My body lies stretched out upon the earth, bathed in the cool and delicious shade, bestowed by the billowing canopy of a large mulberry tree. I turn my eyes upward toward the sky and watch the spring sunlight fall and collide with drops of water and prism into miniature rainbows. Like precious diamonds, these raindrops are gingerly held in the green palms of the broad, mitten-like mulberry leaves.
Mental pictures of my childhood sharpen up, as the needle of my mind sews together patches of past experiences. I recall the many times I had picked enough purple berries from this tree, that my mother could perform feats of culinary alchemy, by taking simple staples – sugar, cream, flour, berries – and transform them into a hot mulberry pie.
Now, using my adult brain, two facts stand out. First, I never saw my mother eat any mulberry pie. Second, I myself would never again eat a slice of mulberry pie. Why? Too many seeds for a grown-up’s palate. So, why would I, as a small boy, never – not even once – notice the seeds in my mulberry pie?
One could argue that children are just too inexperienced to compare the density of seeds between say, a blackberry, gooseberry or mulberry pie. But that analysis would not apply to me. Why? Well, my mother, a truly great cook, had made every type of pie available to our table. Therefore, by age 8, I had a highly refined sense of taste. So here we are, back to the original puzzle. Why did I continue to pick mulberries and hand them over so my mother could bake a pie? Was there something else, some deeper force which trumped the clear reality that anyone who ate mulberries ended up with gritty teeth?
As you have already guessed, today’s story is not about a pie. It is about an extraordinary relationship between a small boy and his mother. To understand this relationship, allow me to provide some background information.
First, my mother was a farm-raised girl with many brothers and sisters. When it came to food, she had well defined tasks and practices. For example, store-bought creations like pies were not to be purchased. If you wanted dessert, make it from scratch. Second, she knew that there was a direct link between what was cooked, on the one hand, with how it came to be brought to the kitchen. Farm-raised hogs, beef or vegetables from the garden, along with wild game that was hunted by her father and brothers, forged mutual respect between the hunter/gatherer and the cook. Third, my mother knew that children liked certain types of food which adults did not. She always created child-centered meals which gave her children a delightful dining experience.
As a boy, my free time was spent outside. In the summer, I’d leave home after breakfast, with a packed lunch, and not return until dinner. I’d fish the creek behind our house, build tree forts or try to break my record of 13 skips as I hurled pancake-like rocks over the creek surface. I’d search the forest for morel mushrooms, explore the caves cut into the creek bank, and catch butterflies whose wings were as delicate as tissue paper. However, the most exciting part of my childhood was the emergence of the boy-hunter-gatherer. It was this role that my mother developed.
Her eyes always lit up when I brought home wild game, fish, or other foods from the forest and creek. Regardless of what I had plucked, captured or caught; she would receive me as if I had brought home a king’s ransom. So, here came frog legs, wild mushrooms, blue gills, catfish – all welcome treats – and here came tomatoes and melons, watercress and wild onions. I truly believe that if I had given her a pail full of live silver minnows, she would say what she always said, “Oh, look at what you’ve caught!” followed by a wink and a pat on my shoulder.
My mother made me feel important, and this, in turn, nurtured a deep pride in myself. Not the type of pride where, “I’m better than others,” no. I’m talking about pride as a silent and private emotion which gave me the confidence to live my life according to values she taught: develop a strong work ethic, treat others with respect, never ignore or dismiss those who, unlike me, were unable to become educated, leave this world a little better off than it was before you arrived, and try to find some fun and joy in every day.
How did she demonstrate her core values? She never served meals as just a way to provide nutrition. No. Her meals were created as a celebration of life. She sang this melody: “delicious meals were a blessing which, when combined with deep and loving relationships, transcends the taste buds, and yes, they even make tiny little seeds disappear.” (The content of this article is for educational purposes only, not treatment.)