For Mother’s Day, my daughter Elizabeth made a decadent chocolate pudding pie with a cookie crust. The recipe called for a teaspoon of vanilla. When the time came, did Elizabeth reach for the bottle of vanilla and a teaspoon? Nope. She just poured in what she thought was the right amount.
“Oh my,” I said to her. “Granny is probably turning over in her grave.”
My mother, Helen, usually measured ingredients carefully. She taught me to level off a cup of flour with the straight edge of a knife. She showed me how to pack a half cup of brown sugar so that it fell out of a measuring cup in a lump. For more than 50 years, she used her silver measuring spoons so frequently that they are now bent, discolored, and disconnected from each other.
Of course, Mom never needed to measure her most important ingredient. Neither do I, and neither does Elizabeth. I’m talking about love. The more, the better.
Mom’s special ingredient made tasty meals even tastier. I especially liked her chicken paprika, a Hungarian dish also known as chicken paprikash. Just thinking about the pasta shells and tender chicken smothered in a paprika-flavored cream sauce makes my taste buds tingle. I have made it for my own family, and although it’s good, it doesn’t measure up to what my mother made.
When my parents moved to Jefferson City in 2007, I tried to make holidays special. A picnic on Labor Day with homemade potato salad and other fixings. Pork roast on New Year’s Day. A cake shaped like a Christmas tree for the holiday season.
My most poignant memory focuses on Mother’s Day 2009. That year, Mom was hospitalized a few days before Mother’s Day because of her heart condition. What kind of celebration could we have? She was in intensive care at St. Mary’s Hospital in Jefferson City.
Fortunately, on Mother’s Day, the ICU staff gave families more leeway with respect to the number of people in a room and the ages of children allowed. ICU rooms are bigger than typical hospital rooms, but even so, Mom’s room bulged with ten visitors, medical equipment, and everything we needed for our Mother’s Day luncheon.
I made one of my go-to meals: beef stroganoff in a slow cooker as well as a fresh loaf of bread in my breadmaker. My visiting siblings brought side dishes and desserts.
“We were a beehive of activity within the ICU,” my sister, Elaine, wrote when I asked for her memories of the day. “Having a party where you’d think there would be little to celebrate — and yet there was. We were laughing and carrying on, and Mom lay there like a queen, surrounded by life and love, at the center of life and love for all of us.”
I wish I remember more particulars about the day. The beef stroganoff turned out well, but I realize now that what we ate didn’t matter. We were just happy to have the ability to celebrate Mother’s Day with Mom, a.k.a. Granny.
My sister reminded me that Elizabeth floored us by how well she read a greeting card to Granny. At the time, she was only in first grade. She read slowly, loudly and clearly, like the best of church lectors. I don’t think she stumbled once.
As Elizabeth read, the room grew quiet. We were spellbound. Granny looked occasionally at the card, but she focused on Elizabeth, her youngest grandchild. The moment seared itself into my memory bank. My mother and my little girl. Life doesn’t get any better than that.