The Recipe Box

 

This past December, while in Virginia to see my mother, Evelyn, on her birthday, I reached into a kitchen cupboard for an electric mixer and was greeted by a familiar sight.  It was a recipe box; a wedding gift received just before her marriage in the 1950’s to my father, Al, lovingly prepared by its benefactor with a dozen or so carefully typed favorites, such as White Mice Cookies and Apple Dapple Pudding.

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My mom, Evelyn, a blue ribbon cook, even in high school.

The recipe box was a treasured friend, although by then it had been at least four years since my mother had fingered its smudged index cards and haphazardly folded clippings, and many months since she had been placed under full care for Alzheimer’s disease at a skilled nursing facility.

In the 1960s, when I was quite young to be in a kitchen on my own, my mother taught me to cook.  It was country fare without frills, just simple food to nourish the blended family of eight that was formed after my father died and my mother married a farmer with three children of his own.

The recipe box, always kept close at hand, was rarely required for family meals.  Instead, it was the source of sweet desserts, baked goods, and preserves, while the box’s empty dividers for meats, vegetables, salads, and other unremarkable foods were shoved towards the back.

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Mom’s recipe box, filled with index cards and clippings.

With Christmas just days ahead, I couldn’t resist the impulse to open the box and skim its contents, nor the urge to ask my stepfather, Sherman, if I could have it for my own.  Suddenly, I couldn’t imagine anything more important, more a symbol of my mother’s influence, than the battered box in my hands.

When I think of my mother, I can’t help but remember she was the first leader in my life.  My earliest memory is of a hot day at my grandparent’s farm, playing in the dirt at my mother’s feet while she looped tobacco with a handful of other women.  I went everywhere she went and was totally dependent on her for comfort and care, especially the nourishment of my body and soul.

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Mom and me, early days.

Now, as an adult, I can’t recall a single day of my childhood when I didn’t think I was the cat’s meow.  She guided me and encouraged me, building my confidence and independence, even when raising three daughters as a single mom at the age of 31, when no day passed without grief and trouble.

My mother would never have considered herself a leader, but I think she would have recognized and applauded the strength of the family that cared for her in her final days and then reminisced with relatives and friends at her visitation and funeral service in the early days of May.  And she would have been proud; in all the ways a mother should be able to be proud.

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More recent years, mom and me with my son and granddaughter.

Alzheimer’s, as everyone knows, is a terrible disease.  There is the heartache of seeing someone you love fail mentally and then physically, and there is sorrow because there is no hope for a better tomorrow.  For me, there was also an unhappy sense of abandonment, since most of those beyond immediate family are uncomfortable with the sufferer’s mental aberrations and feel unable to help.

Sadly, modern medicine is not always our friend.  Even with medical directives in place, my mother lived a life she would not have wanted in her last years. But I don’t hesitate for a moment to say that there are wonderful, self-sacrificing professionals, especially nurses, who meet and master challenges every day for the sake of others.

I want to tell you, too, that you should never doubt that you can provide comfort to someone, even when they don’t remember you, with touch and voice.  Holding my mother’s hand, rubbing her arthritic neck, and singing “Jesus Loves Me,” first with her, and later for her, always helped us both.

When I arrived home to South Carolina with the recipe box, just days before a New Year’s feast of country ham and collards—fixed mom’s way, of course—I was eager to examine each recipe card, especially those in her handwriting.  What else I discovered, however, was totally unexpected.

Behind those empty card dividers at the back of the box was a crumpled and torn receipt.  It was dated a few days after my birth and noted a payment of seven dollars for her hospitalization.

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Crumpled and torn, but a treasure beyond words.

The faded bits of paper didn’t prove anything I didn’t already know.  I was always certain of my mother’s love.  I knew, too, the day of my birth, and those of my two sisters, where among the happiest of her life.

I didn’t know, however, that my mother would whisper endearments even when she couldn’t speak, or that she would comfort me when she couldn’t lift a hand.  And I didn’t know she would continue to nourish me, body and soul, even when no day passed without grief and trouble.

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With great love and grateful thanks for Evelyn, December 1936 – May 2016

62 thoughts on “The Recipe Box

  1. Martha Strain

    Marian, I just read this–don’t know how I missed it earlier. It is such a lovely tribute to your mother, and you are proof of her love and nurture.

    Reply
  2. Sharon Lanier

    Marian, I wept the first time I tried to read this sweet, moving tribute to your mom. Had to stop and go back later to finish it. Just read it for the 4th time and tears are streaming down my cheeks. You are remarkable!! Such strength, which she exhibited and gave to you! What love and encouragement, you have shared. It is astounding from the responses to see how many families, just like ours, that have struggled through the challenges that this disease brings to our loved ones and families. A wonderful blessing for you to have the recipe box and its treasures!
    Keeping you in my heart!
    Sharon

    Reply
  3. Carol Goodwin

    This is the best tribute to a mother ever. You brought back memories of my time with my mother who died in 1999 also of Alzheimer’s. And you are right-although the person seems unaware of everything and no longer speaks, my mom always leaned in to me when I would hold her hand or stroke her hair. She may not have remembered me but she knew (I believe) I was someone who loved her.

    Toni G. Hubbell

    Reply
  4. Tina

    A beautiful story and tribute. You are fortunate to have her as your mother–and she was equally fortunate that you are her daughter. Wishing you strength and peace.

    Reply
  5. Shirley Gomes

    Your loving tribute to your Mom was precious. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. May beautiful memories sustain you in the most difficult moments. My most sincere sympathy, Shirley

    Reply
  6. grammapenny

    My Mom went through the same thing, Marion. I also have her treasured recipes in a box in her handwriting… the recipe card format is the same as the one in the box in your photo. My Mom passed almost three years ago. I love having the recipes. My condolences to you at this time.

    Reply

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