Spaghetti and the memories of a mother’s cooking

 In Health, MOM

Every family has at least one favorite recipe. Ours was my mom’s spaghetti.

It was my daughter’s 3rd birthday dinner and I decided to make my mom’s spaghetti for the first time since she died five months ago. Immediately, emotions bubbled to the surface.

My eyes wet as I chopped a green pepper, some celery and then I tripped into this train of thought … didn’t this happen in Like Water For Chocolate? A woman cooking dinner overcome by emotions dripped sadness into pots like ingredients. And didn’t everyone eating that dinner start to feel those emotions? That was hilarious. But wait, wasn’t that about sex? I can’t remember and I digress.

With that my tears retreated.

I mixed together the tomatoes and oregano, the ground beef and the mushrooms and the rest of the vegetables and began the long, slow simmer to dinner time.

I hope I don’t forget to make the garlic toast, I thought, placing all of the ingredients on the counter next to the stove top as a reminder. I hope I don’t burn it. I’ve done that more times then I care to count.

The afternoon went on, the girls ate their lunch. I put away laundry and looked at the apartment, a veritable fun-house explosion and I thought: I’ll never get it cleaned before my husband’s family arrives.

I ran outside to toss a garbage bag into the bin and the scraps from this morning’s veg prep into the compost. It was cold, glad I bothered to throw on my winter coat. Leftover snow still stuck in pockets in the fields and I shuffled inside greeted by, not just a smell, not just warmth, but a transporter zipping me back to my childhood.

To a time of our own birthday dinners of Mom’s famous spaghetti, to college breaks and to my return from jobs all over the country. Whenever she asked what she should make for dinner — your spaghetti! And there I was back home, back to love, back to my mom, my dad who have long since divorced, to my sister, now diligently sprouting my beautiful niece and nephew, back to my little house that felt big to me, back to our kitchen table too big for the space between counters and stove, the steamy winter window obscuring the view of our quiet street.

It was a warmth far deeper than my winter coat. I wrapped it around a hanger and was pulled, ever so gently back 10, 20, 30 years into my own apartment, where my children were fighting over who would get into the bath first and back to the toys underfoot. I had been gone a lifetime and 10 minutes. I could hardly breath, hardly fathom where life had taken me.

These simple ingredients carried from my grandmother’s kitchen, to my mother’s and now to mine. I lifted the spoon to my lips, blew gently, gingerly taste and smile. I think they’d be proud.

What meals do you cook that remind you of your family, your childhood home?

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Showing 4 comments
  • Kate

    beautiful writing. I’m so sorry for your loss. I love the way you weave in the cooking with the thoughts of the your mum and how the food can bring you back to her. My mum didn’t do much cooking when I grew up! But macaroni cheese always reminds me of home.

  • Tamara

    Smell is a powerful memory sense!
    My own childhood cooking flashback is probably a baking one: marble cake! Spaghetti come in as a strong second choice. Gotta love pasta 🙂
    Happy birthday to your daughter!

  • Peggy

    Mine is my dad’s Mexican Chicken. It was our Christmas Eve tradition for years. I now make it for my family at Christmas and for my brother when he comes to visit.

  • Bérénice

    What makes me think of my mum is a “boeuf bourguignon”, but for more simple meals, a good old soup is simply the best, with little croutons 🙂

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