Here is what I really wanted needed today: to go over to Mom and Dad’s house, sit down at the dining table, and have Mom set a steaming casserole of chicken and rice in front of me. Not because I’m hungry. I just miss my mother. She died almost four years ago and Dad sold the house, which is a good thing because sometimes memories shout too loudly in familiar places. We still have Dad, and he still has the dining table, but it’s not the same. It’s all good. Just not the same. And that’s the way life is. We absorb the losses, cherish the memories, move forward. But sometimes, I want nothing more than to step back in time and smell my mother’s cooking. I want to be enveloped in the safety of home and feel like a little girl who is being taken care of again. I have very few days like that, but today was one of them.
So, I pulled out the recipe cards.
They reside in four old index card boxes, each stuffed full and completely unorganized. Mom loved the idea of being organized; she just never quite figured out how to do it. Her efforts were hampered by the fact that she hated to throw anything away, so the recipe boxes are a jumble of hand-written cards, typed sheets of paper, recipes cut from newspapers, passed along from friends, or torn from the pages of magazines. She has the boxes labeled by alphabet letters (A-F, G-L, etc.), but darned if I can see that the recipes are categorized in any form, much less alphabetized. She memorized the recipes for the dishes she made often, a feat I have yet to accomplish. I never even knew she had a recipe card for chicken and rice casserole and I certainly never saw her use it. But when I went rifling through the recipe card box today, there it was. I read the ingredients and I could picture her taking it out of the oven with her old yellow and white oven mitts and placing it on the table. As steam drifted up from the dish, I could hear her mutter: “I hope that rice isn’t crunchy, but I don’t know…” It never was. I could see her dipping a much-too-generous serving on my plate and then waiting until I had served myself the jell-o, the carrots, and the rolls. “What’s the matter?” she would ask. And then I would tell her my troubles. It didn’t always go that way, but this is what I needed today, so that’s the way the memory went. I spilled my frustrations and fears, my analyzations of the issue at hand, more spilling, and a little chiding of myself for being overly dramatic. Then I looked at her and said, “So what do you think?”
“I think,” she said as I took my first bite of chicken and rice casserole (perfect rice, delicious chicken), “you worry too much.”
My mother had much to worry about herself. As a diabetic, her health was always in danger. Now that I’m approaching middle age (am I there yet?), I realize that her body’s betrayal was a way of life for Mom. She accepted that some things just don’t get better with time.
“This, too, shall pass,” She would often say over a meal of something delicious, the ingredients and directions scribbled on those recipe cards.
The thing itself might not pass – her diabetes certainly didn’t – but she forced the fears, frustrations, worries, and dark feelings of loss to pass because she refused to wallow in them.
So there she was today, filling up my mind and heart as I read through the recipes: Snickerdoodles, Posh Squash, Baked Grits, Fruit Salad Dressing, Gum Drop Cookies. I could hear her voice reminding me, “Count blessings, not worries.” And I felt at home, enveloped, safe…and hungry.
Mom’s Chicken and Rice Casserole
1 fryer, cut up
1 cup regular rice, uncooked, or 1 pkg. Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice
1 Can Cream of Chicken OR Cream of Mushroom soup
2/3 cup water
6 strips bacon
In 9×11 pan, place strips of bacon on bottom and sides. Spread rice (uncooked) evenly over bottom. Place chicken on top of rice then season with the following: salt, pepper, garlic salt, oregano, paprika, dry parsley (if you use wild rice, use herb contents in package). Mix soup and water and pour over chicken. Cover tightly with lid or foil and bake in 300 degree oven for 2 hours.