Indeed, we are what we eat but I believe it’s not always about what we eat but how our meals come to be. More specifically, how they were served.
Like so many other children growing up in Oregon I was use to the cold winter storms. Playing out in the rain wasn’t the least bit unusual, in fact it was pretty much the norm. I wish I had a nickel for every time my mother yelled, “Don’t even think about coming in the house without taking off those muddy boots and for crying out loud, get out of those wet clothes and I’ll get a bath run for you.”
As if only moments ago, I can still close my eyes and feel the wonderful warmth as I walked into the house from the back porch laundry room. “Mmmm, what’s that smell? Is that blackberry cobbler?” which was replied to with the usual, “Now get out of my kitchen and don’t make me drag you into that tub. I’ll have some soup and crackers waiting for you after you get out of the bath.”
Life on the ranch was wonderful but what made life so wonderful for me was all those things I had yet learned to truly appreciate, like a loving mother who always kept a warm, clean and meticulously clean home, one that left you wanting for nothing.
“I’m glad you finally came inside. That’s a really bad storm out there. I have been listening to the rain and limbs pelting the windows and roof for several hours now. Now eat your soup and go enjoy some cartoons. Your father will be home soon and after he finishes up the rest of the soup we’ll all have some blackberry cobbler.”
“à la mode?”
“But of course, silly.”
Some of the best memories I recall are the smells of the various meals mom used to prepare. And more specifically, not just the meals but literally right down to each dish. On a ranch we ate “county cookin”; nothing flamboyant, no special sauces or marinades, just good ole meat and potatoes meals with side dishes. I absolutely loved my mother’s cooking. In fact, I’ve never met anyone that didn’t. If I could pick up the phone and call Heaven it would be to place an order with my mom…. “Hello Mom, its Gary. I’d like some fried potatoes, sliced tomatoes, fresh from our garden, some of your canned corn, a few pieces of venison steak, a couple slices of white bread with butter and for dessert, some of your huckleberry pie.”
Growing up, I remember mom’s china cabinet filled with her finest china and heirlooms dishes and silver, all of which she only brought out for special occasions like holidays, anniversaries, weddings, birthdays and so on. Then there were the plates, dishes and utensils used for daily use. Funny but I can even remember mom’s “favorite” knives, be it for paring, carving a roast, a loaf of bread or whatever. It seems as if everything was an old friend in some way. Then there where the matching plates and glasses that changed over the years. I remember all too well, when Melmac plates were all the rage. Then again when Teflon skillets came out many thought we had just moved into the future. But no woman living on a ranch, and worth her salt would be caught dead using anything but a cast-iron skillet. (Let’s bow our heads for a moment of silence.)
It wasn’t until years after my mother and father were gone that I began to remember a specific bowl. At first I couldn’t help but wonder why some inexpensive and plain bowl would even remain a memory. But from time to time I would remember what later became known as “Moms old pink bowl”. It was nothing more than a pink Pyrex bowl, one that was as ordinary as they came. It took me 50 years to realize the only thing special about this bowl were the memories that were served in it. Years after my parents passing, while browsing through hundreds of family photos, many of which included family gatherings, functions and dinners, occasionally something in the back ground would catch my eye. “Hey, there’s mom’s pink bowl again!” I honestly don’t remember a regular meal that mom didn’t use that same bowl and more and more often photos of it would appear proving this fact even more so. On any one evening it might have fried potatoes in it, possibly next time it might have gravy. The next it may have delicious Ambrosia or it might even be used to prepare a cake mix. And Lord knows how many times I used it for a large bowl of soup let alone the countless times mom used it to take Jell-O with bananas on top to potlucks.
After mom passed away my brother and sisters and I gathered at mom and dad’s home to pick and choose who wanted what. It was a time of reflection and a somber gathering. As we sorted through items in the kitchen, I saw mom’s pink bowl mixed in amongst other dishes. I quietly reached over and picked it up and with a lump in my throat said, “If nobody minds, I would really love to have this bowl.” Nothing more needed saying.
There came a time when I realized this wasn’t just an ordinary bowl. It was sentimental, one that created a connection with days gone by and more importantly, my mother. As is the case with many things, any connection with one’s mother is heartfelt. My sister and I laughed each time we sit looking through old photographs when all of a sudden one of us excitedly says, “HEY LOOK!” There’s mom’s pink bowl again! There it is and its filled with mom’s Jell-O and bananas.”
With time came my attachment to what many would consider just a stupid old bowl and indeed that’s exactly what my “previous” wife used to call it. With age comes the sad reality that not everyone cares about what others might consider an heirloom. In fact if you were to look up heirloom in the dictionary you would read: “a valuable object that is owned by a family for many years and passed from one generation to another.” While I will agree the word “valuable” might also need defining in this case only because by no means would “moms pink bowl” not look out of place sitting next to some Waterford crystal or the likes thereof. That said, simply put, I cherished it as quite valuable and would absolutely have loved to someday share memories as I handed it down to my children.
