My mother died when I was a young man. That was many years ago, and now that I have attained an age where I can ruminate on things past, I find there are many questions I wish I had been able to ask my mother when she was alive.
Such as: where did you get the idea that Campbell's Tomato soup was a viable substitute for spaghetti sauce? I grew up believing that pasta was supposed to be pink and taste like the inside of a tin can. And what was with the chopped up Spam? Who told you we liked Spam; certainly not us.
And butter; you made me believe that butter was as expensive as gold and that was why we had to put up with the crappy, cheap margarine. It wasn't until I was much older that I realized butter was easily within my budget, but by then I was being forced--by a succession of well-meaning girlfriends--to use butter substitutes for health reasons. You consigned me to a life without butter? Why?
And if you were really concerned about saving money, why didn't you buy a sack of natural rice instead of buying expensive boxes of Minute Rice? How could you have been pressed for time when you didn't even have a job? If you could have seen your way toward investing more than 10 minutes of your busy day toward food preparation, you could have made real rice and served up something that didn't taste quite so much like cardboard. Then the money you saved could have been used toward buying whole milk instead of that powdered stuff you foisted off on us. You were valedictorian of your class, for chrissake, surely you could have done the math.
What was that powdered milk all about, anyway? Who thought that was a good idea? How come I never saw dad drinking powdered beer?
And where did you get the haggis? A few years ago, after moving to England, I tried haggis and discovered two surprising things: a) I liked it, and b) I had eaten it before. You fed me haggis! I realize dad's family was from England, but we were in America; did the relatives back in Lancashire keep them supplied with Scottish novelty foods? Was that how you were able to serve it to me? And, if this is the case, why wasn't I taken into foster care? Were there no child protection agencies operating at the time?
All that being said, you made Christmas cookies like no one else, and on Easter, you made that wonderful Easter Egg Cake.
It was filled with a concoction of shredded coconut, sugar, corn syrup and powdered raspberry Jell-o, covered in a thick layer of dark chocolate and decorated with green icing. It was shockingly sweet and bad for you in about ten different ways; everything an Easter treat should be. Over the years I have tried to recreate this legendary confection but each effort has fallen flat.
Still, after all these years, when the season of Lent draws to an end, my memory is tugged back to a time when I would watch you shape the crimson, coconut egg and lovingly slather it with melted chocolate. What I wouldn't give for just one more taste of that egg, or the chance to watch as you carefully crafted it while I stood by, anticipating the first tart taste.
If I had the chance to talk to you again, for just five minutes, that's all I would want to know: how on earth did you make that heavenly cake?
That, and where did you get the haggis?
This post was written by Mike Harling, an American author living in the south of England. His debut novel Postcards from Across the Pond, is a hilarious account of life as an expat. You can keep up with Mike at his blog, Postcards from Across the Pond, Dispatches from an Accidental Expat.
Photo credit: Kelly Hafferman