Home Economics 101
"Mom? I need to tell you something.”
My mother’s eyes shifted from the ceiling of her hospital room to me. The oxygen mask covered most of her small face, but her raised eyebrows told me she was listening.
Mom had been hospitalized many times in her later years, but this visit had a weighty feel to it that made us certain we were coming to the end of her life.
“I want to talk to you about Bob.”
Mom had only met Bobby once, so it was with trepidation that I chose to tell her this news as we faced the prospect that she would never come home again.
“I’m going to marry him, Mom. You don’t have to worry about me anymore. He loves me and he will take great care of me. Do you understand? Is this okay with you?”
Her face brightened and I saw a flash of the smile that had warmed my soul from my earliest memories. She suddenly struggled and I helped her rise up on her elbows. When one of her hands was free, she pulled the oxygen mask from her face. I felt the pulse of cool air from it, heard the hissing sound rush by and I braced myself. She had made a herculean effort to speak and I knew the loving words she was about to bestow would live in my heart forever.
“Marry him...” she gasped. “Or you will starve to death.”
It may not have been the sum of all wisdom, but it was the ultimate proof of how well my mother knew her baby girl.
I can’t cook. I can’t sew. I can clean a house but it is a long and clumsy process, devoid of the brilliant shortcuts or pearls of hidden wisdom often handed down by female ancestors.
I once left a watermelon on the kitchen floor so long that it fused to the linoleum and had to be amputated like a Civil War soldier’s leg. I thought irons were doorstops that heated up for some unfathomable reason. Occasionally, I still pray for Mary Alice, who finished the required A-line dress that got me through sixth grade Home Ec. (I hadn’t made a large enough hole for my head. Who thinks of details like that??)
To the Martha Stewarts of the world, I am “She Who Must Not Be Named.”
When I moved into my first apartment, my mother gifted me a microwave. Upon opening the door, dozens of grocery coupons and recipe cards cascaded onto the floor at my feet.
By the time I met my husband, I had cultivated a solid diet based on the four major food groups: microwave, take-out, crockpot, and dinner-dates. I could handle recipes if the most complicated step was “apply heat to contents.” As my best friend at the time routinely asked me, “So, what did you dump out of a box tonight?”
There are legions of tales about my lack of domestic prowess, but when I think about my mother, it always comes back to the episode that made her laugh the hardest I ever heard her in my life.
I was in high school. It was an early day of summer vacation and I couldn’t find a pair of shorts that appealed to me. Sorting through my wardrobe in the time honored teenage method of flinging things on to the floor behind me, I came across a discarded pair of jeans. A light bulb went on over my head. It was held aloft by Daisy Duke.
I bounced down the stairs and into the dining room, equipped with the jeans and a huge pair of scissors. I cleared the table and laid the jeans out. A contemplative moment followed while I selected the perfect length and, seconds later, I was in possession of the world’s cutest pair of cut-off shorts. I could already envision the lustful double take of the cute boy across the street. This summer would be epic.
I bounded back up the stairs for a fitting, during which time my mother and my sister Joanne returned to the living room from a late morning cup of tea on the porch.
When I came back down the stairs, I am sure my mother heard the true befuddlement in my voice. “Mom? What is the problem with this?”
I rounded the foot of the stairs and stood before the ladies with the world’s cutest cut-off shorts...pulled all the way up to my chest. The denim strands dangled near my belly button and below them sat my pink Jockey Girl underwear. The look on my face conveyed the sincere confusion of a total, unapologetic idiot.
There was silence in the house, as I slid the shorts up and down the length of my body, unabated. When I raised my head, my mother and sister were staring at me the way scientists gaze upon a lesser species of animal who spends hours fascinated by its own big toe.
In the next heartbeat, my family exploded in laughter, hard, loud laughter that made coherent speech impossible. My sister took a step toward me, but had to lean against Mom for reinforcement while the two of them howled.
It is pathetic to say, but I was now confused times two, once by the illogical behavior of the shorts and now, by this bizarre, albeit united, reaction.
My mother’s funny bone had one telltale sign of full activation. She would have to take her glasses off to wipe her flowing eyes. At the sight of me, she removed them and her face rested in her other hand while her entire body shook.
Joanne finally mustered enough strength and oxygen to gently inform me, “Mags, you cut above the crotch. Those aren’t shorts anymore.”
Hearing the situation put into words seemed too much for my mother, who erupted in fresh waves of hilarity and dropped her head onto her crossed arms on the table.
Joanne reached across the table and lifted up the remnants of the jeans.
“Didn’t you...” Jo paused to gasp and tried to straighten her aching sides. “Didn’t you think it was odd that the legs were still connected?” She offered the jeans, legs still latched together below my less-than-surgical incision.
The “shorts” made a cameo appearance at my fortieth birthday party, thanks to sisters who retain things as well as Bill Gates’ iPhone. Shortly after that they mysteriously disappeared. My neighbors reported some late digging one foggy night around the same time, but I’m not convinced there’s a connection.
The tomatoes were huge this year, weighing down the plants in our garden. They were round and chubby with ruby flesh. I picked a half dozen and sliced them thinly. The preheated piecrusts were filled, and then I added sea salt, cracked black pepper, basil, and trimmed scallions. I brushed on a layer of mayo and cheddar cheese. When the oven timer dinged the pies came out bubbling with subdued colors of red and orange in their deeply tanned crusts.
For a moment, the kitchen was still and quiet. Then a sudden lift of air blew by the house, encouraging the wind chimes to dance with the music of cathedral bells. I swore I heard her voice.
“Well done, baby girl! Just stay away from the scissors!”