One day as I parked my car and started walking up the walk-way my grandson came running out to greet me. Expecting the usual “Hello Papa! How was your day?” I was surprised instead with, “Whatever you do, DO NOT look in the garbage!” Without even asking why, having seen the puzzled look on my face, my grandson attempted to explain, “Nana said not to tell you because if you saw what was in there you would be very cross.” Naturally the first thing I did was head straight to the trash can. Upon opening the green trash bag liner a lump the size of Manhattan Island sank deep into my chest. A storm of emotion came flooding in. How many times had I begged,
“Please don’t use that bowl to send food home with our kids when they visit.”
“Please be careful not to bang that bowl when placing it on a shelf.”
“What’s the big deal? It’s not a fancy bowl by any means. Nobody but you would really care about that old thing. I don’t know what’s so special about that old bowl. It’s not even very attractive.”
What I did know was at this moment I stood in front of a trashcan weeping profusely with broken pieces of my mother’s pink bowl in my hands. My grandson was correct…. I was indeed cross.
There are many such moments in my past which included memories of that old bowl. Do you remember those gatherings when the adults sat at the dining room table but due to the large number of people card tables were set up for the children? I remember the day mom said, “I laid out a white shirt and tie and slacks for you to wear at dinner so be sure your shoes are polished. You will be seated at the dinner table with the adults this evening.” I felt as if I had arrived. Wow! I’m going to sit at the dining room table with the adults. I couldn’t wait. Part of me was looking forward to the other children seeing me seated at the “grown-ups table” and another part of me began wondering what I could say or do to appear more grown up. After all, now I was seated with adults. Later that evening when we were all finally seated at the dinner table as everyone was admiring mom’s fine china and table setting when someone commented teasingly about the old pink bowl. It was that exact moment that I had waited for to ask what I felt as a grown up question, one that would surely make it clear that I too belonged at the table of mature adults. “So mom. I was wondering…. Why is it that my brother and sisters have dark hair and I am the only child with blonde hair?” Moms reply wasn’t quite what I had in mind as without hesitation she smiled and looked at my two sisters and said, “Remember that milkman from years ago? Wasn’t he the cutest guy you ever saw?” With a loving squeeze and smile, without skipping a beat and over the laughter she said, “Pass the pink bowl please.”
Some years later, while walking amongst the many antique shops in Old Town Sonora California located in the Californian gold country with a friend, I was sharing the stories of mom’s old pink bowl and how heartbreaking it was the day I found it in the trash. As we walked into a shop while I was literally saying, “And to this day I have never seen another one like It.” all of a sudden I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t believe my eyes as right there in front of me on a display shelf with other various types of bowls was the exact type of Pyrex bowl I was telling the story about and if that wasn’t amazing enough… It was pink! Without even walking across the room I excitedly asked the clerk, “How much for that old Pyrex bowl?” Her reply was, “Sir, That’s not just an old bowl. That’s a “unique” Vintage Pyrex bowl” and I’m afraid I can’t sell it for less than $14.00.” I was so excited I pulled a $20 bill from my pocket, handed it to her and said, “I’ll give you $20.00 and not a cent more.” I knew it would never replace mom’s bowl but it eventually filled the void and became the next best thing. I knew that mom was smiling down upon me knowing exactly how much of a treasure I had found.
Not long ago the new love of my life asked, “What would you like for your birthday dinner? I will prepare you anything your heart desires.” Now that was an offer that required some serious consideration not just because she had asked but because of the fact she is an extremely talented chef. In fact, in my honest opinion, she could cook for heads of state. That said, you can only imagine her surprise when I told her that for my birthday dinner I would love chicken and dumplings. Eager to please, as a result, my birthday dinner was the perfect blend of companionship, food and memories.
After dinner as I reflected while looking deep into that old pink bowl, which just moments ago had been filled with those perfect chicken dumplings, exactly like the ones mom used to make, somehow I realized that even when this particular bowl was empty, that it would always remain filled with the ultimate ingredient… A mother’s love
Gary Faules is a former Oregonian who still holds records as a former Olympic skeet shooter, racecar driver and team owner and competed in the world famous 2007 La Carrera Panamericana. He has traveled the world as both a big-game hunter and angler and has been a freelance writer for both racing and automotive as well as sport shooting publications not to mention his latest book I Slept In Africa made The Forbes Book List. Seeking adventure is only second nature as he continues his dream of living life to the max since almost being left blind as a child due to a freak accident. Gary has been the recipient of numerous awards, several being congressional recognition awards for helping others. A once retired CEO of his own corporation, Gary continues to work and lives near San Francisco, California, where he spends much of his time enjoying the love of his life and waiting for the next adventure so that he can continue the journey.