Every year on Mother’s Day, my dad calls me, and every year, I inevitably miss the call. He leaves a voicemail to tell me how much he misses his mom, and that he can’t imagine how much we must miss ours. Then his voice cracks, and then I lose it. I don’t know that we’re ever prepared for the vulnerability of a parent.
Trivial things are what I ache for the most, like if she had the choice between chocolate cake, a nightcap or a joint for dessert, which would she choose? Why didn’t she wear perfume? Or did she? Did she love roses? Was she indifferent?
Would we have talked on the phone daily? Weekly? What did she love about herself? What was she proud of? How old was she when she began to realize her own mother was human?
I do remember some things. I remember that her fuse was short, but so was the turnaround time from when she’d lose her temper and when she’d be laughing again. For years, I could summon the sound of her laugh as often as I wanted. Time blotted it out, until one day the sound was gone, the space it held hollow, silent. Her sisters laugh the same way, evenly and without restraint, and when they do, everything becomes exponentially funnier. If you make a joke and it makes them laugh, you feel like you’ve won the lottery. That kind.
She let my brother and me watch Dirty Dancing years before most kids our age were allowed, and I learned the value of wit and individuality through her and her affinity for Joan Rivers and Richard Simmons. She cried when she was happy, sad, or moved, and she swore like a fucking sailor (or maybe only when she stubbed her toe). She married my dad because she loved him, even though he said he didn’t want any more children, and she did. She kept diaries and medical records and every letter and card anyone wrote to her, or so it seems. When I was seven, I wanted the world from her, and I remember feeling disappointed a lot. But also safe and blissfully happy, and when she tucked us in at night, I’d think, “This, right here, is perfect.”
I wanted the sour, jelly-filled fruit snacks other kids brought to school, but she packed us plain yogurt and strawberries. Maybe that’s why I never developed the insatiable sweet tooth that runs rampant with the women in our family.
Sometimes when I cook for one, I pretend that I’m also cooking for her. Today, with yogurt and strawberries in mind, I made us a fruit fool, or a dessert with sweetened cream that’s been whipped by hand to soft peaks and swirled with macerated fruit. Gooseberries are the classic fruit of choice, but strawberries, rhubarb, and raspberries are common substitutes. For the occasion, I spiked the berries with rosewater, and it edged away some of the sugar, though it was still too sweet for me. Next time I’ll mix in some plain yogurt, like Nigel Slater suggests. Another summer without this ‘soft, lazy-day pudding?’ I pity the fool. (My mom would have been alllll over that).
Strawberry (Rosewater) Fool (for 2), adapted loosely from Nigel Slater
1 1/2 cups strawberries
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon rosewater (optional)
Wash and hull the strawberries. Mash them lightly with a fork. Mix in 1-2 teaspoons sugar and rosewater. Set aside. In a chilled bowl, whip the cream until it’s developed soft, not stiff, peaks. Sweeten if you want, then fold in the yogurt. Spoon 2/3 of the strawberries in the bottom of the glasses. Top with cream/yogurt, then finish with the rest of the strawberries.