1. Try to take a walk every day. The fresh air does your mind and body good.
2. Sometimes the best meals come out of what you happen to have on hand in the cupboard or refrigerator.
3. It's never too late (she remarried at 46 and went to Europe for the first time when she was 47).
4. Life can be short (sometimes, heartbreakingly so). It should be enjoyed, whenever possible.
The last lesson was inadvertent--she probably never realized she would teach me that one. But watching your forty-nine-year old mother take her last breaths has a way of putting things in perspective.
For a long time, I denied myself. Subscribed to nonsensical rules like If I don't eat breakfast, then I can eat dinner. During high school I managed to spend an entire summer vacation working in a cookie shop and never once ate a cookie (I was afraid once I started I would never stop). For years, I spent too much time standing sideways, not liking what I saw, squinting angrily at my reflection and adding up numbers in my head, of calories and scale digits. It was exhausting. Who knows why all those years I didn't think I deserved certain things: Breakfast. Chocolate chip cookies. Love.
My mid-twenties were a particularly disastrous time, as they are for so many. I suffered through a series of brief, painful romantic relationships (one so ridiculous it ended via email, on New Year's Eve, to boot--I cringe just thinking about that). My dear mother seemed to make it her pet project to see me through this time. She was particularly concerned about me on the weekends and would start calling me early Saturday morning to make a plan. Did I want to meet at the mall? She would take me to lunch and surely there was something I needed at Meier & Frank.
If we didn't meet during the day and I had no other plans, she'd insist on taking me to dinner. Though it was a little humiliating to be several years out of college and spending Saturday night with my mother, I told myself as long as I didn't run into any of my friends (unlikely at the finer restaurants she and my step father frequented) it would be OK.
Some days I would hardly eat anything all day, knowing my dinner that evening, with my mom and stepdad would include things like fresh roma tomatoes and buffallo mozzarella; handmade mushroom gnocchi and red wine. Plenty of red wine. And of course, dessert.
One Saturday night dinner in particular stands out in my mind. It was Valentine's Day, and I must have been about twenty-five. Valentine's Day dinner with your mother, how pathetic could a person get, right? But with the help of two glasses of merlot, I was soon laughing about my predicament. "Every pot has a lid," my mother would remind me. "When the time is right, it will happen, Sweetie." And of course, she was right.
That meal--homemade ravioli, if I recall correctly--concluded with something so decadent, so incredibly wonderful and delicious, no one at the table could contain themselves. Chocolate fondue, served with fresh fruit and pound cake. I know. Eating it bordered on what I can only describe, as a religious experience. I'm not sure I've tasted a desert this delicious since and I'm pretty sure I closed my eyes while eating the fondue. It was that good.
It was a meal--a dessert--we would recall for years. Well, a few years, anyway. My mother died about two years after that incredible chocolate fondue. But I still remember that night and that food, and how good it made me feel. Safe. Warm. Happy. And oh so full of joy.
The day after my mother's death, my stepfather gave me a letter my mother had written to me. It was dated February, 2000, three months before she died. She wrote it before the big surgery that would determine if her colon cancer was treatable (it was very much not). She wrote the letter in case she never got to see me again.
That letter said many things, and it is something I will always, always cherish (I sometimes think I should put it in a deposit box or something to keep it safe--do they even have those anymore?). But one thing stands out in particular: She said that she delighted upon my "joie de vivre" (French, for "cheerful joyfulness of living), that she took great pleasure in watching me enjoy a good meal or glass of wine. I wouldn't be surprised if she was thinking about that infamous Valentine's Day fondue meal when she wrote the that.
This is funny to me, because I feel like I fought that kind of enjoyment for so long, not feeling myself worthy, or some such adolescent nonsense. But reading that letter, I was so glad my mother had seen it in me, however briefly. And I was certainly not going to waste any time in making sure that I embraced joy (and chocolate fondue) whenever possible.
Last month, Erin took Ellie out for a "British tea." It was there that she discovered clotted cream.
Need I say more?
Erin showed this picture to a friend whose response was: "She looks like she's been waiting her whole sweet life for this!"
I sure hope Ellie (and the rest of the children) don't waste any time, and that they all enjoy the many sweet things life has to offer, whenever possible.
Their Grandma Eleanor would be so proud.