52 Ways to Shift Your Focus: Remembering Connections

Shift #48: Remembering Connections

On Sunday evening, I was doing what I love to do: cooking for my family, sipping wine (Sterling Vintner’s Collection Central Coast Pinot Noir), watching it rain outside, and appreciating the beauty of the almost-frozen raindrops that clung to our back yard river birch and white pines. I rummaged around in the cupboard next to my stove for a pot the right size for the large amount of broccoli I wanted to steam (for steamed broccoli with caper brown butter from my Gourmet cookbook). I settled on the six-quart WearEver pot I inherited from my mother because my five-quart pot was already in use boiling potatoes for clapshot (also from my Gourmet cookbook).

The inherited WearEver pot is the one in which my mother always made chili. I loved her chili, loved the sensation of mashing the kidney beans she used in the recipe against the roof of my mouth, loved the way the smell of chili filled our entire kitchen. I makes me sad that I cannot make this recipe for my family now; my daughter is allergic to legumes and my husband has an intolerance for beans.

That chili was one of the few things my mother cooked well. She hated to cook. It was a chore thrust upon her, an activity she did not choose.

But this pot which held such a delectable concoction of ground beef, tomatoes, kidney beans, and spices, was a symbol of her efforts to fulfill what she saw as her duty: feed our family. Cooking was the responsibility she assumed when she married my father in 1935, just before she turned 18.

Married by 18. How different my mother’s life was from mine. I married at 21, and again at 33. My daughter Abby is 18, as is her boyfriend. Sometimes, I think of my mother as I watch Abby and marvel at how she has been with the same boy for over two years. I had been through perhaps six boyfriends at her age, not yet ready to make any decisions, but excited by the possibilities before me.

That WearEver pot is one of my strongest connections to my mother. It is a connection I want to hand down to Abby in the years ahead. She mentioned recently how she no longer remembers her grandmother, who died when Abby was five years old. Thinking of these kinds of connections is one way to shift how I view the world around me. Every day I can find something in my kitchen or elsewhere in my house or my life that connects me to people who are important to me, both past and present. I can call up old stories and remember what it was that made these connections important enough to last.

As a writer, sometimes I feel is is my duty to record these moments of memory that flare when I use my mother’s old chili pot or put on her old Black Hills gold ring or wear perfume almost every day just as she did. It is my duty to write down what I remember of her so my children will have a record. She did not feel the call to create a record or make art from her memories. Her call was to familial duties of cooking, cleaning, raising children. I watched her try to fulfill her creative impulses by designing leather wallets, belts, and purses with the leather-working tools she hauled out every winter. By designing Christmas ornaments. By planting flowers. By taking vacation photos. I’m not sure those creative outlets were ever enough to offset her frustration at the role she thought she had to play.

Those symbols and connections to my mother, in particular, keep alive my awareness that things could be very different. The freedom to create the life I have is something for which I must remember to be grateful. And I must not waste time.

This is it.

My inherited WearEver pot. I have no idea how old it actually is.


8 comments

  1. This was a really beautiful post Kathleen. I really enjoyed it and it brought tears to my eyes because I could relate so well. Connections~ it's all we have. And I agree, I think our roles – as the writers/poets in the family – mean we are tasked with the storytelling for future generations. I haven't done a good enough job yet but I hope… I remain hopeful…

  2. Jody, thank you so much for your comments. I'm touched that you could connect with this post so strongly and I would be deeply honored if you put a link on your blog.
    And, I know you're destined to do a beautiful job as your family's poet. So enough about not having done a “good enough” job – I've read your wonderful poetry!

  3. This resonated very strongly with me as well. My mother was not a natural home-maker. She cooked, and cooked well. Cleaning? Plenty of promises and less licks. She gardened, and in later years she taught herself to make bobbin lace. But it was when she went back to work when I was twelve or thirteen that she came into her own again. Using her brain was so important to her, and she was so much happier when she felt that she was. It was not well regarded in the community 'working mothers equated to latch-key children' but she was happier and consequently so were we. And I was the only child still at home by then anyway.

  4. My mom went back to work for a little while when I was in high school. She got a part time job in the millinery department of an old store in downtown St. Paul. Her dinner conversations changed so much after that, as she talked about the woman who was her boss and the people who came into the store. It made me wonder about how she was when my dad was gone during WWII and she worked as an insurance agent to keep things going until he came back home. Maybe she was my best example of why we shouldn't let other people's “shoulds” determine our course.

  5. Kathleen, this is the loveliest of pieces, a peek into your mother's world and life. A woman's world was so different back then, so different. I often wonder what my mother's life would have been had she continued at her government job instead of marrying and birthing six children.

    I love how you value your mom's kettle, that which connects you to her and the memory of that wonderful chili. I possess similar items which link me to loved ones.


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