A singular “love-irritate” relationship
My mother made THE BEST sugar cookies.
Everyone says that, I know. Or that they found the most delicious cookies at such-and-such a cafe in such-and-such a little town, or that so-and-so’s aunt’s are to die for.
I’ll not argue.
Mom’s were the best.
I stand pat.
She made them around Christmas and Easter. She almost always frosted them with a glaze that she colored appropriately for the holiday – green, red and white for Christmas, pink and green pastels for Easter. The perfect balance between soft and firm, slightly crumbly, a little buttery and always sweet. Yummy.
Mom died in 2014
In the end, that’s what got her, but she had so many health problems in the decade after my father died, many of them quite serious, like heart disease, that it could have been just about anything. She was too young to die – only a couple of months shy of 72.
She was proud of the fact that she’d quit smoking about a year after Dad died, and I give her credit. Unfortunately, after 40 odd years of carcinogens, something nasty’s going to catch up with you sooner or later.
It was Palm Sunday. I think that must have pleased her, passing away on an important day on the Catholic calendar. I take some comfort in the thought that it made her happy, at least. Maybe I should have asked as I held her hand all that morning.
But no regrets.
Mom and I had a singular relationship. Love-Irritate, let’s call it. I think it was because we were so much alike in so many different ways – hard-headed, willful, cheeky as hell.
My parents’ house didn’t have a dishwasher, so for years I was stuck drying the dishes she washed after supper. We had an ongoing argument about who was supposed to rinse the freshly washed dishes. She just dropped them into the sink and expected me to do the rinsing. But the way I saw it, I already had two jobs: drying and putting away. Why should I be the rinser, too? Then I’d have three jobs and she’d have only one.
(Never mind that she cooked all the meals. Irrelevant.)
We spent more post-dinners arguing loudly about that than I care to count.
Of course she won.
I never felt too bad about it, though. I was never getting out of rinsing, that was clear, but I’d be back the next day with the same argument, just to, as she would say, “get her goat.”
For a few ill-advised weeks, I’d purposely break coffee cups and saucers and plates in the hope that she’d decide I couldn’t be trusted with dish drying anymore.
That was part of it, too, I think; spending so much one-on-one time together in front of that damn sink strengthened our relationship. We talked. We argued. We laughed. She always said she knew more about me than she ever did about her other two kids.
When I was in junior high Mom started waking me up early to help her clean house on Saturdays. But all my buddies went to the YMCA Saturdays to play basketball and hang out.
Before I go on, you need to understand something about my mother.
Mom cleaned the house every single week, and in cleaning, as in all things, she liked it done a certain way. When I say, “a certain way,” I mean, “exactly her way.” If you didn’t, she’d get irritated. After that, even when you redid whatever had pissed her off in the first place, she stayed irritated the rest of the day. In fact, her irritation generally became more intense as I, inevitably, did not do more things the “right” way. And when she was irritated, she invariably found more and more chores for me to do before she’d finally cut me loose.
Hard-headed: She knew how badly I wanted to go play ball with my friends, so she nitpicked and delayed and piled more chores on to keep me home as long as she could.
I know what you’re thinking, but I wasn’t imagining things.
I loved my mother, but she could be that way sometimes.
Willful: After a few weeks of this I started getting up really early and sneaking out of the house before Mom got around to rousting me. Sure, I’d be on my own for a couple of hours at the Y before anyone else showed up, but at least I wouldn’t be scrubbing toilets and vacuuming stairs until mid-afternoon. I caught hell when I got home around suppertime, but it was worth it. Finally, after several weeks, she came to terms with it and didn’t get on my case about ducking out of housecleaning anymore.
Several months after Mom passed on, my wife, Cassi, found a Tupperware in our freezer with a dozen of Mom’s sugar cookies in it. She’d made them for us for Easter, but we’d forgotten in the midst of everything that needed to be taken care of after her death.
We couldn’t bear to eat them. Oh, sure, we had pictures and cards and gifts she’d given each of us over the years, and I carried a talisman in my pocket to remind me of her, but none of those were the same. These were the last of Mom’s sugar cookies we’d ever eat. They were the last of her.
We put them back to the bottom the freezer.
Every now and then in the years since we’d come across that Tupperware while looking for a roast or rhubarb. We always agreed it wasn’t the right time, that we still weren’t ready, so we’d put them back down there again.
Cassi kind of deferred to me on deciding when it would be the right time.
It came this year.
Not sure why, but it just felt right. Maybe I thought it would make us feel better in the midst of weeks of sheltering in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. Or maybe I thought it was about time to let that last physical bit of her go. I dunno.
So around Easter, we got out the last batch of Mom’s sugar cookies.
We made the icing ourselves. It didn’t turn out quite right, but we spread it on the cookies, anyway, and enjoyed them all.
Well, almost all. There was still one left, and Cassi and the kids decided it should be mine.
The very last Judy sugar cookie sat on my desk, off to the side in a Ziploc bag waiting, patiently. I looked at it two or three times a day. “Maybe tomorrow,” I’d say to myself. Next day: “Maybe tomorrow.” The day after that: “Maybe tomorrow.”
The cookie, now broken in half – I suppose from being pushed further off to the side and out of the way in the middle of a project at some point – is sitting there still. It’s been weeks – no – a couple of months.
I couldn’t eat it now if I wanted to.
Today is Mom’s birthday.
Judith Ann Fredricks was born on June 22, 1942, in Jamestown, N.D. She was a teacher, a city bookkeeper and Catholic school lunchroom manager. And she was my mom.
She would have been 78 today.
Man, I wish I could be arguing with her about something trivial. And her laugh. She had such a great laugh. Even if I didn’t hear it often enough in her last 10 years or so, I still miss it. Her irritation and sometimes downright anger, too; what I wouldn’t give to break a coffee cup right now to get Mom’s goat.
So, yeah, it’s time.
Miss you, Ma.
I just put that last, broken, crumbling sugar cookie back at the bottom of the freezer.
I’ll keep it there, safe, a while longer yet.
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