Thursday, April 13, 2006

Easter: Not Just For Kids Anymore.

Two summers ago, my mother desperately needed my help and she didn't even know it. Her kitchen was calling, no, crying, for a clean sweep. As it happens, I am a fabulous clean sweeper, which means I can ruthlessly assess the usefulness of every item in my or anyone else's house, and mercilessly throw out every last thing that serves no real purpose. My mother's kitchen served no real purpose.

Since the dawning of ages, mankind has mocked my mother's cooking. She knew how to make 2 things: charred black crap, and boiled potatoes. And that's what we ate every single day until my mother discovered the frozen food aisle, and then we feasted on the likes of chicken nuggets and tater tots. The frozen food aisle was for a long time the best thing to ever happened to our family.

I had a sneaking suspicion that underneath the burnt stuff, my mother might actually be harboring the likes of chicken, steak, or pork chops, and I strongly suspected that these things, - called meat, as it turns out - might be unearthed if only my mother stopped using the warbly pots that were too warped to sit straight on the burner and had no less than 30 years worth of accumulated scorch marks on the bottom and no handle left except for a nub that was too hot to handle and too weak to even try.

So I clean swept her kitchen, starting with those pots, and including jars of NutriSystem milkshake powder that expired in 1993; pieces of tupperware that were lidless, stained, and disfigured from too many micro-waves; dusty mugs featuring gouges so large they had been mangling the lips of coffee drinkers for generations; 7 out of the 8 sugar bowls I found scattered throughout the cupboards, reasoning that since my mother appeared not to keep sugar in the house, she probably didn't need all 8; and no less than 37 knives that came in varying states of disrepair: some were so dull they couldn't slice through water, some had lost their handles, some were so rusted I believed them to be ancient artifacts unearthed from the backyard, but no, my mother assured me they dated from no further back than my great-grandmother's wedding shower.

My mother, for some reason, was particularly attached to the 37 knives she no longer used, and I had to fight tooth and nail to have them tossed. However, the one thing that my mother did see fit for the garbage I immediately plucked back out. It was this:

Okay, okay, it's nothing special to look at. It's a piece of 80s artisan crap. It's ugly and it's hand made and I would never look twice at this thing because it's the kind it kitchsy crap I'm allergic to. BUT, it was made by my mother's hands. She painted it in her early 20s and it has been a part of our family's Easter since as far back as I can remember. My mother was always very generous about hiding chocolates around the house for us kids, but every year, this egg would sit on the kitchen table, and on Easter morning it would be filled with candy that my mother assured us was the Easter Bunny's concession to grown-ups and was to be eaten by adults only.

So ugly or not, I remembered this egg fondly and was appalled that while she had held on for dear life to a motor-oil sponsored calendar from 1988, she had so cavalierly thrown out the closest thing our family has to an heirloom. And then I found this:

For more than 2 decades that egg sat filled with parents-only chocolate, and I never looked too closely at it. But the day it ended up in the garbage was the day I discovered that it had been a very early present from my mom. Since there are only 2 names on the egg, that means it is probably circa 1983, which dates it back to the Easter-bonnet picture from yesterday's post. I don't ever remember having seen the inscription before then.

My mother would have been 22 years old, which is a few years younger than I am now. It gives a small ache to my heart to picture this young woman at pottery class making a present for her 2 babies, who were probably spending the evening at grandma's house. It's hard to imagine that your parents were ever young, were ever anything like you. But this egg reminds me of how young she was when she had her kids (she had 4 kids under the age of 5 just weeks after she turned 26). Certainly, she spent her early 20s differently than I am. She was pregnant most of the time, she changed diapers (and washed diapers...she didn't use cloth exclusively, but she did use them), she nursed 4 kids and 1 husband through the chicken pox, she made bland boiled potatoes every night, and went to PTA meetings when she could.

I see myself hanging on to immaturity as best as I can, romping about in puddles and hiding eggs for my husband, and it contrasts violently to my mother, thrust into maturity. That little egg on the table was the only tie to her young womanhood. While she spent time find 4 dresses, 4 pairs of frilly socks (or white tights, depending on the weather), 4 pairs of dress shoes that didn't pinch our toes, 4 Easter bonnets in colours we wouldn't fight over, I am spending the same time in my life doing things far more self-indulgent.

Yesterday, Jason and I decided to try our hand at decorating eggs, something neither of us had done before. I bought a kit that promised "swirls of dazzling colour" but actually netted "blobs of baby-shit green." First we emptied the eggs of their contents via the very interesting blow-the-egg method. Then we bobbed some eggs into the disappointing dye, hoping to be pleasantly surprised, but instead being incredibly unsurprised by the less than dazzling results. Then we abandoned the dye (well, after bathing in vegetable oil to rid ourselves of the water-soluble mess), and used markers and paints instead. We made margaritas and laughed all night long at our lack of artistic skills, and it struck me how differently this night was for me than it must have been for my mother at her pottery class.

It would have been a rare night off from the kids, but it was not spent with her husband. Married 4 years at this point, I don't ever remember my mother and father laughing together, or going out of their way to share time together. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you'll know that my father isn't my (or my mother's, or anyone's) favourite person, but even in the days before divorce and disaccord, I don't remember them as a happy couple.

She was 22 years old. She must have had hopes and dreams. She must have wondered about her future. As she hid eggs for us to find the next morning, I am certain that she loved her kids, but I wonder if she loved her life. I wonder if she felt like she was living for herself, or for her kids. I wonder if she ever felt regret, or if she felt trapped, or if she ever cried alone, frightened of what she'd gotten into. We spend an awful lot of time living in very close quarters with our parents, but do we ever really know them?

This Easter will be just for Jason and I. I haven't spoken to my mother in 15 months, I think. Some days I really miss her, and some days I remember why we aren't speaking and I hurt all over again, and some days I don't think of her at all. But through the marvels of garbage-picking, the egg has been salvaged and sits in my house now. I look at the egg and I remember what it meant to my family, and I feel closer to her now than I have in years.

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