We never knew (or didn’t want to know) how hard my mother worked to bring off Thanksgiving dinner each year.
She was all smiles about it. She said being a school teacher, she enjoyed a chance to spend time in the kitchen.
That part, at least, was true.
It may be a cliché, but my mother loved her little kitchen.
So it’s natural, I suppose, that as Thanksgiving nears, memories of my mother cooking and serving meals are popping up everywhere.
For example, she once told me when the sycamore leaves outside the kitchen window stopped rustling and began to rattle, she knew it was time to bring out the winter food — hot oatmeal with brown sugar, bottled fruit and toast, hot chocolate with floating marshmallows.
She was pretty much a traditional country cook, though she loved food from faraway places with strange sounding names. She loved to both say and prepare goulash, for instance. (I can’t prove this, but I’m convinced she served it on Halloween because it had the word “ghoul” in it.)
She also liked — in her words — “spaghetti with long noodles.” (“Normal” spaghetti had short noodles, an electric-orange sauce and came in a can).
I also recall sitting down many times to a tasty trout and pheasant dinner supplied by my father, complaining all the while that we weren’t having hamburger.
But the most important thing about my mother’s kitchen rituals was she believed cooking and serving, eating and sharing should be a spiritual experience. And just as I — when I can — try to put the spirit in what I write in hopes others may read the words and draw it back out, my mother tried to put the spirit into her meals, where we could bring it out.
Most people bless their food after it’s served.
I’m certain my mother blessed it long before she began cooking it.
And for that reason, there always seemed to be little spiritual insights hiding in her meals.
To close this column, I’ll mention just one.
For years I was convinced my mother was a magician. The chocolate chip cookies she baked would eventually turn hard. Then, a day or two later, they’d magically be soft again.
I finally asked her about it.
And she showed me the secret.
She’d put the hard cookies in a plastic bag along with a slice of bread, then seal it. When she opened the bag the next day, the cookies would be soft and the bread would be as dry as toast. It was because of the brown sugar, she told me.
Then, a bit sheepishly, she went on.
“It’s kind of like religion,” she said. “Think of the cookies in the bag as people in church and think of the bread as Jesus. When Jesus shows up, he gives his tenderness to the cookies.”
Then she looked at me from the corner of her eye as if to say, “Is that silly?”
I looked at the cookies, the bread and the bag. And somewhere in my mind, I could hear the wind rattling the sycamore leaves, hear the spicy sizzle of frying trout and hear a Cache Valley farmer’s daughter carefully sounding out the word “goulash.”
I put my arm around her.
“I like that, mom,” I said. Then even softer, “I like it a lot!”