(by Linda E. Simon)
I was a latchkey kid before the term was in vogue.
A first-generation American, my mother, Goldie, skipped two grades in public school and went directly to work as a bookkeeper the day after she graduated from John Adams High School. When I was born, she wasted no time opening a savings account designated “Linda's college fund.” After she became a single parent, she was a full-time (and meticulous) employee at Sam Palevsky Hardware, where her makeshift office was a tiny, poorly lit alcove overlooking the store's main floor. Long before the “bring your daughter to work” movement, she took me along on Saturday mornings, leaving me with a lifetime love of hardware stores.
My mother had lots of rules, although I didn’t always want to acknowledge them. One was that I was forbidden to light the stove when she was not home. While I waited for her to get home, I was supposed to peel potatoes, quarter them (with the dullest knife from the silverware drawer), drop them into cold water in a shiny copper-bottomed Paul Revere pot, and place them on the stove. When Goldie unlocked the back door, I shouted, “Hi, Ma,” and the potatoes were set to cook, served with beef liver or fish, which she dubbed “brain food.” I detested their smell and taste.
One evening, Mom served what appeared to be hamburgers. “This is a liverburger!” I realized, spitting the forkful into my napkin. Ketchup or mustard might have masked the taste, but we never used either condiment. The one way her “brain food” did taste delicious was as finely chopped chicken livers, spread on Ritz crackers. I still treasure the wooden bowl she used for the chopping.
Peanut butter, pork chops, and anything chocolate were forbidden. While my classmates devoured ham, bologna, or PB&J sandwiches on Wonder bread, I faced yet another yellow cheddar cheese or deviled egg on rye. The big break came when our cafeteria ladies served pizza, catering to the majority of my classmates who were forbidden to eat meat on Fridays. But Mom did indulge my craving for pistachios, letting me eat them until my fingertips were as red as her perfectly applied scarlet nail polish and lipstick.
“I want to teach you” was Goldie's self-proclaimed mission as a mother, especially about the things she loved and valued, whether classical music, perfect spelling (she was a champion), bowling (she won trophies in the weekly women's bowling league), the proper folding of bed sheets and bath towels, and washing whites and colors separately. Good manners were a priority. When on a local bus, my mother insisted that I give my seat to the elderly person hovering over us, and at home, I sang along with the 78-rpm record "Manners Can Be Fun."
There are so many of her habits—momisms—that became ingrained in me. “When you help someone, don't talk about it, and don't expect anything in return,” she instructed, and to this day I cringe when friends brag about favors they've done. Along with her custom-made hats from the Hat Box store, she always carried a freshly ironed cotton handkerchief in her purse, as do I.
She invested in good wardrobes for both of us, and when I outgrew my clothes, Goldie mailed them to Boston, where her beloved older brother lived with his family. “That's my dress,” I said in tears when I saw my petite cousin Marilyn wearing my favorite red dress with the white pilgrim collar.
“It's identical to the dress you had, but it isn't your dress,” Mom answered. The dress had been mine, but no longer was. Another momism: Do not be envious.
One thing my mother never taught me was how to cook. When questioned about it, she said, “That's what restaurants are for.” A perfect Momism.
Linda E. Simon has worked as a public relations specialist and copy editor. She volunteers as a hospital clown doctor and a museum docent/educator, and is now pursuing an acting career.
(adapted from The Complete American-Jewish Cookbook)
4 chicken gizzards
8 chicken livers
1 medium onion, minced
3 T. chicken fat
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped fine
salt and pepper
1 t. parsley, minced
Bring a small pot of water to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gizzards until tender. Set aside.
Broil livers under moderate heat 3 - 5 minutes. Set aside.
In a medium frying pan, heat chicken fat and sauté onions until lightly browned.
Add livers and gizzards, and sauté until browned.
Chop mixture finely, add salt, pepper, parsley, and additional chicken fat to make a smooth mixture.
Press through sieve.
Chill before serving with crackers.