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Archive for May 8th, 2010

  • Day 70/71: A Sugar-Free Mother’s Day

    Date: 2010.05.08 | Category: Uncategorized | Response: 4

    I’m resisting the temptation to write anything except a factual post today about my mother (on the far left, with her sisters) – and my memories stemming from our mutual love of sweet things. We had different tastes; she loved dark chocolate, like a European.  I’m a milk chocolate fan.

    The fact that she died in 2008 looms over writing about her but this is a no-sentiment zone today. I’m dispensing with the sugary stuff in my head as I have in my life.

    Also, a shout-out to Maria Shriver whose lovely eulogy to her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died almost a year after my mother, made my friends realize there was someone else in the world over the age of 2 who still called her mother “Mummy.”  It’s a New England thing.

    My mother, Louise, was no super-mother like Eunice Shriver but she was no slouch. She was a Vassar graduate, a reporter for newspapers and UPI and had her own radio show. But she had kids and eventually chose a more mother-friendly career in teaching.  She didn’t have the temperament for a major-league career and she knew it.  She liked her home, plants, cooking, reading and traveling.

    Also, she was tough and took no prisoners, which makes it hard to build a career, with all its requisite ring-kissing.  One day pretty late in life when she was mad at me about something, she growled like a prizefighter,  ”I’m not going to take this lying down.”

    My mother loved sweets but, unlike me, in moderation. She didn’t have an addictive personality.  She rarely had a glass of wine except when she threw her little dinner parties.

    We also had almost nothing in our medicine cabinet except aspirin. My mother was rarely sick so we never even had that over-the-counter stuff other people have, like Pepto-Bismol, or nighttime “cold relief” medicine.

    My mother’s only addiction was reading, which she did in an armchair in the living room. It was the last thing I got rid of in her house after she died; it had an imprint of her upper body on the left side of the chair.

    My grandmother also loved candy – in moderation.  However, it was clear early on I was not Ms. Moderate – at least with sweets.

    One of my earliest memories is of riding my bike to to buy only-in-New England candies like Necco Wafers, Sky Bars and Boyle’s Mallo Cups.

    My mother figured out early that I liked candy a bit too much.  Ours was not a household where you could put out a dish of Brach’s milk chocolate stars in the living room and hope there’d be any left by nightfall.

    So my mother would buy candy for the family – and hide the bags from me because she knew I’d gobble the contents right up.  I’d hunt for them to no avail.

    It’s a fact is that when your mother dies, that’s the end of eating her desserts.  I’ve made some of them from her recipes but it’s like when I blow out my own hair instead of going to a hairdresser.  It’s never quite as good.

    She made excellent lemon meringue pie with a creamy, not Jello-y, filling that I have never seen made by anyone but her.  I don’t even like regular lemon meringue pie.

    The cake I asked her for most often was a very simple vanilla cake with mocha icing.  We had a cake cookbook with pictures of novelty cakes – a hat cake, an igloo cake etc. – and I chose one every year for her to bake on my birthday.

    She made excellent chocolate chip cookies with toffee bits.  She made a blueberry pie with blueberries she and her friend Charlene picked at a nearby park.

    She also had the simplest fudge recipe in the galaxy – which was made by mixing white sugar, butter, unsweetened baking chocolate, milk and a dollop of vanilla in a saucepan on a stove.  Then she’d pour the mixture into a glass pie dish and it would harden.

    I preferred downing it while it was simmering on the stovetop. In fact I have a scar (fudge war wound) on my hand below my left thumb from where a scalding spoonful dripped down.

    She wasn’t fanatical about sweets but loved dark chocolate peppermint patties and nonpareils (at left.)

    She spent the last months of her life in a nursing home, the result of a bad fall that accelerated the personality-altering dementia I didn’t even realize she had.

    I’d buy her favorite dark chocolate molasses chips down the street from the nursing home in our hometown at Stowaway Sweets, a candy shop which counted Katharine Hepburn among its clients.

    Very strangely, my mother and I had a lot of fun at the nursing home – especially during mealtime. This makes no sense, because it’s supposed to be depressing to see your strong, independent mother rendered relatively helpless and drugged up.

    I think it was because she was so funny.  She never lost her killer sense of humor and never forgot who I was (I specifically asked her not to.)  Nor did she lose her lumberjack-style appetite, at least around me, which always cracked me up because she was so small compared to me.

    We’d joke together in the dining room and I’d marvel at how much food she’d put away – especially dessert. Three weeks before she died she’d always ask me to get her a second cup of the strawberry ice cream at dinner and finish every last trace of it.  I’d peer inside the bare cup after she was done and look at her incredulously.

    I rarely saw other nursing home residents with their relatives but when they were there, they looked grim and ignored me and my mother.  I understood, but it was almost as if we were going against the rules of life by joking and laughing, like if your parent or spouse is in a nursing home you have to be morose.

    As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that when it came to the end, my mother was different from me.  There was something salty she loved even more than candy.

    During my last visit with her, before I had to return to France, we talked about everything. She had a kind of dementia that is increasingly common; she was both very out of it, declining rapidly, and yet sometimes knew exactly what was going on.

    At one point, I told her that it was OK if she wanted to go. She didn’t have to stay on my account or anyone else’s if she didn’t want to. I knew it wasn’t any life for her.  I also knew that while she was very much her own person, she sometimes relied on me for what she called “sensible advice.”

    She was not someone who liked being trapped.  Once we were on a boring, rainy vacation with friends of hers in Canada.  My mother wasn’t having a good time so she cut the trip short by taking me and jumping on a plane to go back home. She didn’t think twice or worry about how it might look.

    So I told her that she could do whatever she wanted – but I let her know there was a helicopter waiting on the roof of the nursing home to take her away when she was ready.

    This is also factual. I could see the helicopter on the roof very clearly in my mind.  I told her the helicopter would be loaded with Cheez-Its, which in fact were her favorite food.  Even more than the sweet stuff.

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This American candy addict/journalist in France writes about quitting candy – and all desserts – for at least one year beginning Feb. 28, 2010. Follow my progress – or relapses – as I delete candy corn, moelleux au chocolat, peppermint patties, Carambars, tarte tatin, After Eights, crème brûlée, Nutella, tapioca pudding, mint chocolate chip ice cream, Haribo Polkas, M & Ms and more from my life. Learn about the evils of white sugar and its effects on mood and health from my interviews with experts and friends! Let the sugar fog lift!

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