Sunday, September 9, 2012

How My Mother Disappeared

The meatloaf fooled me.

Barbara Witchel
I should have known it would. That’s what a meatloaf is meant to do: make you believe the world is so forgiving a place that even an array of bits and pieces, all smashed up, can still find meaning as an eloquent whole. The duplicity is integral to the dish, if you make it well. And when I made my mother’s meatloaf, it was perfect.

In 2005, as my mother began the torturous process of disappearing in plain sight, I retreated to my kitchen, trying to reclaim her at the stove. Picking up a pot was not the instant panacea for illness and isolation and despair that I wanted it to be. But it helped. When I turned to my mother’s recipes, I felt grounded in her rules, and they worked every time. I could overcook or undercook the meatloaf, and it still tasted the same. I could eat it hot and eat it cold, and I ended up doing both, because my stepsons, Nat and Simon, and my husband, Frank, like meatloaf fine, but they don’t love it. The writer Peg Bracken summed it up perfectly in “The I Hate to Cook Book”: men prefer steaks and chops to casseroles and meatloaf, she wrote, because they “like a tune they can whistle.” But it was those inexact elements, murky and mystical, that drew me to my mother’s meatloaf again and again. It was my remnant of home and I conjured it, reaching back, always back. Each time I made it, it was absolutely perfect. And each time I made it, I felt more and more afraid.

Continue reading in the New York Times -- How My Mother Disappeared.