With people posting pictures of their moms on Facebook, I wish I had good pictures of my mom. I do have a few but they are not digitalized. She died too soon for that. Besides, she always said she took such a bad picture that her father told her the only place he’d hang it was in the barn. I inherited that from her.The other things I inherited are her love of cooking, food, family and laughter. I’m sure I missed that indefinable quality that made many describe her as the most dignified and ladylike woman they knew. With a degree from the University of Chicago and a background as secretary to Robert Maynard Hutchins, chancellor of the university and founder of the Great Books program, she probably could have had any kind of career. But she was a ‘50s housewife who kept home and family together, supported my father in all his efforts, and satisfied her own ambition with volunteer work.
Mom taught me to cook. Once one of her friends came in when another girl and I had made a mess of the kitchen. “How,” the friend asked, “can you let them do this?” Mom’s reply? “If I don’t, they’ll never learn to cook.” Another time I carefully followed a recipe for devil’s food cake. When they tasted it, Mom and Dad exchanged long looks. “Judy, how much baking soda did you put in this?” “Nine teaspoons,” I told her proudly. She checked—and it was a typo in the recipe. I had followed it to the letter but wasn’t quite smart enough to realize that nine teaspoons would be wrong. Some of my best memories, though, are of cooking with her. To my father’s frequent dismay, she loved to experiment. He was a meat-and-potatoes man and steadfastly ordered roast beef when she dragged him to seafood restaurants on the East Coast.When my brother and I were young, Mom would tell us stories of the medical school days of our fathers (they were roommates at one point; John’s father died of a WWI wound and Mom married my dad). She’d tell, for instance, the time my uncle stepped out into the hall of their apartment building to pull a fuse as a joke on newlyweds and the door slammed shut behind him. Problem with that was that he was stark naked, and my aunt was in the bathtub. When she came out she couldn’t figure out how she lost him in a one-room apartment. Tears would roll down her cheeks when Mom recounted this.
Or the time a friend came to ask her to witness some important business papers. Mom found out the friend hadn’t had breakfast and set about making toast. She signed her name, Alice P. Mac—and checked the toast. When she came back instead of completing her name with Bain, she wrote Bread. To this day one of my friends laughs about Alice P. MacBread.She was a terrific grandmother, adored and amused by her grandchildren. Once she sat between my two oldest, then toddlers, in the back of a car. They were tired and screaming, and the louder they screamed, the heartier her laugh. My dad drove as though he’d never met any of us.
I have so many rich memories of Mom that I’m sure I left out a lot. When she died at 87, in 1987, I wanted to call her and demand she answer the questions she left unanswered, from “Who is in this picture?” to “How do I cook such-and-such.” I talked to her a lot. Today I swear she visits me. I wake with the sense of someone in the house—Jacob? Sophie? No, I think it’s Mom, watching over me.