Here we are again after a four week hiatus. So much has happened in the past few weeks: We celebrated Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot; we entertained our family from abroad — my mother- and father-in-law, my daughter (!), my mom’s sister and her partner; and perhaps most significantly, we attended the brit (circumcision) of our new grandson.
I spent a lot of time in my kitchen. A LOT of time. Throughout the busy weeks, I managed to sneak away infrequently to visit Mom.
Here’s the secret: knowing that Mom could not be with us for these holidays feasts and once-in-a-lifetime family experiences, it was easier to shut her out of my mind completely. She simply wasn’t there and I tried not to think about her. I wanted to be happy. I didn’t want to contemplate Mom’s singular existence.
Except that Mom was always with me — or more accurately, her absence was most acutely felt at the brit of my grandson. With us to celebrate was Mom’s sister Barbara, who had traveled from England to visit. And though in temperament they are not alike, they are so deeply interconnected in my mind that her presence was both a balm and a bane, a reminder of what I was missing.
One of the main goals of Barbara’s trip was to visit Mom. I know that Barbara had difficulty accepting Mom in the early stages of this disease. In fact, it was at Barbara’s house many years ago that we began to understand how badly Mom had been covering up her memory loss. Mom had traveled to England to help Barbara care for my uncle Malcolm near the end of his life. For the week she was there, Barbara had to contend with Mom forgetting not only where the tea cups were kept but even how to make tea! She reported back to my dad and me, and we were surprised to hear about Mom’s misadventures. We knew then that something was wrong.
Now Barbara visits Mom with more patience and compassion. She is the last link to Mom’s early years and the family life they once shared. But Barbara also feels that Mom is no longer her sister; Mom is a shadow of her former self.
I am happy to report that when I visited Mom this week, she was relatively content, laughing and smiling and calling me by name. She exhibited no anger; she walked easily, and she sang along to show tunes. She was animated and loving, and happy to see both me and my dad. There is great comfort in this. Better that my emotions should be in turmoil than hers.
That mother-daughter connection is stronger than it looks. I should know because I had my own heartache saying goodbye to my daughter who is currently living in Florida, a whole ocean away from me. One of the best (and most argumentative) afternoons we spent together was cooking for Sukkot. Amongst all the vegetables we cleaned and chopped, all the dishes we made, all the sharing, Liora taught me how to make that quintessential Israeli dish, matbucha. I didn’t even know tomatoes could be grated.
If you’re like my Israeli kids, the hotter this dish, the better. But I can’t quite take the taste of hot foods. So I made an alternative version of non-spicy matbucha by leaving out the hot pepper. If you ask me, it was just as satisfying as the hot, hot, hot batch of matbucha my daughter and I produced.
8 tomatoes, grated
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 green hot pepper, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Grate tomatoes by hand, making sure to extract any pieces of peel that fall into the bowl. Set tomatoes on a low boil for about 2 hours in a medium-sized saucepan with oil until most of the liquid evaporates. Chop hot pepper into small pieces and mince garlic and add to saucepan. Add salt and pepper. (Liora's tip: Only add salt when all liquid is evaporated.) Simmer for up to an additional hour until peppers are cooked through. Serve with fresh pita or challah.