Sunday, 9 May 2010

Mother's Day (Η μέρα της μητέρας)

As the number of family members shrunk after the children departed, it would be normal to expect that the kitchen table would have some empty spaces. But those spaces were quickly filled by new occupants. A visiting friend recently told me about how she would spend some of her time in my mother's company.

"She was like a mother to me, and a grandmother to my children, even though she didn't have any grandchildren herself yet. I was studying in Palmerston North, and would come back home to my husband and children at the weekends. She knew that I didn't have time to visit her after church AND cook a meal for my own family, so she would simply invite me over for Sunday lunch. Not having a mother of my own (she had died when I was a child), I felt like her own daughter who had recently left home and gone overseas. I felt as though I was filling that void in her life.

"I knew what to expect at every meal she served me, and I can remember every detail about those Sunday meals. For a start, there would always be a plate of horta on the table. She knew I loved horta, so she would go and pick them just before I visited. She'd make enough so that I'd have my fill during the Sunday lunch, and then she'd put some horta in a tupper so I could take it away with me when I went back to Palmerston North, the same tupper she had filled for me the previous Sunday and I had brought back with me to return to her.

"She had already roasted the lamb with the potatoes, and boiled a whole chicken from the morning, before she went to church, so all she had to do when we returned from the service was to strain the stock. Then she'd season the chicken, put it in a roasting pan, take out the lamb roast from the oven, and put the chicken into the oven to brown. Halfway during the cooking time, she'd turn it over to brown on the other side. At the same time, she got the pilafi going. When the chicken was done, she'd place the baking tray with the roast lamb and potatoes back into the oven to warm it all up. And when the pilafi was ready, she'd serve it all up, fresh and hot.

"I knew her health wasn't in the best of shape, but no one could have guessed this if they hadn't known about it. She was a dab hand in the kitchen. She knew her space well and moved around agilely in its familiarity. 'You shouldn't have gone to so much trouble,' I would tell her. But she insisted that it wasn't any trouble at all, and I knew it wasn't because this kind of meal preparation was child's play for her. I simply felt guilty that she was cooking so much food for my family every time I visited. Her own children had flown the nest, so it would seem natural that she would like to take a rest from this kind of mothering. But it didn't seem natural to her; she could not stop playing mother even when there were no children in the house.

"At the end of the meal, I'd help her to clear the table and do the dishes. She let me do that at least, as she'd be rather tired by then. She would start preparing dessert. From one of the kitchen cupboards, she'd take out some big clear plastic tubs with orange lids, each one containing something different in them: melomakarona, kourambiedes and koulourakia. Then she'd brew some coffee, and we had all this while listening to the Greek music programme on Radio Active.

"I'd stay at her house until the end of the music hour by which time she had all the tuppers ready for me to take away. She always gave me the remaining pilafi, 'for the children, they all love rice,' she'd say, and that way, I didn't have to cook dinner in the evening, either. And that was a typical Sunday for me in your mother's company."

lunch for a friend

The meal that has just been described was the typical Sunday meal throughout my New Zealand days, all except the horta, which my mother was obviously cooking to please her guest.

You never really stop being a mother, even when there are no children in the house any more. You simply adopt new ones so that you can find a way to continue playing this important role.

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