Presently, Mother and I are not on speaking terms. After receiving her letter in the mail, I refused to open it. I simply wrote "Return to sender" on the envelope, mailing it back to her. Never to be outdone, Mother personally hand-delivered the same letter to my mailbox. Twice.
Though it’s complicated, it's all too familiar, this pattern. And it has been for quite some time. My aunt, Mother’s sister, once jokingly remarked, “Your mother is like a tornado. After she causes a raucous, she disappears.”
But Mother eventually returns like springtime with a captivating facade of sunshine, and it all seems peachy for a period, until the storm appears again. Dad and I were kindred souls, and we still are, in spite of him being on the other side of the veil. He was more tolerant of Mother’s ways. “She can’t help herself,” he would say, in her defense.
Good food is a way of life for me and for the women in my family. Mother has been a lover of a variety of foods since I could remember, given her South Carolina roots. I’ve tasted many unusual things under her suggestion: chitlins, pig’s feet, marinated artichokes, and liverwurst.
Mother has two elder sisters, who were gourmet cooks in their prime, and Mother is a decent cook as well. During a recent family gathering, she surprised me with a homemade dish. It had been years since I had tasted her cooking. Her occasional brunch meals were cornbread and buttered grits with sautéed chicken gizzards, smothered in gravy and onions.
One of her dishes that I like immensely is zucchini-tomato casserole with cheese, garlic, and onions. The Tornado loves onions. She taught me early on how they bring out the flavor in certain dishes. Onions and their many layers appear unassuming until cut, reducing the cutter to tears. Along this journey, we’ve made each other cry.
Lately, I’ve been purging the house that my father left me after his passing. The home contains many vivid memories; soon I will be leaving it all behind. I’ve encountered many letters, cards, and notes that Mother wrote to me. One thing is certain: She loves to write me through sunshine and storms. “Don’t forget about me,” she urges.
Mother has shared a great deal with me, including her love for literature, music, and travel. Her adventures around the world are legendary. The photograph I found of her before I was born, contently sitting on a camel in a Moroccan desert at high noon, resides in my mind.
I’ve been focused on adventures of my own, peeling back layer after layer, evolving and discovering me, even when it stings, even if I cry a little because I’ve got my own flavor. My odyssey unfurls.
Autumn Simmons, aka A.R. Bey, is the author of Adventures In Boogieland and the Young Adult series The Netherworld of Kemet. She is the producer, writer, and star of the award-winning web series The Quirk Chronicles, and the producer and host of the podcast Talk Fuzion (Don’t Call It Radio). She lives in Philadelphia.
(adapted from Genius Kitchen and All Recipes)
1/4 c. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 medium zucchini, sliced thinly
1 c. shredded mozzarella, plus additional 1 - 2 T.
2 large tomatoes, sliced thinly
1/2 t. sea salt (optional)
1/4 t. black pepper
1/2 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. dried basil
1 garlic clove, minced finely
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, and sauté onion until golden brown.
Place half of the sliced zucchini in an oiled 8-inch square pan.
Top with the shredded mozzarella and onion.
Add half of the tomato slices to the pan.
Add the remaining zucchini and tomatoes.
Sprinkle with optional sea salt, pepper, oregano, basil, and garlic.
Top with remaining 1 - 2 T. cheese.
Cover loosely with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove foil and continue baking for 30 minutes until casserole has a golden crust.
Allow to cool for 15 minutes.