Tuesday, May 04, 2010

you only hurt the ones you love

One of my mother's favorite things to do whenever we were together was to go 'antiquing'. In Mom's case it was less about the antiques themselves than it was searching for the lost items of her memories ~ tiny porcelain dolls; delicate embroidery and tablecloths, dusty wooden washboards; irons made of, well, iron.

Often the items that caught her fancy were kitchen tools; often they were tools that her own mother might have used. And almost always she'd want to buy me something. Always, I declined. I am not entirely certain why.

Part of me wanted her to save her money, although for what, now, I cannot say. Thriftiness was a habit she had so deeply instilled in me that I couldn't let it go, even when it ceased to have purpose for her.

Part of me didn't want her to think that I took her shopping just to get gifts, something she would have been justified in suspecting given her experience of my youthful self. I am sorry to say that a more spoiled, selfish and acquisitive young woman would have been difficult to find. In fact, had cultural mores been then what they are today, I probably would have warranted my own reality show.

Long ago, Mom and I were out shopping when she found a large, cast-iron pot in a local shop. "Oh, it's a STEAL at $30!" exclaimed the proprietress, going in for the hard sell rather quickly, I thought. "It's an excellent deal!"

Well, maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. I only know that moments before, I had been examining some Spode "collectible" plates which the woman had priced at $29 that I had, just days before, spotted at TJ Maxx for $7.99. This sort of thing irritates me; I understand that there's a sucker born every minute, but it angers me when people blatantly attempt to take advantage of this sad fact. And it infuriates me when they seem to be insinuating that, by my very presence in such an establishment, I might just be one them.

So when my dear little mother said, "I want to buy it for you!" I could barely conceal my disdain.

"No Ma, I don't WANT it," I said, with little grace. Absolutely no grace, in truth. "Do not buy it," I sniffed coldly, as if I were doing her a favor by depriving her of the pleasure of giving something she valued to her graceless, boorish daughter. I can still see the disappointed sadness in her eyes. It breaks my heart to remember it. I do not know how people forgive themselves for the myriad small cruelties we inflict upon those who deserve it least. I can't. We can only learn from our mistakes, I tell myself, that we may go forth and injure no more. This may be true. But it remains that there are countless such moments I would give my life to take back. If only I could.

Of course, I cannot go antiquing without thinking of my mother and fortunately, the overwhelming majority of my memories of our outings together are happy ones. But it was this moment that came immediately to mind when I spotted a large enameled cast iron pot in one tidy little stall.

"A dutch oven!" I exclaimed excitedly to my shopping companion, Robbie. "Do you know how much these things are worth? This is an excellent buy! It's practically a STEAL!"

"You should buy it," she said, nodding agreeably. "You never buy anything."

It's true. And I did. In my mind, I finally let Mom buy it for me. Her birthday was April 30th, and she would have been 97 years old. This weekend I made a 6.5 pound garlic and fennel pork in my new vintage Dru Holland dutch oven, slow-roasted over a period of 10 hours, during which the house filled with the aromas of cooking and the sweet melancholy of memory. The results were delectable. Mom would have been happy, I think.

Miss you still.