The older I have become, the more I began unconsciously drawing parallels to my mom at the same age. The scariest part was comparing the state of my health to hers, which began becoming problematic by her sixth decade. Fortunately, I seem to have inherited my father’s family’s genes in that regard. Others flashbacks to mom occur when offering motherly direction to my grown daughter, perpetually second-guessing myself. But the most recent revelation happened after using one of my mom’s recipes for a batch of Greek cookies a family member requested at Christmas time.
The amount of butter, flour and sugar (moms also believed heartily in Crisco the last time she made these) for this recipe seemed to differ with every cookie recipe I encountered. “Ah,” I told myself. “But Mom’s koulourakia were the most beautiful cookies ever.” So I defaulted to the recipe she had tapped out on her electric typewriter on the family business stationery at least 30 years before.
As I added sugar to the huge bowl, creaming the butter mixture that would eventually receive buckets of flour to make it into roll-worthy dough, I smiled inwardly. Mom was always trying to improve on her culinary results with every holiday that came along. Earlier that day, I had boasted on Facebook about making these traditional cookies using a stock photo to show my friends and family how the final product was supposed to turn out. So the pressure was on. The prize, while admittedly delicious, was trays of relatively flat cookies – you could call them the relaxed, yoga edition of a centuries-old Greek holiday treat. I also admitted on Facebook a few hours later that they reminded me of a scene out the movie Betelgeuse – where the bewildered recently-deceased young couple makes their way to their purgatory facilitator’s desk and on the way see flattened-out people going by on clothes lines. My cookies should be up on that line.
What I now realize is that while Mom’s talents lie primarily in the tangible results of her culinary efforts, she wasn’t great at writing down every detail, even if she tried to do so for posterity. Old country recipes are not given to express wording. A “pinch” of this and a “dollop” of that really have no measurement, after all. Next time, I plan to take every recipe for these cookies that I can find and see if I can gain a happy medium and perhaps they will turn out like the picture I prematurely posted.
But cooking isn’t the only thing for which I had canonized my mom. She was the sweetest person, the most fashionable lady, the most fervent believer, the most doting mother, the exceedingly organized, the outrageously loving yiayia, the most meticulous housekeeper – and on and on. It takes time for a daughter to find herself in all the shadow-casting such a woman can create. In time, I have had to learn to appreciate my own gifts and in the end, may not be giving the same advice to my own daughter that my mother gave to me on a host of matters. Different eras, different realities and different generational viewpoints can take their toll on even the most saintly of maternal memories. While I can take stock in the profound meaning and purpose Mom found in serving her family, I have always been free to enjoy other lifetime pursuits beyond hearth and home.
True, I’ll never be able to follow her domestic act, but I can create as much warmth in my home. And while I now realize she was not perfect after all, I can only hope that my own daughter, instead of putting me on some kind of pedestal, eventually understands that we all just do the best we can while we’re here.
Holiday seasons filled with the love of family and the wonderful traditions handed down from parent to child are the best kind to have, but I believe we are not put on this earth to be anyone but ourselves. And as that dapper angel, played by Cary Grant, says in The Bishop’s Wife (my favorite Christmas movie of all time), “We all come from our own little planets. That’s why we’re all different. That’s what makes life interesting.”