Back in September I wrote about how I was finally attacking my closets and drawers and cupboards and pantries and shelves and papers. Long overdue it was.
Well I’m happy to say I’m done. Mission accomplished. And you may find this hard to believe but I actually enjoyed it. So much so I seem to have become obsessed with order.
I now wake up in the middle of the night and go through stuff and purge. While I’m watching TV or reading a book I suddenly get the urge to reorganize what I’ve just organized; and I do it! In slightly under two months I’ve gone from thriving in chaos to being OCD.
Clearly I am channeling my mother who is, of course, loving it.
Speaking of my mother, when I moved her out of her apartment and into the retirement residence where she lived briefly, it was done in rather a rush. Her health had declined quite rapidly. So I sent what we didn’t need, but wanted to keep, (like photos and recipes) to storage without taking the time to go through it all. When my mover gave up his storage units, he brought the boxes to me but I’d never opened them.
Until Operation Get-Rid- Of-All-This-Stuff. Which is when I came across my mother’s recipes (among other things.) Most of the binders are falling apart and the magazine clippings and cards are yellowed with age and frayed, but they’re still legible (other than those written in pencil, which are pretty faded by now.)
Hardly surprising. The bulk of them are as old as I am, if not older. Some of my edges are fraying too.
Anyway, I didn’t want to get sidetracked at the time so I didn’t go through them. I stacked them neatly in my bookcases while I forced myself to get back to the task at hand. Mentally I filed them under “some-day-when-I-have-nothing-else-to-do.”
On the weekend I needed to take a bit of break from a project I was working on for a new client. Seemed like a perfect time to go through them.
Wow! What a wonderful hour or two I had. I could feel my mother sitting there with me as I was transported back to my childhood. And I do mean childhood — like when I was five or six years old, maybe eight or nine.
There I was back in the kitchen, watching my mother cook and bake. There she was teaching me. And there I also was, cooking and baking right along side her. She was a terrific cook, as were all the women on both sides of my family and it’s carried over to this generation. Two of my cousins, my mother’s twin sister’s daughter in Vancouver and my mother’s younger sister’s daughter in Montreal, are both wizards in the kitchen.
But what I really enjoyed, more than finding recipes for dishes and desserts I always liked, was the glimpse it gave me into my mother and her life when she was first married and a young mother. In those days a lot of women were stay-at-home moms. There was no internet, no social media. Married women didn’t travel without their husbands, there wasn’t the variety of things to do outside the home we take for granted today.
They didn’t go to day spas. I’m not even sure there were any. Although I do remember one time going somewhere with my mother. I don’t know exactly what it was to tell you the truth. I just remember my mother sitting in this white box. It looked like a refrigerator and the only part of her exposed was her head. I think it was a steam box because her face was red and sweaty. What it’s purpose was I couldn’t tell you.
She hated it and they had to take her out after a few minutes. She suffered from claustrophobia. She swore she’d never do that again and she never did go back.
My mother and her contemporaries were homemakers. Aside from dusting and cleaning and laundry and cooking they took their kids to and from school (at least when we were little). I do remember taking ballet and art lessons on weekends, but my generation certainly didn’t have all the after-school activities kids have today. So I don’t remember any soccer, hockey, you-name-it-my-kids-do-it moms and dads.
The recipes reminded me of what else my mother and her contemporaries did, though. They had lunches and teas for friends and family. At home, not in restaurants. Home cooked and baked, not store bought. Imagine having the luxury of time to do that. It’s out of the question nowadays when, in most families, moms and dads both work, more than one job very often too.
As I sat going through the binders and boxes I could see my mother poring over her recipes, deciding what she was going to serve and who she was going to invite. I can hear her discussing it with my father and my aunts. I remember going shopping for everything with her and helping to set the table. I can still smell the cakes and pies and cookies baking away in the oven. I remember playing with her friends’ kids while they were all doing their thing.
No such thing as daycare and nannies then, they brought their little ones with them. And, once I was old enough to go to school, I remember coming home to treats she’d saved for me.
What I never knew, though, until now, is how she and her friends and my grandmother and aunts shared their recipes with each other. At least a third, if not more, were attributed at the top. So-and-So’s Apple Cake, So-and-So’s Chocolate Cake, So-and-So’s Poppyseed Icebox Cookies, So-and-So’s Cornbread, So-and-So’s Sukiyaki Beef, So-and-So’s Jello Mold. Yes, jello molds were big in those days, what can I tell you?
We have bookclubs. They exchanged recipes. Some of them were even turned into little books and often they were sold for charity. I had no idea.
All this from a couple of boxes I’d neglected to unpack. If there’d been a real treasure in them, as in bullion or jewels, they wouldn’t have meant as much to me as these memories are.
Now I have to figure out which recipes to try first.