Separation Anxiety

When my mother died many years ago, my father tried to do things exactly the same way Mother did.  When Mother made a green salad, iceberg was her lettuce of choice.  Her sandwiches were spread with Miracle Whip.  White bread was all she bought.  Dad followed suit for several years because it was comforting to know he was doing what Mother would have done.

Then one day, when my husband and I came over for dinner, I noticed Dad had made a salad using romaine and field greens.  “What, Dad, no iceberg?”  He looked at me sheepishly and said, “I wanted to try something different.  I think this has more taste.” Then he added, with a nervous laugh, “You don’t think Mother would mind, do you?” After I “gave him permission” to do what he wanted to do, a flood of other changes started showing up. He bought dark bread and mayonnaise (He told me he had never really liked Miracle Whip but that is what Mom used, so he went with it), and he experimented with my mother’s recipes, adding different spices or ingredients to make them his own. I remember laughing to myself when I saw how reluctant he was to find his own way.

My favorite picture of my mother and me.  Click to enlarge.

My favorite picture of my mother and me. Click to enlarge.

I thought about that as I was peeling peaches for breakfast. I peel them by going around and around, leaving one whole curly-cue peel intact. My daughter pointed that out to one of my granddaughters one time, saying, “Look how Mimi peels fruit.” I peel it that way because my mother did, and she peeled it that way because her mother did. I made Nestle’s tollhouse cookies with my little neighbor yesterday, and as I was putting newspaper down on the kitchen table to cool my cookies on, I explained that this was how my mother made this same kind of cookies instead of cooling them on racks. That way the paper soaked up the grease.

I wonder how many things I do because my parents did them that way. When did I finally become myself? How much of me is in my children? Do we hang on to certain ways because they are comforting and make us think of the ones who did them that way? Is there a little hint of fear that the way we learned is the best way and doing something a different way might not turn out as well? I have no answers. I’m just musing.

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About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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37 Responses to Separation Anxiety

  1. Mama always baked a ham with the pan inside a paper bag…because her mother did. Wonder why? Every now and then I’ll make 8:00 coffee in her drip coffee pot, almost like having a cup with her! Great post, thanks for the memories!

  2. Habits tie us to our past and leave us connected in memory and in love. Love this post…. I will be watching to see what I do because my mom did. DAF

  3. pattisj says:

    Our daughter and I got to talking about hanging clean dress shirts one day. She questioned why I buttoned the shirts the way I do, I told her that was how my mother-in-law did it, and hubby made sure I knew it. Suzanne busted out laughing. I took the opportunity to fill her in on other things I had been trained to do. 😉

  4. Huffygirl says:

    Reminds me of the story of the woman who always cut the end off of a pot roast and threw it away before she put it in the pan. She thought that was the way to do it because that is what her mother always did. Turns out her mother did it that was because that’s the only way it would fit in the only pan she had.

  5. Shary Hover says:

    My favorite recipes are the ones I got from my mother and most of them, she got from her mother. But what Mom and I really have in common is dance. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror during rehearsal and for a second, I think Mom is in the studio with me. It always makes me smile to see her in the reflection. I won’t tell how old she is, but she’s still performing and I want to keep dancing for as long as I can, just like her.

  6. Very easy to connect to this post. Most of us follow in our mother’s footsteps.
    I had a friend who made a great pot roast. She would always cut the roast in half before she placed it in the pan. When i asked her about this she replied that it was how her mother did it.
    She called her mom to ask why she always cut her roasts in half.
    The answer: because I don’t have a pan big enough for an entire roast!

  7. My husband lost his mother in his twenties. He admired her ability to whip up a cake from scratch without batting an eye, only to have him and his brother devour it in one sitting. I never really understood his attachment until I saw the happiness on his face when I mastered her apple cake recipe. The memories outweighed the apples! Great post…

  8. dorannrule says:

    How beautiful you and your Mom are! No wonder it is your favorite picture. I guess we all hang onto the ways our parents did things, right down to the mayo and the bologna sans. Nothing like bologna on Wonder Bread! And I always make rum balls for Xmas the way Mom did. And even with all the modern thermometers, I will still feel your head to see if you have a fever and I still stick out my arm to prevent a forward fall in the car. Good grief.

