My mother and I have a bond that I am discovering only now as I approach my 27th birthday. As the middle child and athlete in the family, I immediately formed a close bond with my father. He did the cooking, seeming to find more joy in it than my mother. Both of my parents worked full-time, but my mother’s job seemed top priority. The dinner table was usually disorganized, glum, and rushed—one parent was often absent, and inevitably someone would complain about the food being cold or overcooked. Dinner wasn’t regarded as a family tradition, more as the “right” thing to do.
My father was the one at my soccer games, the one I relied on in tough times and, when my parents divorced, the one I chose to live with after my mother moved to another state. Fourteen years later, I became aware of how much pain that decision caused me, hidden under a facade of anger. I thought my mother had left me behind. If she really loved me, she would have fought for me to live with her. I never knew how she was grieving with the same pain, how much she wanted a lasting, loving relationship with her youngest daughter. After years when we would not speak to one another for weeks or see each other for months, we are finally forming the mother-daughter bond that we both longed for.
And it is through cooking that we naturally work like a team. Mostly I take charge, and she tastes everything. One recent night, she burned the toast three times while the pork I was preparing got cold, and reheating just dried it out. It’s unimportant—I just throw my arms in the air and eat the dry pork. I’m the precise person, whereas her go-to is: “The hell with it; it’ll all taste the same”—especially when "Jeopardy" comes on at 7 p.m. We always watch it together.
I’m only half-joking when I say that any time that she does make an effort at a meal, I wonder if something’s wrong, but it means the world to me. The dish she could label as “hers” is green bean casserole with microwaved potatoes. I was always scared that if I put a potato in the microwave, it would explode, so I guess that’s a dish I learned from Mom. She also taught me how to prioritize my time in the supermarket, a chore we both dread. I am hurry-up-I know-what-I-want-let’s-get-out-of-here. But even though she hates the supermarket chaos, my mother will peruse every single aisle, unable to make a decision. I’ll leave her at the Diet Pepsi while I fetch a few other things, and come back ten minutes later to find her in the exact same spot looking at the exact same soda. I have to be her navigator or she will get lost in frozen foods for three hours.
My mother traveled the world when she was younger and fostered the same adventurous spirit in me (even though she can’t go on a roller coaster or sit on the train facing the opposite direction). Our relationship has taken time and been a bumpy road, but we are closer than ever before. Trying to catch up for lost times, we do almost anything together. I’m so grateful for the happy ending.
Catherine Valentine Parish is an actress and model, active with the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey. You can find her at imdb.me/catvalentine and @ccat_valentine.
2 lb. spareribs
1/4 c. chopped onions
1 t. flavorless oil
1/2 c. water
2 T. vinegar
T. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 c. lemon juice
2 T. brown sugar
1 c. chili sauce
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. paprika
Preheat oven 500 F.
Cut spareribs into pieces for serving.
Place them in a pan and cover with waxed paper.
Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F.
Heat oil in medium-sized frying pan and sauté onions.
Add water, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, brown sugar, chili sauce, salt, and paprika.
Remove wax paper from ribs, and pour sauce over the meat.
Bake for 1 hour longer, basting frequently with the pan liquor.