The counters are wiped down and the main course is in the oven. There is a break in the action and I wonder what it is that drives me to cook with such ferocity and passion. Other than sex there are few more intimate things you can do for another person beyond cooking and eating with them. Something you prepared is going to be consumed by them – the level of trust to allow that to happen is, if you think about it, extraordinary.
Maybe that is one reason I feel so drawn to cooking for those I care about. I doubt I could be a professional chef, because although I care about the craft I care more about the action itself and its purpose: that of showing my love and affection for others.
Telling people how much I care about them isn’t something I do as often as I should. Over time I have learned the importance of such words and have trained myself to be better about it in my most intimate of relationships, but it is still a struggle for me beyond that realm. My natural tendency is to show people I care through my actions, by going out with them and buying them drinks, spending time talking to them , visiting them when I am in town, and of course, cooking for them.
I look over at the clock on the oven: a little more than two hours until my father and his fiancee arrive. They have been in town for the last week and although we have dined with them twice during that time this is the first time I have cooked for them.
I don’t think of my mother all that often. We had a difficult relationship from high school onward. On her side she had a heart attack just before I went to high school after which she intentionally pushed me away emotionally, worried she might die at any moment and I would be crushed. On my side I was a normal teenager who ended up moving away for college and getting a girlfriend who would eventually become my first wife. Her family lived near where we went to school so we spent more time with them than we did with my parents. The distance in time and space never sat well with my mother. Once I moved away for college, holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve became much more important to her. She would be livid if we decided to participate in the holidays with my in-laws instead of with her.
Eventually I separated from my first wife but around the same time my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died less than a year later. The effort she had started in high school had been a success: I was much less distraught when it happened than I might have been. Of course, it also means I never really got to know her as an adult, other than as an adversary of sorts who I think eventually come to regret her choice to push me away, so much so that she raged at my desire to stay away.
Before middle school, when she went back to work, I remember my mother always having cooked dinner for my father and I. It was simple fare but it filled us and fueled my growth. I assume my mother learned to cook from her mother who had grown up in the Great Depression. As such, much of what was served at home was inexpensive types of fish (like Orange Roughy) and meat (fried chicken gizzards and hearts).
My mother never taught me to cook, I taught myself and learned a bit from my first wife’s step-father. I cook from recipes for the most part, only really cooking the most basic things intuitively, like omelets and meatballs.
As I grow older I think more and more about how I became the person I am. I wonder how much I learned to express my love for others through cooking from my mother. Was that the way she expressed her love? Was that the reason why when all other avenues of communication had broken down she so desperately wanted me to come to the holidays when she would cook? Was she trying to tell me she loved me in the last and most elemental way she knew how: through cooking?
Obviously I’ll never know the answer to that question, but I know how much it hurts in my own life when I plan to cook for my wife and something comes up that prevents that. This way I have of telling the person I love that I love her is thrown off by forces outside my control.
Maybe I really am my mother’s son.