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A More Certain Woman

(by Jamee Damron-Larsen)

I was so lucky to grow up in a beautiful country home in Maryland, one mile from the Pennsylvania border, which had an amazing history. It had been a hospital during the Civil War, treating both wounded Union soldiers and wounded slaves trying to find their way to freedom. Our big kitchen included a fireplace with an arm hook mounted inside that could be pulled over the open flame for cooking. My mother would heat up soup in the fireplace any time we lost power, which was frequent during storms. It was like being in a movie.

My mother, Susanna, had a sunny disposition and a zany personality. She would spring into the room, hair full of rollers, with toilet paper wrapped around her head to hold them in place, singing Neil Diamond. But cooking was not her strong suit. She thought cream of mushroom soup was a gourmet sauce. Luckily for her, I didn’t know any better. She was the best cook I had ever met because she was the only cook I had met. The result wasn’t always a win, but the daily ritual was gold.

Dinner was at 6 p.m. every night. I would drag my Strawberry Shortcake stool across the room so I could see over the counter and watch her cook. One day I watched her “tenderize” a piece of meat. She was bludgeoning this poor cow with hammer strokes that looked more like a slasher film. Once it was flattened and fried, it would have had a better life as a belt than a meal. As entertaining as her culinary challenges were, it was the connection and the bond we were creating that would prove invaluable. We were building our relationship one dinner at a time.

My interest in her cooking must have poked at her motherly instinct, and when I was six years old, Santa brought me a kids’ cookbook. I was so excited, thinking: Mommy has just as good talks with Santa as she does with me!

She told me to pick a recipe for us to make together, and I knew it when I saw it—the best recipe of all time to make with my best friend of all time: chocolate chip cookies.

I was so excited that I wanted to start right away. My mother went into the pantry and came out with all the ingredients we needed. To a six-year-old, this was superhero power. Ingredients for this recipe were mixed all by hand. I got to lick the spoons and the bowl, which is a great part of being a kid. I was also the “be a sweetie and go get me” kid. Whatever she needed out of reach, I had to fetch. And two hours later, wearing most of the ingredients, my mother and I sat at the table and ate warm chocolate chip cookies together.

Eventually, my favorite stool made its way to the attic with the rest of my childhood memories. I didn’t need to be at the kitchen counte