I’ve never been a great cook. I can cook basics like spaghetti, mac ‘n cheese, and hamburgers, but nothing special. My mom was a great cook in that old-fashioned, southern comfort, kind of way. She’d cook meals I couldn’t appreciate when I was a child. Dinners like liver and onions, fried chicken, and homemade beef stroganoff…yum! Somehow, the cooking genes skipped a generation with me. But, I have one cooking memory I will treasure forever.
About 3 years ago I visited my mom in Alabama. She was living with a relative that cared for her and needed a break. My mother was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease. My siblings and I realized something wrong about five years earlier. She started behaving strangely and could get lost in the most familiar places. I loved my mother, but I lacked in the area of patience so it was going to be a challenging week for both of us.
Her kitchen was (and is) small and the appliances are old. They were probably top-of-the line in the 80s and likely the original appliances that came with the house. But, it never bothered me growing up because I don’t cook much. Only the microwave gets much use. But, mom wanted to cook. It was like the memory of cooking, which she loved, was reawakened in her for a little while. Together, we cooked the entire week. She’d tell me tips she remembered from her past, but then she’d repeat the same tip five minutes later. I’d pretend they were the greatest tips I had ever heard, each time she told them.
Our roles had been reversed. I was cooking, and she was doing the prep work I had done as a child. I’d pull a stool up to the formica counter, and she’d stir and mix. When done, I’d sprinkle flour on the counter and she’d roll the dough out, dropping flour on the tile floor. Her usually sparkling kitchen was messy, but smelled wonderful with the cooking and baking she and I did together.
At the end of the week I headed home. I asked her if she enjoyed cooking with me. She looked at me puzzled and said, “We’ve never cooked together.” And, I was reminded that her Alzheimer’s was always there. She’d probably never remember the time we spent together.
It took a week to get the kitchen clean before I left. There was flour and sugar all over the dark wood cabinets, and the oven actually had burned on stains inside for once. But, I didn’t mind the clean-up. The memories were worth the extra cleaning.
Mom passed away in October, 2012, from complications from Alzheimer’s. Because of the devastating disease, she no longer remembered me. But, I’m very thankful for the memories of her and I cooking together that week. I’m still not a great cook, but I feel my mother with me every time I burn something…probably laughing! It might not sound like an exciting vacation but it will always be my most meaningful and treasured.