I cannot easily describe my feeling about losing mom. Over the years her health has been gradually declining, and she had gotten so frail and quiet that my feeling toward her was with more sympathy than anything.
However when I remembered her this past week, what I saw wasn’t her helplessness in recent years, instead it was her laughter and endless love for her family.
She was one of the best cooks I have ever known. Her delicious dishes fed our stomachs and connected our hearts. During family gatherings, we always loved to cram into her small kitchen watching her cook. I always remember she used her fingers to support vegetables such as celery and cut it into fragments. Her cupboards were full of spices. She freely sprinkled in different spices to her dishes, and then delicious dishes appeared under her hands!
Most of the American dishes I know of came from her. She and dad came to visit on the first Thanksgiving after Valley and I got married. It was that holiday she taught me how to bake turkeys and make pecan pies. I cook turkey according to mom’s recipe every Thanksgiving now, and it has brought complements from my guests year after year.
Mom and Dad used to have lots of guests over for dinner, so she also taught me some simple but tasty dishes to cook when there are visitors. If I had any questions during cooking, I always picked up the phone and asked her. Through such “long-distance teaching”, I have learned a lot of useful cooking tips.
Mom used to cook the most delicious Christmas dinners. When her health started declining, I volunteered to take up responsibility of fixing the Christmas dinner. At first she would use her walker to come up to the counter and see whether meals are cooked right. Later on, when she lost energy to walk to me, I would bring half-cooked dishes to her at the table and ask for advice. My cooking was nothing compared to mom’s, but through practice and her personal teaching, I finally can cook something that reminds the family of mom’s dishes. This is a gift from mom that I will always cherish.
I always admire mom’s skillful hands. She made the most beautiful bows on Christmas presents. I have tried to copy her but with little success. She also knitted Christmas stockings for every family members. The stockings have Christmas tree or Santa figures, along with our names and birth years. Valley and I got married in April, and by Christmas that year mom already finished my stocking. I felt that was her formal gesture of welcoming me into the family. By the time Valerie was born, mom’s energy was much weaker. But she still managed to finish Valerie’s stocking, which turned out to be the last thing she knitted. We will cherish these stockings forever.
(The stocking Valerie was holding was hers, to the left was Valley's (his stocking was made when he was born, therefore looked much older), and to the right was mine. This picture was taken in 2005.)
I will always miss mom when I see her recipes or the stockings. However what I will remember most is her gentle heart. She cared about my family because I was her daughter-in-law. When she knew my brother was also studying in US, she invited him to spend Christmas with us. She always asked how he was doing whenever she saw me. If she had known Jeffrey got married this year, she would have been so happy for him.
She loved colorful clothes, and she always dressed nicely when she went out. I cherish the moments when she took me shopping for clothes, including my wedding gown. Mom did not have much energy by the time Valerie was born. The only way she could show her love was by showering her with many cute dresses. Valerie’s dresses reminded me mom’s distinct taste of clothes.
I had a habit of calling mom when I fixed Sunday dinner. With the earphone on and my hands cutting vegetables, we chatted about things that happened during the week. Valley would pour himself a glass of wine, sitting at the kitchen table and listening to our conversation. He would cut in with a few words , then I would relay to mom what he said. The weekly conversation lasted many years, until mom’s words started to get slurry and I couldn’t understand what she said. Gradually my conversation partner switched to dad, then I seldom heard from mom any more.
Thinking back, ordinary time such as weekly chatting turned out to be the most precious moments in life.
Valley just took Valerie to visit Papa and Grandma two weeks ago. I asked them if Grandma said hello. Valerie said no, but she added, “I think she recognized me when she saw me. She also patted my back when we hugged.” The next Sunday after they got back, mom passed away peacefully.
Mom had finished her journey. But as she walks farther away, I can see her loving and caring soul more clearly. Becoming her daughter-in-law, and learning so much wisdom from her was a tremendous blessing.
Thank you, Mom. I love you.
(This picture was taken in Hawaii during their 50th anniversary in 1999. Mom and dad celebrated their anniversary by taking the whole family to Hawaii for a vacation.)