    • Coming East says:

      Repeating the same procedures and making the same recipes as our mothers seems so comforting, Dor, without our even realizing it. I need to talk to my daughter and see if she does anything like I do. With her having lived so far away for so many years, I really don’t know what she does!

  9. Margie says:

    Your story brought back good memories!
    My mom always kept the glasses in her cupboard turned rim side down. I expect her mother did too. Why? To keep the dust out, I think. Mostly, I do that too!
    My mom was an iceburg lettuce person too, until my neighbour introduced Romaine Caesar salad into our circle of friends. Years later, after my mom died, I was looking at her old calendars. I lost count of how many times she noted “made a Caesar Salad” next to a notation about who she had invited for dinner.

    • Coming East says:

      Do you have her Caesar salad recipe, Margie? Now that I think of it, my mother kept our glasses upside down in the cupboard for the same reason, but I don’t because we use them so fast anyway, they don’t have a chance to get dusty.

  10. Loved the photo; you look like your mother too! I also find myself doing lots of things like my mother did especially the older I get. I’ve been told that I resemble my mom in a lot of ways, not just physically. Once when I heard my laugh recorded on a video, I was shocked because what I heard was my mother’s laugh. I often wonder which of my traits, habits or idiosyncrasies my daughters may ‘inherit.’

    • Coming East says:

      I wonder the same thing, Mama. I wonder if my daughter sees me in a lot of the things she does, or maybe she wants to distance herself from the ways I do things. LOL

  11. Al says:

    Neat post Susan. You and your mother were both cutie pies. No wonder George fell so hard.

  12. Perhaps doing and making the same things our mothers did is one way we keep those memories fresh and alive. I think we all sometimes pattern our habits around our upbringing even though things do change over the years. What a great guy your father is for always eating her Miracle Whip spread and hurrah for trying other lettuces. I only like iceberg lettuce on a homemade hamburger because that is what my mother used to use. Somehow romaine does not taste the same sharing its place along with the tomato on a bun, but makes a great tossed salad.

    • Coming East says:

      And you absolutely MUST have iceberg in a bologna sandwich, Mary!

      • Interesting that you mention bologna. Do people still eat that? My mother always fried it crispy brown making a sandwich with it on toast with mustard and sometimes she made it plain with just white sliced bread when there was nothing else to eat. Ah, to such memories of what mother’s did to feed her kids.

      • Coming East says:

        My favorite lunch that Mother would pack for school was a balogna sandwich with yellow mustard on Wonder Bread. I could have eaten that every day for lunch. Now, occasionally, I will have a balogna sandwich on whole grain bread with iceberg lettuce, mayo, and a tomato slice—a more adult version of my childhood passion.

  13. I do many things (and make many things) exactly the way my mother did; recently I’ve found myself uttering many of her ‘pet’ phrases; I’ve tried on clothes that SHE would have loved; I often see HER when I look in the mirror. I think this is how we keep the people we’ve loved close after we’ve lost them. I have no daughters (or granddaughters – yet) to pass along these idiosyncrasies to, but my boys often comment ‘That’s how Grammy used to do it’ or ‘Grammy used to say that’, so I know they recognize her in me. Wonderful post.

  14. Dianna says:

    Sometimes those old habits just stay with us, don’t they???

  15. I will always bake the same Christmas cookies my mother has and others. And I will always put out the same vegetables at Thanksgiving that my mother did.

    • Coming East says:

      If I were to still be making Thanksgiving dinner instead of going to my daughter’s house, I would be sure to have rutabaga because my mother always served it at Thanksgiving. And when I did make Christmas cookies, I made the same one as Mom did. Forgot about that until you mentioned it.

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