One-sided conversations in the kitchen

When all else fails, I make my mother’s spaghetti.

When weeks are hard and binging on the Gilmore Girls on Netflix does not bring sufficient comfort, a girl has to step it up a bit. I even tried Baileys and coffee in front of the fire, but alas, my mother’s spaghetti it is not.

I chopped the onion. And suddenly, the latest salvo from my ex whose mission in life it seems to be to harass me, legally or otherwise, went to the farthest backwaters of my mind.

I browned the ground beef. And my recent breakup moved to join him in those backwaters.

I diced the tomatoes. And my worries about finances, future jobs and the book I have promised myself I will finish writing faded quietly into some small tributary of my brain.

cooking bolognese sauce
I closed my eyes . . . and breathed in deeply.

I closed my eyes as the sauce simmered and breathed in deeply. I was seven, in my sandbox at the end of the driveway. The pots and pans clanked, something sizzled and my mother sang quietly to herself on a rare weekday evening when she got home early enough to cook. I was safe. Life was stable. The earth did not constantly shift under my feet. The vitriol I would receive from an ex-husband I was still two decades from meeting did not exist.

Mom did not cook often by the time I, her sixth, late-in-life child, came along. She ran businesses, a nursing school, a hospital. I more often saw her speak from a podium or deplane than stir a pot.

But when she cooked, oh, all seemed right with the universe. Her spaghetti and chop suey made the world go round for me, even as I grew older. When she visited after the birth of my children, I asked for both dishes. I even forgave her the complete rearrangement of my spice rack (“Oregano always goes in front, Kris, because it is used so often. And what the heck is ancho chili powder anyway? Back row!” she said, not realizing she had in just minutes un-alphabetized more than 50 spices.).

various spices
She had in just minutes un-alphabetized more than 50 spices.

My mother and I did not talk often in the evenings. She usually came home, poured a glass of wine and went through the mail as she waited for dinner to be ready. While she never told us not to bother her, it seemed an invisible shell guarded her from intrusions. One just knew her mind would not be on anything you said during this time.

But when she cooked, Mom would talk if you engaged her. During this time, I would discuss my most recent paper or project, teachers, extracurriculars, etc. We did not talk about boys, or weekend plans, my mother and I. She was not a braid-your-hair, find-a-boy kind of a mom. But talk about your latest intellectual achievement and she tuned in brilliantly.

I missed the talking last night. My youngest was already in bed, tuckered out after a long school day and basketball tournament. I had the glass of wine poured, the music on.

You might think me crazy, but eventually, I started to talk. To her. Aloud.

I know I can no longer see her. I know I can’t hear her. But, I have to believe she can see and hear me. That if she were here and witnessing my week, she would be full of good advice on how to navigate what I face. That, while not a big hugger, she would offer one. Sip some wine. And just be there. We would talk of more than my achievements. We’d talk of the hurdles. Of how to be kind, brave and strong when you are feeling anything but those things.

So we had our one-sided conversation. I ate the spaghetti that is not quite hers but darn close.  I watched the Gilmore Girls and soaked in an imaginary world in which even the worst events seem to get resolved with minimal hurt. And then I went to bed.

I like to think that she whispered to me in my dreams, sage words that will come through when I most need them in the weeks to come. She may not be here in the flesh, but her love remains. That I know. That, and her spaghetti sauce. I’m blessed with both.



61 Comments Add yours

  1. Dale says:

    You have sent me way back with your latest post 😉 I cannot help but click on links of writers I so admire, knowing I will get even more bang for my buck. And you never fail. You’ve got me thinking about my relationship with my mother…

    1. candidkay says:

      You are a gem❤️

  2. The optimism in your post, there are no words to describe them. You prove what I usually believe, it will be alright.

    BTW: Did you just say a book?!

  3. Roy McCarthy says:

    Nicely written Kristine. I couldn’t do it. My mother got spaghetti out of a tin 🙂 You really ought to start that book.

    1. candidkay says:

      I’m working on that book! But I need advice from my wise blogger friend, Roy, from across the pond, on how to get the right eyes on it:).

