99 New: Sustenance

My mother didn’t make pancakes. She made pancake.

She would ask if I wanted her to make pancakes, but then she would produce a single pancake, a pancake the exact dimension of our cast iron frying pan. It was a thick, serious piece of work, my mother’s pancake, and it could keep a person alive for a week. It would take an hour to eat and then one would have to lie down like a cow having eaten too much hay or whatever it is that cows eat. We weren’t farmers.

I put my mother’s pancake along with her bean soup, potato soup, beef heart, and baked apples under the heading DEPRESSION COOKING, the era, not the mental health condition although my mother was plenty depressed most of her life. My mother always cooked, I will give her that, through bouts of depression so severe that cooking dinner would be the only thing she did that day, rousting herself from her dark room to rattle the pots and pans in the kitchen, giving us all hope for a warm end of the day. God, I love my mother for doing that.

She knew Depression Cooking because she lived through the Depression. Her family kept apples in the basement, canned green beans, grew corn in their backyard. Her mother had a flour bin in her kitchen where I imagine she scooped out cups to make her cast iron frying pan size pancake. My mother and her mother before her had a solid repertoire of survival cooking. Both knew how to cook to keep people alive and well.

My mother also knew how to make a pattern for a dress using newspaper which she did for me one night when I needed a Pilgrim costume for a school performance the next morning. She made one from sheets or something, I don’t remember, but it was an act of maternal valor the likes of which I’ve never seen since.

My mother held our sometimes very difficult life together with her bean soup, with her relentless devotion to making do, to using what she had to create five equal portions.  Even now, so many years since I was a child, I remember her standing in her apron in the warm light of the kitchen peeling potatoes and making hamburger patties. She took care of us. She kept us alive. She gave us hope every night with that light. I don’t think she ever knew that. I wish I could tell her.

6 thoughts on “99 New: Sustenance

  1. Garry Armstrong

    Resonates loudly hear. I never really said “Thank You” to my Mom. I was too full of myself and not mature enough to appreciate what my Mom and Dad had sacrificed for their 3 sons. We had our version of “Depression era eats”. I remember 2 days of “Ox Tail Soup” for dinner. There was also potato soup, spinach soup and variations on boiled chicken (soup). They were usually tasty although we boys usually complained. I still have a constant sense memory image of Sunday dinner. Pot Roast, baked potatoes, veggies (spinach/carrots/asparagas, etc.), brown ‘n serve rolls. Jack Benny on the radio…and I can still smell the pot roast.


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