KitchenWallpaper

I knew why I hadn’t taken it. It was an old French-style Julia Child type of cookbook with a faded yellow cover, with loads of recipes for meat dishes and other things I don’t eat and haven’t eaten for years. It was highly unlikely that I would ever want to cook up beef bourguignon in this lifetime. Besides, French dishes, with their over-abundance of cream sauce, always wreak havoc on my digestive system.

And yet — it was Mom’s cookbook, and as I realize now, when it’s far too late to retrieve it, that she was a brand new homemaker when it was purchased, in the late 1950s when she married Dad. And I also realize, too late, that hidden in its pages were very likely family meals that she prepared throughout my childhood. For a strange reason, quite suddenly, my disregard for that tattered old book feels like a dreadful mistake and the thought of it gnaws at me, like some terrible loss.

Certain dishes I remember. There was salmon souffle, served in little Pyrex custard cups that I also parted with, as I was trying to be practical when I selected what would come back to Massachusetts with me and what would be left for the Connecticut estate sale. Chocolate pudding, which I remember helping her mix up and cook in a saucepan, for the privilege of getting to scoop out the delicious hot chocolate remains, straight from the pan, was also served in these custard cups.

Mom also made veal parmigiana, in single-serving ceramic cordon bleu au gratin baking dishes — thankfully, those I kept, though I have no idea why. There are three; one for each of us. She also made these pastry cheese puffs, which I loved. They featured Cheese Wiz and a single green olive pushed into the center of each one, which was my job to insert, when we worked together to create them. I was so young — how is it I remember this? As I recall, they were only made when we visited family or for the rare house party they once had for Dad’s coworkers. I also remember Mom making veal chops and asparagus, and there was a baked salmon dish that was made with a sweet sauce — I think it was something like orange juice and soy sauce?

Some of these things may have been in that cookbook; I’m not sure.

What’s more, the cookbook had a handmade book cover, to mask the old yellow board of the original. This was probably crafted by Mom, from leftover kitchen wallpaper — a bold, eye-popping mid-’70s burst of whimsical orange and yellow flowers. That seems like something a person who is hopelessly nostalgic would keep, doesn’t it? But it was in the hectic months after Dad died (Mom was already a year gone) and I had apparently put my sentimentality on a shelf so that I could carry on efficiently with the impossibly difficult and heart-rending task of going through nearly 50 years of family memories.

It all made sense at the time. It was in the middle of winter, and I was spending a small fortune on heating costs (to keep the old pipes from bursting), real estate taxes and the rest of it, traveling four hours back and forth every other week, and I didn’t want things to drag on and on. So, I journeyed between my place and theirs, bringing down junk I had no further need of, and bringing back mementos I wanted to keep. Mostly, I think, I made the right decisions. I took very little furniture — just their two favorite chairs and a few smaller plant tables. I brought back a beloved statue of a Native American family that Mom discovered in a department store display and spirited away, certain household items and supplies, various decorative items, some of their books and records and CDs, a lot of artwork and several cartons of photographs, slides, films, cards, letters and important documents. It was enough. It was already too much. But every so often, there was a little pang of regret — inexplicable sentimentality over something rather insignificant that I have no power to rectify and had no use for to begin with. Maybe it’s a strange form of self-protection, to avoid facing those really big regrets. Or perhaps it’s symbolic.

Who knows what became of this vinyl-wallpaper-covered old cookbook? I close my book of thoughts on this wistful subject with the hope that in some thrift shop in Connecticut, it fell quite unexpectedly into the hands of a new homemaker whose heart was warmed and curiosity piqued by this charming throwback from simpler, less nutritionally-aware times. And who knows? Maybe they’ll try out a few of the recipes. That’s more than I would have done.

Grief works in mysterious ways.

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