  4. reocochran says:

    Kay, your mother story is a treasure. I like her placing value on your experiences and learning rather than surface “girlfriend things.” I still make certain dishes, spaghetti, too that remind me of my Mom. She is still here, 87, but has lost a few marbles and I love her like crazy. Thank you for such a wonderful way of getting to know you. 🙂
    I am rather new here but was pleasantly surprised I found a “Gilmore Girls” reference and had to respond!
    I am single, 9 years since my last marriage ended. I started writing to get some cathartic “angst” out. I am more than “witless dating after fifty.”
    I have memorized many of the Gilmore posts. I wasn’t quite as wild or crazy as Lorelei was, but I spent a lot of time trying to make things work with the “wrong” man. I am close to all three children who have blessed me with a rather large combination of grandies.
    Have you ever watched, “Love Actually?” This is my “go-to” holiday movie. My youngest daughter, now 30, has watched it annually for 10 years now with me. I “make” my friends, one at a time, watch it at least once. All love it and are “hooked. ” The soundtrack has the Beatles, twice, and Joni Mitchell singing “Both Sides Now.” It has so much to offer; sweetness and a sad disappointed part, too. Fantastic cast, too. Hope to be a regular reader and stay in touch in the new year. Smiles, Robin

    1. candidkay says:

      I have watched Love Actually but it’s been years! Will have to revisit that one! And you know the Gilmore girls is coming back for a few more episodes, right? I’m very excited about that! Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I look forward to reading your blog also in getting to know each other in the ether.

      1. reocochran says:

        Kay, will the new episodes of “Gilmore Girls” be on a regular channel, the family channel or? I have watched 3 times the finale and am happy with the possibility of Luke with Lorelei. 🙂 Smiles, Robin

      2. candidkay says:

        It’s happening on Netflix! I’m still in season 6:). Hate to see it end!

  5. Brilliant post! It described so much how I feel. Cooking certain dishes brings my mother back to me. (And I talk to her as well). It seems they were alike in some ways, as my mother also tuned into the achievement stuff, and while she was not a hugging kind, she was always there for me (in my own ‘self-development’ sort of way).

    1. candidkay says:

      I think part of maturity, for me, was accepting what my mother could offer versus what she couldn’t. And being grateful for what was there rather than resentful of what was not. I’m sure you know this feeling.

  6. Really lovely and your mother sounds like an amazing woman. She helped make you the woman you are today, strong and talented. You must miss her a lot, but somewhere she’s with you.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! That’s very kind of you to say. She was pretty amazing:). And I’m sure she is still with me. I feel her strength.

  7. Aunt Beulah says:

    You were twice blessed, Kay, and then you blessed us with this wonderful, warm memory. My mom, too, didn’t advise me on makeup or attracting boys, on anything that might be considered a female wile; but she engaged me on academics, current events, creative projects, and strong character. To this day, I couldn’t tell you whether she thought I was pretty, but I could tell you she thought I was smart and capable and college bound. thanks for reminding me of the power of that sort of upbringing.

    1. candidkay says:

      It’s a very different upbringing from many girls, isn’t it? I didn’t realize how different, I guess, until I became a teenager. I also went to an all-girl high school, which really helped drive home what school was for–moving me forward, not chasing boys:).

  8. So gorgeous, all of it. My mother could make a puttanesca that would raise me from my sleep. I would step down the back staircase just to sniff it. Then I would watch her. She would sit in our leather club chair, partially eclipsing our television’s glow. She was a night owl, I know that’s where I get it. Thanks for sharing your memory. I missed my mom something awful the other day; these bored suburban women ranting about classroom parties and their unsolicited advice. She would’ve conjured cartoon after cartoon lampooning them all… I’m cresting my 13th year at this Winter Holiday Party circus… I think I know what I’m doing. A lovely read.

    1. candidkay says:

      Bored suburban women are among the most dangerous:). Ugh. They can make a simple classroom party akin to the World Economic Forum in prep work. I’m glad you have the memories of your mother. They’re a poor sub for the real thing but I often feel sorry for those who don’t even have the pleasant memories . . .

