Mama Comes to Town
Last Friday evening, for the first time in history as parent-child, my mother ordered us a bottle of wine at Chez Lola's after arriving from Portland for a visit. It was a cold night. Chez Lola's is this psuedo-French restaurant on Myrtle Avenue, which I hadn't been to since the brunch, two winters ago, when Sweeney and I finally decided to be together--on the sidewalk, afterward, we'd found a box of sticker rolls: rainbows, bears, hot air balloons, Israeli flags. Beyond all else, my mother was excited to see that I was carrying a bicycle helmet when I walked in. "My girl," arms open, then, "--a helmet!" I ordered duck ravioli, and a woman who may as well also be my mother, Cindy Maze, ordered a broiled chicken that came with creamy, white, mashed polenta and peas. Like potatoes, but with a higher note, a sweet taste at the back of your throat. We drank the wine, talked about New York. About naughty Sam Adams, the Portland mayor, letting your kids grow up etc... After all, here we are. We ordered a thick slice of red velvet cake, baked on restaurant's premises. I didn't know this until the moment it was served, but traditionally, the reason for the 'red' is beet juice. Beet juice! It was rich and wet. Most bakers substitute it these days for red-dye. No wonder most red velvet cakes available taste like dust.
All the boys helped out (shredding, setting) when my mother came over to my apartment for dinner. I got frantic towards her arrival--I don't know, wiping dust off the sideboards?--but when she walked in the door, the artichokes were ready. Greg was visiting from Harvard for the weekend, and he helped me serve (what I would have done if he hadn't been visiting, God only knows): eight steamed artichokes with a bowl of lemon juice. A spinach salad with shredded carrots, soy sauce, and goat cheese. Salmon cakes with onions, walnuts, dill, fresh sage (from my herb garden!) and Greek yogurt, and Greg's Superhero Mashed Sweet Potatoes:
6 to 8 large sweet potatoes
More butter and some milk
A lot of garlic (we're talking, 10-plus cloves, a whole bulb, whatever)
Some pancetta or bacon, diced
Enough cayenne pepper to make you nervous
Boil. Mash with butter, milk, and garlic. Fry the pancetta/bacon, but with haste, and not to the point where it loses it's chew. Stir into the mash, along with the cayenne pepper. Serve hot. It'll keep you from catching an autumn cold.
We all squeezed around the kitchen table, which we moved into the living room to accommodate everyone: Cindy and Nadine were there, too, along with all the boys, some from the cellar. We ate and bellowed, Nadine told us about narcissistic musicians she slept with in the 70s, and Cindy and I talked about the Trinity Alps, the women we share in our lives from home, the mysteriousness of girls-grown-up. Robert's roommates recently moved out because the woman was pregnant, and she left several boxes of pregnancy tea behind which Robert gave to me. So after dinner we all, including the boys, drank Yogi Tea's Mother-to-Be, eating colorful, tasteless cookies from an Italian bakery my mom stopped at earlier that day.
The day that Robert gave me the pregnancy tea (in addition to other abandoned food, like a strange Ukranian grain, elbow maccaroni, flaxseed etc...) we were sitting in his 12th-floor apartment on a sunny morning after breakfast, and he said, "Sometimes it amazes me that I am able to live on my own--like, that I haven't accidentally killed myself yet. And what's even more amazing is that I, you know, scrub the shower without anyone asking me to, and sweep. Stuff like that." I agreed. After all, it's things like not putting furniture next to the radiator that you don't learn until after your first house has burned down. How have we not made more mistakes? I suppose there's time. Having two crones visit me for the weekend--two women who I draw a very specific wisdom from, who at some point became women I looked to--emphasizes this miracle, this phenomenon: how do we do it without them? If we are in such amazement, how much doubt must they have had, letting us leave? If I'm astounded every time I pay for electricity, they must experience a constant bewilderment: three-thousand miles apart, and suspending all worry. My mother said it's about a willingness to suffer, to let your child suffer, and suffer with them.