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.
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.).
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.