(by Goldie Krauss)
My mother was a fearful person. I think that the fear came from childhood, being the victim of a man who exposed himself to her in an alley. Her child brain could not formulate a response to what she had seen. As an adult, the image came raging back, and it took the form of fearing everything. She was not neurotic, but she had difficulty allowing my sisters and me to grow, always thinking that something bad was right around the corner, as was her childhood experience. We were charged with “Be careful,” “Come home early,” “No, you can’t learn to drive.” Our family dynamics were relegated to a trine: my mom, my dad, and us. (When my dad passed away, my first thought was: The trine is gone.) He was always on our side, arguing that she was being ridiculous, but he’d capitulate to her wishes. (My sisters and I were in charge of making our parents’ bed on the weekend. When my mom’s silky underwear was lying on the floor, we figured out why our dad was smiling, and why he had seen the wisdom of our mother’s ban on some horribly dangerous experience.)
To be fair, Mom sometimes had good reason to be skeptical. My dad once sawed the middle bar off of a “boy’s” bike so my sisters and I could ride together. My parents had enough money to buy three bikes, but Mom was into teaching us to "share.” One day, our cousin Miriam came to visit, just when the bike had been freshly painted, and my mother said she should ride first as our guest. With swiftness and strength in her chunky legs, Miriam easily climbed the hill near our house. As she began her descent, she was all smiles and waving until…. Oh, God, were we really seeing it? The bike suddenly split in two. (Who knew that the bar cut off to make it a “girl’s” bike was keeping the whole thing together?) Miriam had never learned unicycling. Just before she crashed, I said to my sister, “I’m glad Mom made her go first.”
However nervous Mom was about the outside world, she was fearless in the kitchen. Knives held no danger. The Rabinowitz Family cookbook was her favorite. She loved it more for the pictures than the recipes. They looked like our family. She was not a slave to any recipe. She made the most perfect macaroni and cheese, but then she started experimenting with other versions, and the “Ronald Reagan recipe” was her favorite. (How it got that name, I'll never know. I can't imagine Nancy slaving over a hot stove.) Her chocolate-chip sour cream cake was her default dessert for any occasion— she said that it had the two most important ingredients known to mankind.
Our house was always full of noisy relatives and babies. We ate constantly, always celebrating something. She baked the best challah. Once she lost her diamond ring in the dough. We had a large group for Friday night dinner that week. When my mother figured out that her ring had been baked into the dough, she called everyone and told them to “Look out for it!" My uncle, a gastroenterologist, took the search a bit too seriously. No one else in the family was willing to be that thorough. (The ring was never found; my dad replaced it. The fate of the original remained a mystery; every family needs one.)
Life with my mother was sometimes like an episode of “I Love Lucy,” but she taught me how to be a mother, how to breast feed a baby, how to cook and bake, how to be the heart of the family, how to be a working woman but keep family first. She told me that the most important job I would ever have was being a mother. I am very much like her from the “home is everything” point of view, but I’m more courageous and adventuresome. I work as an operating room nurse, and you can't be anything but courageous to do that.
I have a number of my mom’s best recipes, written in her own handwriting. They’re difficult for me to see now, especially one for stuffed peppers that’s signed "Mommie.” My mom died during the Covid-19 epidemic, on April 14, at 5:45 in the morning. She died alone, in a hospital, and I know she was fearful of being alone, so the loss is even more painful. If you take away the crazy part, she was just about perfect.
Goldie Krauss is an operating room nurse who lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
6 slices bread, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
2 oz. can anchovies
1/2 t. salt
2 T. vegetable oil
4 bell peppers, tops cut off and ribs removed
32 oz. Hunt’s tomato sauce
Mix all ingredients except the peppers and tomato sauce.
Heat oil in a skillet, and brown the mixture.
Fill peppers with the mixture, and return to skillet.
Turn peppers as they brown.
Add tomato sauce, and cook until sauce is reduced and peppers are tender.