Every girl loves that scene in the movie “Sleepless in Seattle,” when Tom Hank’s character describes his wife to their son, Jonah.
“I’m starting to forget her,” the boy says.
“She could peel an apple in one long, curly strip,” the father reminds him. “The whole apple.”
The departed woman in the movie is painted in such a fond, gentle and loving light. She is remembered in the way many of us should hope to be remembered — kind, wise and strong. And just like the youthful character played by Meg Ryan, every woman wants to be like her. Every woman wants to peel an apple the same way.
On weekends, Mom would always throw together this delicious Apple Crisp, simple and uncomplicated, but full of the tastes and aromas we loved as kids. I would be perched at the end of the cutting board, eating the peels of the apples as fast as Mom could pare them.
Mom never used a recipe, but somehow the dish always came out of the oven with a crispy crust and thick apple juices bubbling out of the sides of the pan. The smell would be absolutely alluring, and no matter how bored we were from an excruciating dinner with “the parents,” all of us kids would stay at the table after the dishes were cleared, patiently awaiting dessert.
In the kitchen
Tonight, as the temperature hovers in the 40s outside, Matt is spoiling me with an amazing slow-cooked chili. I haven’t legitimately cooked in ages, but he has been so gracious with his cooking lately that I offered to make a dessert of his choice: Apple Crisp.
While I was paring the apples and cutting them into slices, I was reminded so much of my mother. I started reminiscing over the meals she cooked that made our house feel like a home. Suddenly, as I started to meditate on my mother’s life and our years together, I peeled a whole apple — in one long, curly strip!
Mom must have been with me in the kitchen tonight.
Losing my mother on the same day as three others I loved with all my heart has been nothing short of unthinkable. It has challenged me in ways I had not thought possible, and yet, with my heart constantly aching so much for my young twin brothers, I have wondered if I will ever have the energy to grieve my mom.
As I was preparing food in the kitchen tonight, I felt my mother’s love for the first time since the accident in 2011. Despite our differences — of which there were many — I began to realize just how much my mother taught me while she was alive.
When I was a kid, I used to gripe and complain about the regular rotation we had for dinner. It seemed as if every meal was bound to repeat itself in no more than 10 days. “Spaghetti? Not again!” Then there were the shortcuts Mom would take to make pancakes on Saturday morning. For some reason, every other batch was way too heavy on the salt. And I can still smell the pantry stowaways that would often find their way to the table on school nights: Campbell’s canned Bean and Bacon Soup, and some kind of starchy pre-packaged meat dish — it must be blocked from my memory, even to this day.
But then there were the nights when the gloves would come off, and Mom would cook up something amazing behind our dining room counter.
She would put a roast on for an entire day, soaking it in a classic compilation of vegetables. I loved her recipe for cherry coffee cake so much, I began to make it myself. I even miss that straight-forward spaghetti with meat sauce — the meal that reminded us each week that it was Sunday night. And my mother’s Apple Crisp — well, I continue to make that to this day.
In fact, many of the features of my mother’s kitchen have followed me to my own home.
Ham dishes and a savory split pea soup have recently resurfaced in our kitchen, more for the memories than the taste. Together, Matt and I often embark on an energetic search for fresh pastries to celebrate our weekends, not unlike the treats Mom would get us at Granny’s Doughnuts back in the day. I was even noticing tonight that the knife set we got for our wedding, complete with a sharpener and a solid wooden block, mimics the block Mom had in our house growing up.
My husband, who is an amazing cook, often says everything he knows about cooking he learned from me. But I realized tonight that just about everything I know about cooking I learned from my mother, with a nod to grandma.
How that makes me miss her.
‘I love you, Mom’
My time with my mother ended with terrible timing.
Throughout the years, Mom and I never quite saw eye to eye. Ever since high school, we had been working hard to resolve our differences, trying to find things we had in common and activities we could share.
Granted Mom had faced her fair share of hardships throughout her life, but at the time of her death, she was just starting to reach out more and to be a bigger part of my life. She had only recently come to visit me in the state I now call home, and only five months before she died, Mom had started calling me on my birthday.
It’s clear to me now that my mother helped me grow from a classic teenage drama queen — fretting over sleepovers and making my own outlandish clothes to wear to school — to the calm, confident person I am today.
I wish she could see how successful I have become in my new job, how wonderful my marriage is and how capable I am with my new high-energy dog. I wish she could see how much beauty I now find through art.
At least she knows how much I love her.
Even through the changes in our family dynamics, through the growing pains and the difficult years, I never hesitated to utter the words “I love you” after a visit. Somehow, even back when life was normal, I knew how important that was.
If you’re celebrating this Mother’s Day without your mother, I hope this post brings you some comfort, just as the wafting smell of apples softened in cinnamon and nutmeg is comforting me right now.
And if you are among those who are lucky enough to still have your mother in your life, remember to show her how much she means to you. There will come a day when you will no longer have that chance.