Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Oh, Mother, what you've missed

I was thinking the other day, as I was cleaning my kitchen, of all the "time-saving" devices I owned. I began to compare what I had in mine with what my mother had to work with all the 50-plus years she was married to my dad. I decided to take a little inventory of some of the innovations I am blessed with that she hadn't dreamed of in her lifetime.

Here's a list from my kitchen:
  1. Stainless Steel Microwave oven
  2. Stainless steel/titanium/copper pots and pans
  3. Stainless Steel Dishwasher
  4. Stainless Steel Rotisserie
  5. Stainless Steel Self-Cleaning Gas Stove
  6. Stainless Steel Toaster
  7. Kitchenaid Professional Grey Stand Mixer with all the attachments
  8. Stainless Steel Crockpot
  9. Stainless Steel Knives
  10. Stainless Steel Kitchen Utensils in Stainless Steel Cannister
  11. Custom Hickory Cabinets
  12. Corian Countertops
  13. Ceramic Tile Floor
  14. Food Processor
  15. Ice Cream Maker
  16. Hand Mixer
  17. 16-Speed Blender
  18. Boom Box
  19. Bread Maker
  20. Wine Rack
  21. Dustbuster
  22. Rechargeable Electric Broom
  23. Large-capacity Self-defrosting Refrigerator/Freezer
  24. Chest Freezer
  25. A shelf crammed with all sorts of cookbooks
My mother was born in 1910 to a family of Russian immigrant parents and five brothers and sisters. She lived through World War I, the Roaring Twenties, Prohibition, Al Capone, the Great Depression (when grandpa lost all his money), World War II, food shortages and rationing, the Cold War, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, and the assasinations of a president, a presidential candidate, and a civil rights leader. She even saw a man walk on the moon.

She was stricken with polio when she was 18 months old and for the rest of her life walked with a pronounced limp because her left leg was shriveled. That didn't stop her though. She worked hard all her life, in and out of the house. Mother never had a lot of material things, and my parents never had much money, but what she was blessed with was a husband and two children (my sister and I) who loved her dearly. She also had the support of a large extended family. We were poor, but we didn't know it. My sister and I were happy in our ignorance.

My parents, Sara and Jack

My parents didn't own a car or a television set (my grandparents did, though). We didn't have airconditioning (my grandparents had a window unit in their upstairs apartment). We didn't have a freezer. When my sister and I were small, my mother had a wooden ice box. Every day she would put a card in the window indicating how many pounds of ice she wanted and the ice man came with his leather apron on and huge tongs carrying the ice. Mother would have to empty the drip pan every day otherwise she would have water all over the floor from the melting ice.

My parents owned a small corner grocery store so we always had plenty to eat. Mother worked in the store all day but still managed to take care of the house and the rest of the family. She also sewed all our clothes and did mending for others. She sewed on a Singer treadle sewing machine which I own now. I can remember her sewing so fast as she moved the treadle with her right foot. She washed clothes in a wringer washing machine and hung the clothes outside to dry or in the basement if it was raining. She ironed everything because permanent press had not been invented. She used blueing to whiten the clothes, starch to give the clothes body, washing powder, and pants stretchers for my father's work pants. She would wash on Mondays and iron on Tuesdays.

What my mother did best, though, was cook. Everything was made from scratch as there were no frozen or pre-prepared foods in those days. Because she didn't own all the "time-saving" devices I own, she prepared our homecooked meals by chopping, mincing, cutting, mixing, stirring, measuring, dicing, sauteeing, braising, roasting, frying, and baking without the advantage of any modern appliances. Mother's food was delicious and she always made special Sunday afternoon and holiday meals. Everyone in the family loved coming to our house to eat. We would eat until we couldn't push ourselves away from the table.

Am I better off than my mother with all the fancy-schmancy things in my kitchen? Do they really save me any more time than if I didn't have them? And, do I cook better than my mother did? I don't think so. With just the two of us at home, we eat a lot of our meals out these days. I probably only cook one meal a day and make special meals for company two to three times a year.

