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(by Aimee Lee Ball)

When I was about 12 years old, I fell in love with Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist,” and saved up my allowance money to buy a poster of the painting from the Art Institute of Chicago, home to the original.

To say that my interest in this painting caused my mother concern would be a huge understatement. Many people (including Mom) would consider the image depressing: The musician depicted is hunched over, haggard, wearing threadbare clothing, and in fact, what came to be known as Picasso’s “Blue Period” was influenced by the suicide of one of his dear friends.

But I wasn’t depressed. I just liked the colors. And I’ve always had a soft spot for old people. I had only one grandparent, a kind but not very talkative immigrant grandfather, and I missed that connection to previous generations—connections that are often part of the stories for Eat, Darling, Eat.

I’ve been thinking about the painting, and about my mother’s concern for me, and about the circle of life that means, if we’re lucky, that concern gets transferred from grown daughter to aging mother. My mother was mentally sharp as a tack her entire life (she did her own taxes four months before she died), but she lost so much mobility because of spinal stenosis that I, an only child living 100 miles away, was in a fairly constant state of anxiety about her.

One of the things that (somewhat) eased the anxiety was cooking for her. Of course, a pot of my vegetable soup in her refrigerator was not going to make her agile again, but it let me feel that I was doing something. Doing something, even when the rational me knows it’s not terribly useful or important, is an immutable part of my nature—and a trait I inherited from Mom. (When those planes hit the Twin Towers on 9/11, I walked down to the hospital where doctors and nurses were waiting to triage the injured, certain that my teenage years as a candy striper would make me invaluable. When feeling powerless, I have to do something.)

So, my mom. The “something” to defend her against the ravages of time often took the form of food. In the winter, I’d roast a turkey and make soup from the carcass. In summer months, I’d cut kernels off ears of fresh corn from the farmers market and make corn pudding. I boiled raspberries and sugar so she’d have homemade jam for her toast, and kept a constant supply of brownies in her freezer.

In the end, of course, even Julia Child couldn’t save her. She fell, and got pneumonia, and I think decided she’d had enough pain. I told her that was okay as I lay beside her in the hospital bed, but it wasn’t okay, and it never will be.