(by Tracy Ann Chapel)
I don't think my mother liked me very much. When I was 16, I realized that she’d never told me she loved me. So I asked her. She said, “I do,” and then got angry with me for feeling like I needed to ask.
When Mom was my age, she was voted Best Dressed and class valedictorian; I was a fat teenager with braces, voted the shyest in my class. My siblings escaped her wrath, but she told me that I was nothing like her, and thought I was a slow learner, insisting that I took after my dad’s side of the family. I never seemed to do anything right for her but wanted her love desperately. She liked to hit me across the shoulders. I would land on the ground, and sometimes my contact lenses fell out of my eyes.
She was intense, a master of information—always won games of “Scrabble" and "Trivial Pursuit,” and remembered everything about everything. She knew where all her money was at all times, down to the last penny, and managed money for my father’s business.
But she cooked to relax. She disappeared into the creation of great food, and would sometimes say, “Let me show you.” Making German apfel strudel together, she’d demonstrate how to pull the dough across a table, add the filling, and roll it up—always to her perfectionist standards. Vegetables chopped for pizza had to be no bigger than an inch square—she would re-chop my “too big pieces" of bell pepper or onion. Fortunately, she most often taught cooking from the living room and only came into the kitchen when she was asked to explain or show a technique. I think I grew up loving to cook because of that freedom.
Although the food was delicious, family dinners were spent on tenterhooks waiting for an explosion since Dad usually had too much to drink by that time. My brother, sister, and I would try to eat, tell Mom how good it was, and get out of there fast. I was the dish washer, doing everything I could to please Dad, “the inspector," after the meal. I was an artist, and my parents were too. My mother was an oil painter and my father a wannabe actor and vocalist. But Mom thought that anything in the arts was something you did as a hobby. For me, it was a lifestyle, a career, something I would do for the rest of my life. I lost weight, gained confidence, and was modeling for a local talent agency. Mom just wanted me to use my looks marry a rich man, and be able to support her in old age.
Although I'd not had any contact with my parents since I left home after high school, I returned to take care of them when my mom broke her hip—I thought it would be an interesting way to re-establish the relationship. And toward the end of my mother’s life, after my dad had passed away, my boyfriend and I would take her out to eat every Sunday, introducing her to things she’d never tried, like espresso and foie gras. Two days before she died, another friend even taught her how to play pool. She did not know how to swim, and the most athletic thing I’d ever seen her do was to play croquet, but she was a natural. (She also loved flirting with the men.)
With the wisdom of hindsight, I have some understanding of my childhood now. My mom left college after two years to marry my dad, having children to please him, and I think she was bitterly disappointed in motherhood. I kept all her recipes and most of her cookbooks. I never forgot how quickly she whipped up zabaione when I asked her what it was, at 10:30 one night. I couldn't even pronounce the word, but she was amazing to watch, saying "Let me show you," and, without a recipe, producing the delicious Italian egg cream dessert for me to taste. Today, I add whipped cream in mine, but that is another story.
Tracy Ann Chapel is a native Californian living in West Hollywood, pursuing her dreams as an actress and screenwriter.
1 egg yolk