Could I come up with the number of innovative meals my mother cooked over the years without a cookbook? Never in a million years. She could make a feast from things I wouldn't consider eating now that I'm all grown up (beef hearts, kidneys, liver, and tongue).

I inherited a lot of mother's kitchen things after she died. I cherish these utensils and pans and use them when I can. I like to think that she would love it that I still use her things and that in this way she lives on.

So, after my telling you a little about my mother, do you think she missed anything by not having all the fancy things I have in my kitchen today? You be the judge.


At August 22, 2006 7:34 PM, Blogger Pamela said...

Your mother sounds like she was a wonderful hardworking and creative Mother to your family. I would have to imagine she didn't miss a thing as you can't miss something you never had, however, it would probably be a sad comedy of errors if we were thrust back in her time.

Hey, one of my favorite time saving inventions...double roll toilet paper. lol

At August 22, 2006 7:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your parents look so friendly!

I don't know. The microwave definitely saves time. Flavor and nutrition? Probably not. But it saves time... :)

At August 22, 2006 8:34 PM, Blogger MrsGreenThumb said...

My favorite memories of Mother's cooking was the special Sunday dinner's, standing rib roast, mashed potatoes, a vegetable and salad. Her salad dressing never varied, none of the bottled stuff for her. She made amazingly good wholesome food from scratch every day. I only remember going out to eat occasionally, to Cam Lan, where I thought we ate magnificent Cantonese food. Mr. Lee gave me my first chop sticks. It was a big treat for mother to "go out" to eat. It was a simpler time, we enjoyed going to Chicago on the train to hear concerts at Grant Park. Mother made a delicious picnic lunch. I don't think food has ever tasted better than her picnic baskets loaded with homemade goodies. She was a dynamo, her best legacy was that she never let anything get the best of her. What a role model!

At August 22, 2006 10:31 PM, Blogger Kerri said...

Your mom sounds like she was a conscientious and caring mother to your family. How lucky you were to have such a wonderful mother. I love the photos of your parents.
Sounds to me like your mom was happy with what she had.
We sure are spoilt these days, aren't we?

At August 22, 2006 10:31 PM, Blogger Sue said...

I think this was one of your best posts! I loved reading every word and learning more about your early years.
Your Mom sounds like a treasure and I know you carry her memory in your heart.

At August 23, 2006 6:07 AM, Blogger susan said...

Ah, the simpler times. I imagine your mother would not approve of all the gadgets in your kitchen. And the fact that you don't even use them.

Great story! Thanks for sharing your memories.

At August 23, 2006 8:20 AM, Anonymous Sweetie said...

Motherkitty, what a fantasic post about your Mother! This makes me think of my Great Grandmother who didn't have a traditional job but boy did she work hard all of her life as a wife, Mother, and caregiver. Boy could she cook! As my Mother says about her - she could make a leather shoe taste good!

There was no heavy sigh and exclamation: there's nothing in the kitchen! These gals could whip something up with practically nothing!

I think it's cool that you still have your Mom's kitchen items. I am here to tell you that a lot of those old gadgets were a lot more solidly made than the newfangled ones of today!

At August 23, 2006 10:04 AM, Blogger Rachel said...

These memories certainly take me back to my own parents. I think of how hard my Mom worked and how she used to make meringue by beating the eggs with a fork. They certainly had to work hard back then. I don't know how they did it. She could cook up something wonderful when there didn't seem to be a thing in the house to eat and it was always delicious!

How blessed we were to have great parents!!

At August 23, 2006 12:16 PM, Blogger Alipurr said...

maybe a dishwasher...though she wouldn't have room for it...

I couldn't help wondering what she would have thought of the progression of computers and blogging

she certainly was a trooper, i love her very much

At August 23, 2006 1:34 PM, Blogger Smalltown RN said...

