(by Starr Ridley/Black Mermaid)
I relocated 658 miles away from my mom and family in Michigan more than 20 years ago. While fulfilling many goals and aspirations, including rearing two boys all by my lonesome and obtaining my master’s degree, I have become accustomed to living so far away from my mom. Over the years, I’ve taught her how to use the Internet, the cell phone, the television remote, you name it. She’s never been a confident woman when it comes to her capabilities, but “they” always say that there is a special bond between a mother and her baby child, and I’m the baby in a family of seven children. Mom and I actually graduated from Benton Harbor High School together in 1985; she had gone back to obtain her GED. And I always seem to be the one to exercise the most patience with her.
My father passed away in 2015, and my mother has never quite been the same. She lost her license and cannot drive, and her walking abilities have diminished a great deal. It’s as if she’s waiting for the Grim Reaper to knock on her door. I have scolded her countless times about this demeanor. She does well when I’m in town visiting, but once I return home, she reverts right back to her ornery, stubborn, life-surrendering behavior.
Just prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, I visited home to spend a bit of time with her. I taught her to use the Firestick, and I cooked. Mom was never a big eater, but that certainly had changed. I think she questioned my culinary capabilities in the past since I was more of a brainiac child, but now I’m convinced she has come to believe wholeheartedly in my cooking creativity. I tend to believe most of my cooking skills were inherited from my father’s mother. She made cooking into an art. My mom always raved about her cooking. When she passed away, I only asked for one of her pots, hoping her sage would somehow pass on to me. It worked.
For Mom, I made cabbage and neck bones, chili, greens and ham hocks, fried chicken, cornbread, and fried apple pies. Of course, not all at once, but each day she had an unforgettable meal, and she ate like a champ. It made me feel good to watch her enjoy the meals I prepared. I think the love I put into it made it more delectable than ever before.
With the onset of this pandemic, she is strictly prohibited from going out as she is an especially vulnerable 86-year-old senior. The complaining has evolved to a simple catatonic look of defeat. I have now become uncomfortable with being “accustomed” to living so far away. Fortunately, my aunt (my mother’s baby sister) has moved in with my mom, and since this transition took place just before my last visit, I was able to teach my aunt how to video chat. And my aunt is a great cook. In a recent video call, my mom complained about “being stuck in the house” as usual. This time, I was able to show her that I look “terrible” as well, and I too am stuck in the house. I was able to make her laugh, and I think she felt some level of relief just knowing that we are all stuck in the house, and we totally understand how she feels.
Restrictions tend to make us appreciate the freedom we once had and took for granted. I miss my mother, and I want to protect her, but I can’t. All I can do is pray for her continued safety, and wave at her via modern technology. And…I thank God for that.
4 Italian sausage links (sweet, mild, or hot)
1 lb. 90% lean ground beef
2 T. seasoned salt
1.24 oz. chili seasoning mix
2 T. fresh or 2 t. dried basil
2 T. fresh or 2 t. dried cilantro
1 T. cooking oil
2 medium bell peppers, seeded and cut into pieces
optional: 1 small jalapeno pepper, minced
6 medium sweet peppers (2 yellow, 2 orange, 2 red)
1 large onion (yellow or white), chopped
4 scallions, green part only
2 cans (15 oz. each) Hormel Chili with Beans
2 cans (15 oz. each) tomato sauce
12 oz. tomato paste
15 oz. can stewed tomatoes
optional: 1 t. sugar
1/2 - 1 lb. shredded cheese (mixture of mozzarella, Monterey jack, and Parmesan)
Cut sausage into small chunks and place in bowl.
Add ground beef, seasoned salt, chili seasoning, basil, and cilantro, mixing well.
In a deep frying pan over low heat, cook meat mixture, stirring, until cooked through.
Heat cooking oil over medium heat and stir-fry peppers, jalapeno, onion, and scallions,
about 10 – 15 minutes, adding some basil and cilantro.
In a big pot, add chili, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and stewed tomatoes.
Cook over low heat, adding a little water to thin if desired.
Spoon meat and vegetables into the pot, and cook 5 more minutes.
Taste and add sugar if desired.
Serve in a bowl with shredded cheese, chives, and sour cream.