I don’t remember a time when my mother wasn’t ill. I know in my head that she once was pain-free, moved easily, laughed with the careless abandon of a child. In my memory, though, she is always careful. Careful in the way she held her head, shoulders tense, as though expecting the pain to hit at any time. Careful in the way she walked, placing her feet gingerly to the ground, afraid of falling and ripping her tender, paper-like skin. Careful in the way she spoke, telling my sister, “If I told people how I really felt, they would never ask again.”
The lupus struck her, and struck her hard, but she kept on going, largely, I suspect, for us.
I started taking over whatever tasks I could for her when I was still a little girl. I remember doing the dishes with Dad, him washing, me drying and putting away, while Mom sat at the kitchen table keeping us company. Cleaning the house, giving it a good weekly vacuum and dusting and trying to keep it neat the rest of time so that she wouldn’t feel that she had to do any work herself. Folding the laundry without much finesse, making Dad’s dress shirts look a bit like origami. But mostly, I remember cooking.
I learned to cook from my mother. She couldn’t stand behind me and direct me, but I would carry the bowls and pots to the table to show her. “Is this right?” “Does this look done?” “Do I need more water?” I cooked spaghetti and meatballs, baked beef roast, and made a righteous fruit salad. But my heart, especially at that young age, was only truly engaged when I was baking. I loved to bake. I loved the careful measuring, the energetic stirring, and the precise, final touches. Cookies, cakes, pies, and puddings- my family never had it so good. In fact, I liked to bake even more than they liked to eat, so I ended up baking for grandma, baking for the parish priest, baking for bake sales, and baking for the group of friends that got together with my brother and me on weekends to play in the forest out back, or in our basement. Early on I found the joy that can come from the simple act of cooking and feeding people, and that has never left me.
These are my mom’s brownies. I know that the recipe probably originally came from a Hershey’s syrup can, but I remember it scrawled across a slightly yellowed index card in my mom’s loopy, cockeyed writing. The back had chocolate swipes across it and one corner was missing. So, with a tip of the hat to Hershey’s, here is the recipe for Mom’s Brownies. Enjoy them, and don’t forget to share the love!
1/4 lb butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 (16 ounce) can Hershey’s syrup
What to do:
Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla. Add the flour, again beating until it is thoroughly incorporated. Add the entire can of syrup and stir well.
Pour into a jelly roll pan and bake at 350 degrees farenheit for 35 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool.
I absolutely love this frosting. You can make it and put it in a small pan in the fridge for almost instant fudge!!
6 tbsp butter
6 tbsp milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup chocolate chips
What to do:
Put the sugar, milk, and butter into a small pot. Bring to boil, stirring as it heats up. Let it boil for one minute (I remember counting this out one mississippi, two mississippi…) Remove from the heat and add the chocolate chips (or butterscotch, or peanut butter, or white chocolate or…)
Immediately spread on the brownies.
Hide behind the couch and lick the frosting pan so you don’t have to share it with anyone!