By Lee Lueck
Even though I live 500 miles away from her, my mother is my constant companion in the kitchen. On the many nights I make spaetzle for my family, I measure flour with the scoop I scavenged years ago from her overflowing utensil drawers. I load the batter in the spaetzle maker Mom gave me because every self-respecting Czech-Slovak-American cook needs this essential kitchen tool. The batter falls like ribbons into the boiling water in the copper-bottomed Revereware passed down to me from her mother. I drain the tender dumplings in another of Mom’s castoffs, a colander I’ve used for the past 25 years, and serve them in the scalloped stoneware bowl that once belonged to her aunt.
My family is the fourth generation to eat at our golden oak table. How many times did Mom open it wide to serve a dozen people a holiday meal at which we eagerly stuffed ourselves fuller than she packed the turkey, debated our views of the day’s events and laughed as our seemingly meek grandma displayed her sassy side? Even after savoring the last bite of pumpkin pie, nobody wanted to leave.
The table’s solid presence in my cozy room represents the perfect image of Mom’s presence in my life. It’s as tangible as the pots and pitchers she has lavished on me over the years, but it also embodies her very identity as Wife, Mother, Daughter, Friend, Nurturer. Mom doesn’t need to read any of the now-popular books telling my fast-food and fad-food generation about The Shared Table or coming Back to the Table. Throughout the nearly 40 years she had her five children or ailing mom and uncle living with her and the following years as an empty nester, her life has written The Welcoming Table for family and friends fortunate to share in her simple seasonal meals and lively conversation.
She understands that food was meant for sharing, that meals should be eaten together – at the table, not in the car – and that she not only feeds bodies, but nourishes souls. She knows that tasty food does not need to be fussy or complicated or take an entire afternoon to prepare and that often the best dishes are the happy accidents discovered as you try to find yet another way in August to serve zucchini.
Mom is 82 now, walking on an artificial hip and knee, her right femur held together with a rod and screws. She spends the majority of her day visiting Dad at his nursing home. Yet she still feeds us.
I spent a week with her and Dad earlier this summer after Dad’s latest stroke. Six weeks earlier – during Mom’s recovery from knee surgery – he and I had cooked and cleaned together. We’d gone to Walgreens for Mom’s medication. Now the once animated storyteller was unable to speak; it took me 15 minutes during my first day with him to figure out he wanted the blinds lowered in his room. He could barely grasp his fork; “Look at your hand, Dad. You really have to concentrate on your grip,” I gently reminded him as I cleaned the gravy off the handle for the fourth time.
I returned to Mom’s house after settling Dad in his room. She stood at the stove sautéing zucchini and frying pork chops, her cane hooked on the countertop. She must have seen my exhaustion because she insisted I sit down. “How do you bear it?” I asked as she brought our plates to the table. “It’s so hard to see Dad like this.” Her eyes filled with tears. “He doesn’t deserve this,” she agreed, knowing she would be by his side through the lengthy recovery.
Just as she was by my side right then, as I cut into the chop and let myself savor the tender, peppery bite. “Thanks for supper, Mom,” I said as I sopped up all the juice. “I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”
Lee Lueck spends her daytime hours marketing medical software. Last week she told a group of friends she needed to start taking better care of herself. That meant getting a haircut, having her teeth cleaned, walking with a friend and writing about topics that truly mattered to her. The next day she saw the announcement for the Woman of Valor Contest. As soon as she finished this piece about her mom, she hurried to her son’s house, eating a cheeseburger in the car on her way over. Lee also has three daughters, a husband, two in-law children and a 9-month-old granddaughter, Hazel. She blogs at Sketches and Notes., and has written a special tribute to her mom today.
This post is part of our Women of Valor series. Eshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone. Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor. One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners we featured in August, I will select several more to feature as guest posts throughout the fall.
We have honored a single mom, a feisty professor, a midwife, a foster parent, an abuse survivor, a brave grandmother, a master seamstress, a young Ugandan woman who reached out to a sister in need, and many more.