Hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since my Mom passed away.  Only 75.  She should still be around driving us crazy.  It would only be fair, considering we drove her crazy for so many years!

I don’t know how she did it – six kids and married to a fireman who was gone for 24-hour shifts.  Actually, not true – I know exactly how she did it.

Mom Ruled The House.  Period.

She was loving, she was giving, she was fun and she was funny – and she was tough.  She laid down the rules and she followed through.  Every time.

As kids growing up we really didn’t have a lot of rules but the ones we had were enforced.  One of – if not the – Cardinal Rule was Thou Shalt Not Embarrass Me In Public.  See those kids throwing temper tantrums in the grocery store or restaurant?  Had I – or any of my siblings – pulled such a stunt, I would not be here typing this, today.  Before we got out of the car, we were told what the expected behavior was.  Or else.  Until the day she died, she still had “The Look” that let us know we had crossed the line – again.

That is not to say we were angelic children – far from it, in fact.  But we knew what the limits were and when we had pushed them too far.  And there were always consequences.  Always.

Last week I started thinking about the upcoming date and decided I could either mope around and be depressed, or I could have a bit of fun and cook a “Mom Dinner” tonight.  Something quintessentially Mom.  I was emailing with the siblings and some of the comments were priceless. A favorite dessert memory was Mom deciding to bake a cake at 7pm and at 8pm all of us eating warm cake with the icing running down all over because she – and we – were too impatient to wait for it to cool.

The same thing would happen when she made fudge.  More than one time we would be eating fudge with spoons, giggling and loving every minute of it.  There were those big, thick homemade noodles in a brown gravy.  Her soups, her stews, her steak pie.  Her Chinese Casserole.  Her olive hors d’oeuvres…

We all have similar but also very different memories of our mother.  The interesting thing is that she actually raised us all a bit differently.  The rules were the rules across the board, but she helped us differently, encouraged us differently, according to our strengths and  needs.  She knew us, paid attention, and took her role very seriously.  She made her share of mistakes, but none of them sent us to therapy.  She was good.

She loved the Space Program and I’m sure would have been the first woman in space had women been allowed to be in space.  I remember many times my mom waking my older brother – and sometimes me if I would actually get out of bed – to see the Blast Offs from Cape Canaveral at 4am Pacific Time.

Or getting up after everyone else had gone to bed – and watch a late-night movie with her.  Just the two of us.  She was a movie buff and knew every actor, character actor, director…  I cannot tell you how many times I would call her up and ask “who was the actor who played in that movie with…” And she always knew.

She actually always knew a lot of things.  Typical of her generation, she didn’t go to college and went to work right after high school.  WWII was still in full swing and she went to work for the Southern Pacific Railroad in San Francisco.  She met my father there in 1948 and had to quit when they got married.  It was a good thing – my brother was born nine months and three weeks after they were married.

But she never stopped learning.  She was a voracious reader and was a pro at crossword puzzles, and every word game imaginable.  And she was a tough opponent.  She made us work for our points.  Not that we won very often.  She would quiz me about things – from spelling to multiplication tables to current events, asking questions.  She was easy to talk to.  She took a Creative Writing course in the mid-’60s just to be able to express herself better – as if she needed help, there!  She could write – and she could make smoke rise from the paper if she wasn’t happy about something.

She watched her soap operas every day.  The ones on CBS.  Secret Storm, Search For Tomorrow, Edge of Night, As The World Turns… I was in Jr High School – 9th grade – and decided I was sick and stayed home from school.  All of a sudden I hear this screaming and “NO!  DON’T DO IT!” coming from the living room.  I tear up the stairs, thinking my mother is being murdered, and she’s standing in front of the television, with tears streaming down her face, because someone had just killed their husband, or some such garbage.  I think I said a couple of words that at a younger age would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap as I stomped back down the stairs.  And yes.  She really did wash my mouth out with soap.  More than once, and one time with a teaspoon of Tide – the little granules getting caught between my teeth.  I don’t remember what word I used, but I made sure it was never uttered in her vicinity, again.

Did I mention she was tough?!?  But she was also a softy.  A woman of many contradictions.  Always interesting.

And she was a great cook.

She was an adventurous cook and loved trying new things.  Therefore, we were adventurous eaters and tried new things whether we really wanted to, or not.  Mom cooked one dinner and we ate as a family every single night.  I don’t remember battles at the table about eating this or disliking that.  If you didn’t eat you didn’t get dessert.  End of discussion.  If you didn’t like mushrooms, you could pick them out – but Mom liked mushrooms and she would put them in.  She let it be known from Day-One that she was not a short order cook.  You ate or you didn’t but there was no getting something later.  I always ate.  I was an adventurous eater.  Still am.

So, tonight, with so many ideas, so many recipes, so many memories, I decided on Steak Pie.  I have her cook books – they’re right here on the website – and thought it was the most fitting. And it had to be in a 9×13 pan.

It really came out good.  But, not quite as good as Moms.

The one recipe I should have made was her Veal Scallopini.  It was my Birthday Dinner and it was, by far, one of my favorite dishes.  She actually made it with pounded round steak.  Veal was not something a family of eight ate on a fireman’s salary.

After growing up, moving out of the house, and all that, I asked her for the recipe so I could make it, myself.  She was happy to oblige.  Too happy. I made the dish several times and it was never quite as good as hers.  I played around with it a bit and realized she left out one ingredient.  Intentionally.  On purpose.  My own mother! One day I called her on it and she blushed, turned every shade of red imaginable – and denied it.  My own mother!  She stammered and said she had used a seasoning packet at one time but they didn’t make it anymore…  Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  I would remind her about that every now and again.  My own mother.

Yeah.  My Own Mother.

Gone for ten years, now.  Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I could pick up the phone and ask her what was going on.  I would love to discuss politics with her, again.  She was a political liberal who recognized her own prejudices and tried not to pass them on to her kids.  I can see her indignation at  everything going on in Washington, the Middle East – all of it.  I mentioned her letter-writing, earlier.  She would make mincemeat out of this current crop of Teabag Republicans and spineless Democrats.

Both of my parents were great at letting us grow and make our mistakes.  We never heard “If I were you…” or “You should…”  They bit their tongues a lot and a few times I know they wanted to stop one of us from doing something stupid – but they let us make our mistakes and learn from them.  They never hovered – but they were there to help pick up the pieces – without ever saying “I told you so…”

So Mom… Thank you.  For more things than I’ll ever be able to express.  Thank you.

I miss you.