In the rear view mirror this was a pretty enlightened stance for someone of his generation. Then again, his one daughter and two sons all took turns in the household rotation of dishes and lawn mowing. No one spared or given a gender specific task.
But I know he thought I’d be an English teacher, my first brother an engineer and my little brother a professional athlete.
Par for the 1950s course.
After we practiced a couple of solid handshakes Dad sealed his deal.
“A handshake is about character, not gender. Don’t offer a fish-hand even as a woman. Show ‘em what you’re made of.”
And that’s exactly what I do.
“If a man’s handshake is no good all the [legal] paper in the world won’t make it good.” ~ Mayor Richard J. Daley
In the rear view mirror the road traveled looks different. Bumps seem to disappear in the distance and become merely part of scenery left behind. Funny how in the moment a dip seemed to rattle the car, and me, significantly – only to be left behind as a dusty memory.
I try to stay in the moment, in my lane, eyes fixed on the road ahead. That’s where new experiences on this trip play out. But the truth is, there’s more road behind me than left in front and where I’ve been helps me put the where, whys and hows of my journey in perspective.
Sunday afternoon I remembered a funny thing my dad said years ago and needed to tell my brother. A little bit of nothing that had us laughing together in a shared moment of amusement.
I don’t take giggles for granted. Or the stories that spawn them. Especially not my brother.
Let’s face it, lucky for us some places on the road are worth revisiting. Linger in memory. For their lessons, blessings and anecdotes.