“Can I have a sip?” I asked my mother while she cooked in the big farmhouse kitchen with linoleum that looked like burnt sienna and dark gold tile where my brothers and I would play Hot Lava.
“Sure, but I don’t think you are going to like it,” Mom said as I took a tiny sip and learned she was right. She smiled and went back to chopping or stirring or sautéing.
I didn’t really know what was in there, although that particular glass appeared only at big meal cooking time. Not regular family dinners but when Mom prepared the showy ones, like holidays or dinner parties, she would slowly sip from that glass for an hour or two. I never saw her refill it and sometimes when dinner was being cleaned up, some of the drink was still in the glass.
Amber liquid in a short, round glass with a couple ice cubes and a slice of lemon. It looked like root beer without the bubbles.
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How do I remember such a random conversation from my childhood? It wasn’t all that random. Every time the glass appeared, I asked and she allowed. The same for wine with dinner and the rum-laced and nutmeg-dusted eggnog that my father made each Christmas. When I finally realized that this wasn’t a universal parenting method, she said that she didn’t want wine or alcohol to seem like some golden, forbidden fruit that we would sneak.
Mom hated sneaking. And lying. And any cuss words that rhymed with “duck.”
When my parents threw dinner parties or hosted holidays, Dad would shine our wood floors the right way: paste wax and a buffing machine; Mom would cook.
In addition to sipping her cocktail, I easily remember the time and care she put into those meals. She was the kind of hostess who would drag her kids to five different stores to get all the items on her very organized list, crossing each one off as it was acquired. In the days when Mom and Pops were simply “stores” and the only chains we knew about were made of metal, the shop owners knew her name. From the liquor store where she got the perfect wine to the fancy cheese shop where we got to sample anything we wanted — they knew her. “Hello, Jamie, what are you needing today?”
It was a different time, a different place and a far different method than I use when shopping these days. But some of the lessons I learned from Mom and those fancy dinners still stick with me.
“If you can read, you can cook.” Mom also said this about sewing and I was pretty much a failure at that, but with cooking? I agree. “If you can read, you can cook,” I tell my own kids.
“Go ahead and try a new recipe on guests, that way it will be a surprise for you, too.” She taught me that once I had some experience in the kitchen, when I would read a recipe I could almost taste it. I nerded extreme on this one and have feasted by reading some cookbooks cover-to-cover.
“Set the table nicely and even plain dinners will be special.” We made tablescapes before “tablescapes” had a name.
“Mom, can I have a sip?” Luke asks in the small suburban kitchen with wooden floors where the kids have sock skating competitions.
“Sure, but you’re not going to like it,” I tell him as I chop or stir or sauté another holiday dinner.
He learns that I am right.
And so was Mom.
Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, go to thehistorychicks.com.