Birth, Love, Death… and Food

February has become a bittersweet month for me.  Our son was born in February, which is reason to richly celebrate but it is also a month, which has seen the loss of two people who are very dear to us.  The 20th marks the one-year anniversary of the passing of my mother.  The 29th marks another loss but I will focus on that in a separate post. This one belongs to Mom.

childhood portrait of Nancy Haskell Black

Nancy Claire Haskell

On her last day she measured certainly no more than 5 feet tall, weighed less than 100 pounds and couldn’t get out of bed.  However that frail, tiny woman was huge in my eyes and had more strength than most that I know.  Up to her last moment she had that sparkle of life in her eyes and possessed a depth of love and compassion that many had been on the receiving end of.

Over the years she served many.  Early on through volunteer efforts Mom shared her love of art with countless school children.  I vividly recall Elementary School field trips when she would demonstrate how artists of long ago made tempera paint by mixing together egg whites and hand-ground pigments.  I also recall being very proud that she was my mom.  Later in life she got involved in a program that helped elementary school aged children with reading. Mom was paired up with a little girl named Sharonda. Every week she would go in and work with her.  That weekly interaction grew into a close, lifelong relationship. Mom became Sharonda’s mentor and friend, and they stayed close until the very end.  Mom was like that. She didn’t give up on people.

Not only was my mother interested in art, she also created it.  She was an avid photographer and rarely without her camera, forever documenting our lives.  Arranging flowers was another passion. I had a tradition of sending a box of loose flowers every Mother’s Day in order to give her the opportunity to arrange them herself.  But the medium that she really excelled in was food.  The kitchen was her art studio.

Andy and Nancy Black in her kitchen

The author and his mother in her kitchen

Mom loved everything about food: eating it, cooking it, discovering it, experimenting with it, and sharing it.  She could make the mundane elegant.  French toast was upgraded by stuffing it with flavored cream cheese and topping it with homemade citrus syrup. Lasagna was made extraordinary by using squid in place of the wide traditional lasagna noodles.  A simple desert of white grapes bathed in a sauce made of sour cream and brown sugar might sound bizarre, but was a sublime ending to an always-fabulous meal.

Mom fed us all.  She fed us with her food, her wit, her compassion, her faith, and her kindness.  My sister Kathy shared with me something she had said to Mom in her final days.  It was something like, “Mom you’re a Saint, so you better get some rest because they are gonna keep you busy up there.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

For someone who was not at all comfortable with Death she did a remarkable job of standing in the same room with him and staring him down.  Over 23 years ago she was diagnosed with what was initially thought to be Lung Cancer.  Thankfully it wasn’t and despite the cancer she was able to enjoy a vibrant and full life celebrating her friends and family.  I heard her say on a number of occasions: “It’s been a wonderful life!”  She may not be with us any more but she is not far away so it seems appropriate to end with what Mom always said as we hung up the phone: “Goodbye for now.”

Love you Mom!

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8 comments on “Birth, Love, Death… and Food

  1. It’s a beautiful piece, full of honor for you Mom.

  2. What a sweet post about your mom. Great picture of the two of you. Thanks for sharing.I know so much more about her now, and has given me insight to my own mom.

    • Thanks. The photo dates back a number of years but I wanted that kitchen connection and yeah, it is a good photo isn’t it. I miss her… : (

      • So sad to lose a loved one. I knew my brother, Tim, only had months to live, tried to prepare, but when the news came, I was devastated. I have yet to experience the loss of one of my parents, they are in their 80s, and I know it will be equally as upsetting. It’s good to remember the best of someone close.

  3. I wish I could have met her. The squid lasagna sounds amazing! I’m glad you were able to have a mom like that.

  4. Jennifer–
    So true that there is no preparing for the loss of someone you love even if you have months of avance notice. My mom lasted for 5 or 6 weeks past what any one expected but still it was difficult to find out that she was gone.

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