On Thursday, we drove down to pick up my mother at Logan Airport in Boston. She’d flown in from Amsterdam, where she’d been for the past month, and where my sister Susan lives with her husband and two sons. She was stopping off with us for a week on her way home to Oracle, Arizona. She’s gone on a vegan diet recently. On her first night in Portland, we took her to the Green Elephant on Congress Street. On her second night, I hauled up the wooden patio table from the basement and set it up in the new dining room and lit candles. For our first official meal in the new house, Brendan made pasta with pea sauce, grated parmesan optional.
Last night, here in the farmhouse in New Hampshire, I made a stew of sweet potatoes and green chard in a spicy cashew sauce (cashews, hot red peppers, garlic, ginger, vegetable broth, and fresh thyme, simmered together and whizzed in the blender) over brown basmati rice, with a side of oven-roasted, salted kale. Tonight’s menu is bean burgers (white beans, oats, olive oil, a splash of almond milk, chili powder, and salt in the Cuisinart, formed into patties then fried in peanut oil till crisp and light) with cottage fries, spiced sweet and regular potatoes, and, on the side, a red-leaf lettuce salad with sautéed portobellos and shallot-mustard vinaigrette.
“A vegan feast,” I said.
“Can’t we just say ‘a feast’?” said my mother.
It’s a fun challenge, cooking with yet another dietary restriction. No gluten, no animal products – there’s still a lot to eat. I don’t miss anything, at least not yet – although today I felt a mysterious resurgence of a longtime urge to buy a meat grinder and make my own sausages.
Over dinner last night, we looked at photos from throughout my childhood – the early years in Berkeley, the mid-years in Arizona, late adolescence on the East Coast. My mother was, in every single one of these pictures, younger than I am now – something that always gives me a little start. I’m surprised not by her youth back then – she has always seemed young to me, all my life, even now that she’s 75 — but by how old I am now. Probably because my mother had kids and I didn’t, I always think of her as older than I am, at every phase of her life and mine.
When I woke up this morning, I remembered the paper route I had in seventh grade. After school, on weekdays, I delivered the Phoenix Gazette – an afternoon paper — the Arizona Republic was the morning one — to various ranch houses in our neighborhood. On Sundays, though, the Gazette put out an early-morning edition, so I showed up at the station before dawn on my sturdy three-speed blue Schwinn with its three baskets, front and sides. I had the biggest route on my station and was the youngest carrier and the only girl, so I wasn’t popular with the older boys. It didn’t matter that I’d worked hard to expand my route, going door to door in my free time and drumming up new customers. I was the skinny, bespectacled girl in braces and braids who had the biggest stack of papers to fold, and so they acted as if I didn’t exist.
The Sunday Gazette had to be assembled section by section and rubber banded. Our station was an empty lot. In the light of the streetlamps, in the chilly desert darkness, we yawned and loaded up our bikes and the canvas carrier bags we slung across our chests. The boys talked and joked amongst themselves. I worked as fast as I could to get out of there, then pushed my laden bike into the street, mounted it, and was off. I loved those silent, empty, sweet-smelling, predawn mornings, alone with my bike, my thoughts. I told myself stories under my breath as I rode along, sang songs, daydreamed about the people whose newspapers I threw onto their dewy lawns.
When I finished my route and all my baskets were empty, I rode through the bright morning sunlight and the church-going traffic over to the McDonald’s on Bethany Home Road, which was already open, and got myself a chocolate shake. I drank it on my bike as I rode home. I always got home in time for the Top 40 countdown with Casey Kasem on KUPD. It was 1974, so that meant Olivia Newton-John, Chicago, War, Anne Murray, the Ojays, Paul McCartney and Wings, Elton John, Cat Stevens, and Helen Reddy. My sister Susan came into my room and we listened together, singing along earnestly to every song. Sundays meant pancakes in our house; and we all took turns making them. We used the Joy of Cooking recipe, which involved beaten egg whites; they were crisp and thick and fluffy and addictive. We smothered them in margarine and Aunt Jemima’s. I generally ate so many I was nearly comatose for the rest of the day – my record was twenty-seven at one sitting.
Years later, my mother told me that on a few Sundays, at the beginning of the school year, when I first started my route , she got up at 4:30 along with me, silently, so I wouldn’t know, to make sure I was safe. She got onto her own bike right after I left the house and followed behind me to the station. She waited, hidden from my sight, while I put the papers together and loaded up my bike, and then she followed at a distance while I wove my way through the wide, sleeping Phoenix streets. I never had any idea she was there.