Wow...what a wonderful tribute to your parents. It brought a tear to my eye. They look so lovely and friendly and kind.
Your recollection of your mother brings back found memories of my own mother. It will be a year in September since her passing. She went through 12 pregnancies...that in itself is amazing. My father and her immigrated to Canada with 5 children with the youngest being only 3 months old at the time. They took the boat to Montreal and then spent 5 days on the train to Vancouver. I can't even imagine. There weren't any disposable diapers in those days. They worked hard. I never felt like I went without. Chicken necks,chicken livers, hamburger and the likes were the norm. It's amazing how creative one can be when on a tight budget. They loved to celebrate and entertain. Sunday dinners, birthdays and Christmas were wonderful. There was always room for one more at the table. My parents were very involved in their community and volunteered their services and time.

Now u mention about the gadgets, well I don't really remember to many of the gadgets in my moms kitchen. There were two that stood out the most. One was this appliance that attached to the counter in the kitchen and it was used for grinding meat. It was the weirdest looking contraption. The other was the "mangler" This was a large press iron. For extra income mom took in laundry from the doctors office and she use to press and iron the sheets and gowns.

It wasn't until I was older that my parents got a dishwasher and by that time about half my brothers and sisters had moved out. It's amazing what our parents did and accomplished isn't. Sometimes I think it is good that we reflect on what they did and how they did it.
Motherkitty, I think we should do a post on the most useless kitchen gadget. For me it would be my breadmaker, it's huge takes up way to much space, and I still end up making my own breads. I think it is going in my next garage sale.

Thank you for a wonderful post

At August 23, 2006 4:02 PM, Blogger jellyhead said...

I don't know if your mother missed out by not having all those gadgets - possibly she would have enjoyed being able to make those spectacular meals a little more quickly. I DO reckon she was an extraordinary woman - to manage to do all the things she did, and to raise her daughters so well!

I know you miss her dearly. This post honours her and remembers her so beautifully.

At August 23, 2006 10:10 PM, Blogger Rosa said...

I love your mom's story. I find it amazing what our parents had to endure. Mine had to quit school before the 7th grade to pick cotton for the family and yet she wrote as elequently as the rest of us. I'm sure your mom would "poo poo" all the fancy schmancy things we have come to rely on. But, Lord if we had to do without!! hehe

At August 23, 2006 11:17 PM, Blogger TUFFENUF said...

Very enjoyable post about your mother. It really made me think about my mother, and how things have changed and become so much easier for us now. Mothering was a 24/7 job for sure back then!

At August 24, 2006 1:23 AM, Anonymous cathy said...

mother kitty, this was a great post. We share many similarities in our life. in parts of your story I could have been writing the same words.

It was the generation of their times, that dictated they live the life they did. I often think we are the ones missing out, not them. I'm sure their lives were harder than ours but look at the wonderful memories you have of your mom. And that I have of mine. her cooking and baking I will never forget.. I wonder sometimes what my kids will say when I am gone. .." yes, we went to mom's every Sunday, she cooked in her crockpot and microwave for us, and for dessert she always had a New York Cheesecake from Sam's club." "She was a heck of a woman."....See what I mean?

Your parents look wonderful in those pictures. If she could read what you just wrote she would be very proud of you.

At August 27, 2006 6:05 PM, Blogger Alice said...

A wonderful story and so beautifully written. A loving tribute to your mother.

So much of your story reminded me of my own mother who, although she didn't go out to work, lived on a farm and raised 7 children. For much of that time she had no electricity, and sometimes not even an ice chest. We had a wood stove, a copper to boil the laundry in and flat irons heated on the stove for ironing. I remember starching and blueing the washing, and also wringing it out by hand and hanging it on the long prop lines in the orchard.

It's such a paradox that we have all these labour and time saving devices, yet we don't seem to achieve as much or have any time saved. I guess we don't work the long hours that our parents did.

At August 31, 2006 11:00 AM, Blogger Franny said...

I'll bet those little things would have made her difficult life easier. But I bet her old-fashioned cooking was incredible.


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