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The Cruelest Month

(by Aimee Lee Ball)

With apologies to T.S. Eliot, August is the cruelest month for me. There’s the heat and humidity, of course, and this year, where I live in New York City, the weather has been the most oppressive in memory because we’ve all been so careless about protecting Mother Earth. But mostly August is tough for me because it includes both the day my mother was born and the day she died (the latter just two days after my own birthday, although she was a Leo and I’m a Virgo, and the differences between us were almost enough to make me believe in astrology).

So, every August, I enter my time machine and try to transport myself back to when the month meant happier times (or at least amusing-in-hindsight anecdotes)—drive-in movies and birthday parties and diving under the ocean waves so they wouldn’t knock you down (a skill I passed on to my goddaughter) and, of course, fabulous food: lobster rolls on Cape Cod, salt water taffy on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, peaches so juicy they had to be eaten over the sink, and tomato salads from the vines my mom tended on the side of our house (a skill I did not inherit; I’m in charge of plant murder).

We could not grow blueberries in a suburban Philadelphia yard, but one August we visited friends who lived near a farm where you could pick-your-own. We filled a huge bucket and took them to the farmer to be weighed.

“See any snakes up there?” he said as he put our loot on the scale.

Hah-hah—a wise guy trying to get a rise out of women.

“Um, no, there are plenty of snakes up there.” Apparently, although snakes do not have the opposable thumbs necessary for blueberry pancakes, they find the bushes cozy.

My mother’s hair had turned silver-gray in her 20s, way before I came along; otherwise, I think I would have seen it pale right before my eyes (and I’m surprised my own young brunette head wasn’t affected). We made a hasty retreat from the farm. The pancakes, muffins, and sauce we made all week long from those blueberries were extra-special because we knew they would be the last we’d make with fruit we’d picked ourselves.

I know I should make friends with August again. Life is too short to lose a month. So I’ve been trying to recreate the happy summer memories I associate with Mom. I abandon my uniform of black pants and tops to wear her dangly earrings and sparkly necklaces on floaty colorful dresses (and give some away to friends, which would make her smile). I join the crowd on blankets in the park near my home for outdoor movie night (close as I can come to a drive-in), and splash in the Atlantic Ocean, a miraculous subway ride from Manhattan. Instead of my usual whole-grain bread, I eat farm market tomatoes on white-bread sandwiches slathered with mayonnaise, and make a quick blueberry sauce that’s enjoyed from breakfast to dinner. I still await September with the eagerness of a rising first-grader, but I celebrate Mom as August returns some pleasures to me.


Aimee Lee Ball is the co-founder and editor of Eat, Darling, Eat, and a journalist whose work is at

Blueberry Sauce

2 c. blueberries

1/3 c. granulated sugar

1 T. fresh lemon juice

1/8 t. salt

1/4 t. vanilla or almond extract

Place blueberries, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat.

Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook for about 5 minutes, until berries start to break down.

Stir in almond extract.

Cool and refrigerate.

Serve over pancakes, waffles, yogurt, or ice cream.


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