Monday, January 25, 2010

From Soup to Nuts, and Back...

That's a pork hock. I'm making pea soup.

Cooking and baking are big in my family. My mother used to make everything from scratch. Now, she can't remember what "scratch" means.

My mother's arrival in Kookytown was pretty well-timed. She'd been living independently in her own condo, quite nicely thank-you-very-much, for 15 years, in
Winnipeg. Then, at 86, a particularly bad bout of angina sent her to the ER. She endured an angiogram, revealing clogged arteries. After angioplasty failed to clear one passage, doctors placed a stent.

She was never the same, physically or mentally. By the time she washed up on my doorstep, at age 89, things were pretty bad. She couldn't cook for herself anymore, memories were fragmented, strangely twisted out-of-shape, and she acted in many ways more like a small child than the person I used to know.

In the years between the stent and her move to Kookytown, she'd refused to budge from her condo, either into a retirement residence in Winnipeg, or here in Kookytown. It was dithering of the highest order. Gradually, she wore down, getting stranger and stranger.

She called ambulances on a regular basis to whisk herself off to hospital, where she'd lie on a cot in a hallway for a week. They'd dutifully check her out, pronounce her as fit as could be expected, and send her home. A month later, she'd be back.

Then the crying started. She'd call, trapping me in endless conversations, always dissolving in tears. Finally, she agreed to come live with us in Kookytown, hinting darkly that she had cancer. She didn't.

In the weeks preceding the move, she phoned at least twice daily, asking the same questions over and over.

"I'm going to list all my books and I want you to tell me which ones I should bring." I knew she had hundreds of books.

"We already did this mom. A dozen times. I don't want to do it again. Check your list."


"Do you have the list?"

"I must have misplaced it. I'll make a new one. Which books do you...?"

I'd cut her off, tell her I was busy, refuse to go through the books again. But nothing dissuaded her, and every day, the calls came. If it wasn't the books, it was the dishes in her kitchen. She'd list every single one, as if I'd remember them, wanting to know which she should bring. The Corning Ware casserole? Dad's old tea cup?

In the end, she brought nothing of what I asked for, and a lot of things I specifically told her to leave behind.

Today, she tries to offer help in the soup-making. But she gets confused so easily, it becomes an exercise in frustration for both of us.

"If only they'd packed my pressure-cooker," she harps bitterly.

The "thieving" movers have been a sore spot since she arrived. Of course, the movers actually stole nothing. I checked the manifest myself when the huge van rumbled up curbside just over a year ago. Every single item that went on the moving truck in Winnipeg came off in Kookytown, as witnessed by my neat ticks on the document as lamps, tables, endless clothing and the assorted detritus of a long, winding-down life sailed through my entranceway and into various rooms.

Despite the hard evidence presented by that manifest and my row of ticks, she remains convinced that all sorts of things were stolen.

I look at this wildly bushy- eye-browed, shaky remnant of woman tottering before me, her hands knocking together repetitively as she laments the loss of the pressure-cooker. Who is she?

My soup stock has been bubbling all afternoon. I'll fish out the hock for the composter, then add dried split peas soaked overnight, some chopped onion, celery and ham, and just for fun, a butternut squash that's been perched on the counter since last grocery-day.

"I never put squash in my pea-soup," she tosses out at me.

I don't answer.

"If only I had the darn pressure-cooker." She finally wanders into another room, and I heave a sigh of relief, turning my mind from nuts to soup.

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