“I don’t know,” she’d say, “Something practical.”
My mother loved getting gifts, practical or not, but if you asked her what she wanted for her birthday or a holiday, it was practical, practical, practical. Drove me crazy. I hated giving those kinds of presents to my mother. I wanted to give her fun things, pretty things.
I was thirty years old and May was coming. I asked, “Mom. What do you want for Mother’s Day this year?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Something useful. Maybe something for the kitchen? I don’t know why you get me anything anyway…”
Ugh. Why do I ask? Why, God? Why do I ask? Just tell me why, okay? Please?
“Okay, Mom. Something for the kitchen, then.”
“Yeah. Maybe a new pancake turner? I don’t know. Don’t waste your money.”
She wants a spatula for Mother’s Day. The year before she wanted an electric can opener. Ugh. I give up.
At the time, I was still working in Westport. On my lunch hour, I walked down the hill, onto Main Street. I went into Williams-Sonoma to check out pancake turners. Yawn.
I was about to grab a bunch of spatulas (I thought I would buy a pretty kitchen towel, wrap it around the spatulas like they were a bouquet of flowers, tie it with a big pink ribbon…) when I saw it.
I gasped. Oh, my God, it is perfect!
I grabbed the apple peeler machine without even looking at the price.
It was the perfect gift. My mother was not a cook, like my grandmother. She knew how to cook; I was not forced as a child to endure burned meals or unidentified deep-fried objects. She just didn’t love to cook the way my grandmother did. My mother preferred baking, and she was really good at it. She loved to bake a cake for no reason (oh, but, man, she would make our birthdays perfect with her cakes), or cookies when she was bored. Her brownies were pretty famous in our family and in our neighbourhood. She made some fancy stuff, and made some basic baked stuff seem fancy. All of it was delicious. Cakes, cookies, breads, tarts, donuts, brownies… and pie.
Macintosh apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, brown sugar, walnuts, and a handful of cornflakes crushed onto the bottom crust (so it wouldn’t be soggy). Other ingredients that I cannot recall at the moment. Perfectly golden, light, flaky crust. Simple. Delicious.
My mother didn’t bake anymore. By that time (late 1990s), my mom had changed; she lost her… well, joy (We did not know then that Dementia had begun; she hid it well at first.). My younger brother, Tadpole (who still lived with her in my grandmother’s old house) now did most of the cooking. Mom would fry herself a burger and onions once in a while; that was about it.
I hated the change in her. I wanted to hear her rattling pans and singing to herself while she baked (my mother had a lovely voice, even if she never thought so). I wanted to visit and have a food fight with her while I helped her peel apples, as we’d done a million times before.
I wanted a slice of apple pie… Mom’s apple pie. I had the recipe and I could make an apple pie well, but never the same. I wanted Ken to taste it and know the Heaven that only my mom could create.
I bought the apple-peeling contraption. I wrapped it in pretty floral paper and a pink ribbon.
She said she loved it.
She never used it.
I have it, now. Still in its box.
Part of me never wants to use it, to keep Mom’s things the way that she left them… but I know she’d only say, “That wouldn’t be practical.”