Mom. Mom in the kitchen (have I told this story before? Well maybe not this way).
Mom at 80, well 80-something. Mom in her housecoat, the walker at her side. Mom with a chef’s knife raised perfectly, lined up over a live lobster. No shaking, no hesitancy, the concentration of a Buddhist nun.
I would get the lobster and it would have to be killed just right. But the fishmongers would, could, no longer do this. In her day (and isn’t that a great expression? as if that day—whenever it was or for however many years it lasted—was her day) Mom would go to the fish store and show them how it should be done.
A live lobster was meant to be killed live, stuffed with crackers and butter and baked New England style. Boiling was, well, not exactly for sissies, but that wasn’t the way Mom made it.
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So there she is. There she was. Mom standing straight up at her focused, precise best. All anger of that day vented toward a two-pound crustacean. Then a thrust, at the back of the carapace, just where the head meets the body. One blow, a clean slice, and it was dead.
There would be no squeamish crying about a lobster being boiled alive and how long it would take until it was really dead and whether it was finally cooked.
No discussion about whether this was fair to the lobster and whether we should all consider becoming vegetarians. This one was alive and a moment later it was dead.
Then Mom’s body coiled slightly. The straightness was gone, the slump at the shoulders came back. The hands moved to the walker. She picked up her glass of Scotch and started to shuffle away. The knife was on the table. Here, she said. You can stuff it now.
Which memories do we retain of our parents and why those particular ones? Is it because they were really strong memories or because we have our preferences? I knew her well all my life, of course. If I set myself to it, I can peel off images like an agent going through his Rolodex. Some have colours more vivid. Some are harder to grasp. Some memories are elastic. Some disappear into fog. Some may not be real at all.
But the one at the top of the deck is Mom and the lobster. 80-whatever. I remember saying to myself, this is amazing—look how straight she stands, how sure she is. And then telling myself that I’ve got to come back and get this on video, as if the camera makes it more real; but of course there was no next time. That was the moment. I have it here, in my head.
Late afternoon hors d’oeuvres
A dish is called for. Mom wasn’t into “health food.” She smoked. She drank. She never expected to live beyond 70 and there she was, feisty for almost 20 years more. Who knew? as she said. Her wake was at a restaurant we thought she might have liked. When we arrived, the maître d’ said they remembered her; she often came with the same friend. They were regulars. Who knew? At our table they had set a place for her with a rose, a cigarette and two wines they claimed she liked. They were very good.
So for Mother’s Day, I suggest a late afternoon hors d’oeuvres, as she liked: a glass of champagne, a wedge of brie, a thick slice of paté de canard and another of seafood mousse and smoked salmon. Then later, there might be café, cognac and a small cigar, sitting on the balcony, watching for the evening star.