I can remember our arguments very vividly in my mind even 17 years later. She would be telling me that I should dress more like a woman and less like a little boy. She would loudly proclaim that my hair needed to be washed and that I needed to go out and get more exercise. She would yell at me that I was turning into my Father and that she couldn’t stand “that man”. She would scream at me over the phone when I refused to come visit her on the weekends. These were normal interactions that I had with my Mother.
To say that I had a tumultuous relationship with my Mother would be putting it a bit lightly. My parents separated when I was at the young age of 7, so I didn’t have the traditional childhood to begin with. It was decided that I would live with her while my Father was getting his life back on track after the split. Those days were filled with constant moving, making new friends, and dealing with my Mother constantly telling me I was wrong about something I valued.
But then there were Sunday dinners. She would meticulously prepare a feast fit for a king on every Sunday. She would ask me what I felt like eating that week and if there were any special recipes we should try. I remember combing through the cookbooks in our house in a mad hunt for this week’s special meal. I would proudly present to her the Sunday meal and we would get to work preparing all the ingredients for that evening. I was her sous chef and made sure all the preparations were taken care of and ready at her command.
She would let me throw the vegetables into the boiling pot to be added to our hearty beef stew. She would let me blend the batter that would make our cupcakes for dessert. When I accidentally spilled some of the flour on our kitchen table, she’d laugh and clean it up as quickly as it spilled out of the bag. She taught me the importance of having a good cutting board to ensure that a knife wouldn’t accidentally chop other things besides carrots.
Finally the meal would be prepared and we would sit down to eat. It was one of the few times where I had my Mother’s complete and unabridged attention when I was growing up. The only time before that I held the same gaze was when I was much younger and her and my Father were together. The origin of my cooking is directly from spending all of my time basking in the glow of my Mother’s love. She taught me from a very early age the importance of a good meal and for sharing meals with the people you love. Those Sunday nights were her practice in motion and we would talk about exciting things we were looking forward to most that week. Gone were the insults and the feelings of inadequacy when we shared that meal together.
My Mother came from a huge military family that moved around often. She had a tumultuous childhood as compared to mine and one that was plagued with many worse events. She was middle aged in her family so she often flew under the radar when it came to a lot of things. Her parents were alcoholics and were also missing in action for most of her childhood. My Mother taught herself to cook in an effort to help feed her family but to also get her mind off of things. When there were holidays, the whole family would gather around and share wonderful meals together. My Mother found solace in those meals and passed on the tradition of a big dinner once a week with family. It’s funny how certain things carry on from generation, both good and bad occurrences.
Fast forward to today and my Mother and I are on much better turns. I grew up and matured while she got older and mellowed out some. We also had frank discussions in my early 20s as to how I felt in regards to her treatment. Even though I have some not so fond memories of my childhood with her, I have a lot of good ones, too. I find that as I grow older the bad memories fade and all that remain are the positive experiences. My appreciation of cooking and of the whole ordeal of going out to eat stemmed from the great feelings of love and contentment that came from her.
Written by Maureen Vallette