      1. my youngest is 12. 6th grade. the jolly elfin days of elementary school are ending. we are making snow globes for the party; my friend (a rational person) and i are doing lots of preemptive prep work to hopefully avoid leaks and fracases. who knows. one mother said aloud, “snow globes?! 6th graders don’t want to make snow globes! that’s a craft! give them cookies and games…” i just smiled and nodded. i asked her if she’d like to run the event instead. “be my guest, you sound like you have lots of good ideas too!” she backed away. my HS senior wants to make a snow globe over break. trust me, lady, kids want to be creative whenever they can. it’s assholic adults who think they’re over it. <– that's what i WANTED to say. 😉

        yes, good memories of mom often dust over the bad ones. they are there… i appreciate her more now that she's gone. i "get" her now. we were the essentially same ages when we married and had kids and stuff. i get a lot of it.

    2. candidkay says:

      It is ironic that it sometimes takes us getting to the place and age our mothers were to empathize with what they did and how they raised us:)

  9. Love this, friend! Certain foods and scents bring my mother near, too. Her cinnamon rolls, peanut clusters and fried chicken all do that. I also have conversations with her… One sided of course, but it helps me feel she’s not so distant. Thank you for sharing this story with us. I just love it!

    1. candidkay says:

      I love knowing there are so many of us feeling we are still in touch:). That the love remains even when the physical form goes away. And cinnamon rolls–mmmm.

  10. cristi says:

    I loved this post! The longer we travel through this life, the more we appreciate those who came before us. It’s so nice to stand on the shoulders of our wise loved ones. (And, I alphabetize my spices, too!)

    1. candidkay says:

      You must like to cook also:). Only those of us with a serious spice rack usually feel the need to alphabetized!

  11. I just love this as it touches me on so many levels.
    When the ex is being the back end and I am at my wits end, I try a new recipe – usually a dessert! Something about the mixing ingredients and stirring seems to soothe my soul. All the while having a conversation with my GrandMama. She was like my mama (she was my daddy’s mama) and understood me better than anyone. She always knew the right things to say to me to help me get through the hard times. I can still hear her, “Now Kim, just take a breath, fix you a good drink and reflect on all the good in your life. And don’t forget to add a bit more vanilla in that cake!”
    Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. candidkay says:

      I love that there are more of us still “in touch” (so to speak) than I thought:). And the kitchen, the tactile nature of creating something, seems to work its magic. Wishing you no more instances of wits end and plenty of vanilla:).

      1. I talk to my daddy too. I miss his wisdom and love. If I just stop, I can hear him talking to me. And yes, I do talk out loud to him too! It’s usually when I am doing fix it things or yardwork or any of those things we did together. Or when eating moms cornbread!

  12. I think food, smells and music really connect us to the people we love. This was a beautiful post. No one’s Mum was ever perfect but when we remember the good memories and special moments we had, we feel connected again and loved..

  13. heyjude6119 says:

    My mom’s chicken and homemade noodles are something I remember from her. She was also a working mother. I’m glad you can conjure comfort from your mom’s spaghetti. I’m imagining your ex as a very small person like elf on the shelf small and the more he yells the smaller he gets, flailing his arms and kicking his legs trying to still control and hurt you, but he can’t because he no longer has that power, he’s a small comical figure, so you pick him up by the collar and put him in a drawer or somewhere else to be contained for awhile. Then you go off to watch Gilmore Girls (I love them also) and drink your wine and eat your spaghetti.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, the visual:).

  14. marlene frankel says:

    Keep writing, keep dreaming, and cherish the conversation.

  15. RuthsArc says:

    Beautifully written. I can feel the calm of childhood memories, comfort food, busy hands and familiar smells. Thank you.

  16. This was amazing. I love the imagery and the kitchen. The kitchen in my culture is an important place where important wisdom is gained.

    I also love Gilmore Girls.

