There are certain things that I cannot do without hearing, in my mind's ear, the voice of my mother teaching me to do them.
Ironing a shirt is a prime example. As I lay the collar on the ironing board, my mother's voice tells me collar, sleeves, back, front. I know the drill and have been using it for more than 50 years. Moreover, she's been gone for 30 years. Yet it comes to me in her voice, not mine.
I don't always stick to her dish-washing system, but I hear her telling me to wash glasses first, then silverware, then plates, and finally cookware. The glasses need clean, hot water, and besides, you first wash the things that actually go into your mouth, she said. Rinse by filling a couple of the biggest glasses and pouring from them into the smaller ones. (She conserved water all the way back in the 1950s.)
Mom taught me some basics of cooking, and now that I'm back in the kitchen many little things come back to me, like how to guesstimate the amount of salt and pepper using the palm of my hand. But many of the techniques I now use I learned from Peter. I cook chicken breasts and pork chops in olive oil and garlic, not peanut oil or bacon grease. (Seriously. We had a Pyrex dish on the stove with bacon grease to be used for eggs, and I think sometimes for meat.) I deglaze the pan with a bit of chicken stock and wine; I don't make gravy.
In fact, our whole way of eating is quite different from the way my mother cooked for our family. We mostly eat chicken and fish--and it's not breaded and fried. We steam some broccoli three or four nights a week in place of the canned peas and corn I grew up on. Our salads start with deep green and red lettuces and herbs rather than iceberg lettuce. The convenience of supermarket salads-in-a-bag is one of the wonders of the modern world, as far as I'm concerned. I like to think Mom would have loved them.
When I sit down to make a shopping list, I remember her reading all the ads and making lists for two or three different stores, to get the best prices. Somewhat to my surprise, I've begun to do the same. And although I've only been cooking since I retired four months ago, I also find myself complaining that I've run out of ideas. She often paged through cookbooks and magazines. I've done that, too, but I also have the Internet, where I can compare 100 recipes for lemon poppy-seed muffins.
There's another thing that happens sometimes, when I'm cooking something that delights me. When I'm doing fish or cutlets with fresh lemon slices and a handful of herbs, when I'm whisking a salad dressing into existence (a whisk is a truly elegant device that I've only now discovered), when I'm baking the world's best blueberry muffins (even better than my own mother's!), I think how pleased she'd be to see me moving beyond what I learned all those years ago. It's what she intended when she taught me how to grease a cookie sheet and how to make a buttermilk substitute (add a spoonful of vinegar into a cup of milk). She died 30 years ago and I've missed her often, but as I've taken up cooking again I find that she's good company.