    You are on my prayer list and every day I say a special prayer for you. Tonight, it will be for comfort.
    I found particularly profound the part that while people may not be somewhere in the flesh, love outlived everything. It never ends. It keeps us alive.
    Enjoy the spaghetti sauce.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, what a wonderful response. Thank you! First, for the prayers. I firmly believe in the power of prayer and am lucky to be included in your list because you are such a genuine soul. Second, Gilmore Girls! It’s a balm, isn’t it? I’m not sure I ever could really live in such a tiny town but it makes me want to try:). And the kitchen. Oh, the kitchen. Your culture is extremely wise. It takes some of us years to figure that truth out!

      1. I hope you are having a beautiful weekend!

  17. George says:

    There is nothing like your mom’s homemade sauce that comforts the soul. Glad you refer to it as sauce and not gravey as some mistakes do…:)

    1. candidkay says:

      Ah, yes:). Well, my mom’s spaghetti sauce is similar to what they’d call skyline chili in Cincinnati:). Lots of meat, chunky, atop noodles. But no–I don’t call it chili or gravy! It is the spaghetti sauce I know and love:).

  18. srbottch says:

    I love spaghetti. We refer to it as ‘comfort food’, because it does. Sounds as though you ‘touched your mother’s hand’ during that whole episode. I know that feeling. Otherwise, chin up and drop a ‘hello’ anytime.

    1. candidkay says:

      I sure hope I did:). Touch her hand, that is. Thanks for the kind words!

  19. Laura says:

    Yep, I don’t have very many memories of Nana cooking, but her taking about achievements and navegating you through your perceived hurdles is 100% her.

    1. candidkay says:

      And then some! 🙂

  20. Deb says:

    You so captured mom in this blog. I am sure she was listening and it sounds like she was of some comfort to you. Funny how some memories stay fresh even 40 some odd years later when we need them!
    Love you.

    1. candidkay says:

      She really was, Deb:). She really was. Love you too!

  21. It is good to touch those things that bring comfort, especially those that were close….but you have become your mom….you are now the strength and comfort that she was to you. She believed in who she was, just as you believed in her….now believe in you 🙂

  22. wgburke says:

    Kristine, very nice piece. Next time you have a hard week please let me know. I’d love to try the spaghetti! I’ll bring the wine! It’s all the smell, by the way. The most memory jarring of all the senses.

  23. Beautiful. I, too, speak to those who are departed. Thanks for letting me know that it is “normal” to do so!

    1. candidkay says:

      You and I are about as normal as they come:). Thanks for reading!

  24. Thanks for the inspiration; I’m going out soon and plan to buy a bottle of Bailey’s. I loved being a part of these cherished memories. They are true treasures. Oh, and one more thing: How about sharing your recipe for spaghetti sauce?

    1. candidkay says:

      If you get the Bailey’s, you need the Reddi Whip to put on top:). Just sayin’. Happy to share recipe! I’ll scan and post as pic.

  25. For sure, Kay. I know that too.

    1. candidkay says:

      You know that and a whole lot more, wise woman:). Thank you.

  26. Judy says:

    I’m sorry you’re battling the lashing out of someone else. Even knowing it’s more about them than you doesn’t numb the nastiness.

    Your mother did answer, in words she embedded in your heart long ago. Too many people don’t understand that the words we brand into another’s soul will speak to them again and again. What a blessing she embedded words of love.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, I love that: ” . . . the words we brand into another’s soul.” She certainly did that! Thanks, Judy, for your wise words. They help:).

  27. julia says:

    thank you! I speak to my father, and grandparents often and they do help me resove issues while I sleep : ) For me it is the smell of cut wood and my grandma’s cooking

    1. candidkay says:

      I hope you make some of your grandma’s recipes! And I understand the smell of cut wood; the smell of cut grass reminds me of my dad. The love does remain.

  28. suemclaren24 says:

    You are so right on the mark, again. For me, it’s making cinnamon buns (my own early initiative) or baking the bread my grandmother taught me to make. And believe it – those who have crossed over do hear us, and are there when we ask for them.

    1. candidkay says:

      Isn’t it funny that the comfort is related to the food? Or maybe it’s the ritual of making the food, more likely.

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