Mother is sleeping in her padded chair in the dining room while on the TV in front of her, a cooking show goes on and on about how to whip potatoes. Funny, all those years I thought we were having mashed potatoes they were really whipped potatoes because Mother always did them just like the TV show says to do them if you want them whipped. The test cook chef is amazed at this new recipe she has found and how good they are. They should have been at Mother’s house for the last seven decades and they could have already had them.
I suppose that means we never really had mashed potatoes. One thing we had that I bet most people didn’t, was chocolate gravy. Over fresh, hot biscuits. Wow. I wanted to get my face down close to the plate and just shovel it in while savoring every bite and lick of the spoon. It’s the consistency of gravy, but it’s chocolate. Milk chocolate. Not a glace, not a mousse, it’s gravy; chocolate gravy that runs down the side of the hot Bisquick biscuits straight out of the oven. Man, it’s good. Melts in your mouth. Hits that chocolate itch perfectly.
I’ve only met two other people outside the family who knew what chocolate gravy was. And they were clients I had in Nashville, a young woman who moved to town from a little country town in Oklahoma or Arkansas. Her mother was in town to help her find a condo to buy and we had a good time visiting as we rode around looking at condos. Turns out the mom made chocolate gravy! I couldn’t believe someone else knew what that was. And, of, course, they put it over hot biscuits. Although, I think she made her biscuits from scratch. Mother could too, but usually was too busy.
Mother always made yeast rolls for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. They were made from scratch and were fabulous. Yum. One of those things that brings back memories the moment you smell that yeast in the oven. Mother hasn’t made them in years because it’s a big job but my sister used the same recipe to make them all the years her girls were growing up. Now my sister’s girls and grandchildren always ask for them at the holidays so she’s built the same memories in her family that we had growing up.
Lemon meringue and chocolate cream pies. Mother made those from scratch too. And in the summer, Daddy would buy a lug of peaches and Mother would make peach ice cream or sometimes, banana or fresh strawberry. Once in a while, chocolate, but usually a fresh fruit ice cream. Daddy would sit out on the back stoop, cranking the ice maker, filling the sides of the ice cream maker with rock salt and ice and talking to whoever would sit out there with him.
Someone was usually playing the piano, one of us kids running in and out the back door. Or sitting on the couch, noses buried in a book. My sister used to say that if I was reading she could never get my attention. But what I remember are all the sounds of the house swirling around like background music to whatever I was reading.
About the time I moved to Nashville to sell houses, I gave my sister a big bag of books that I wasn’t taking with me and her husband said,
“We’ve lost her now. She’d be buried in books for weeks.”
It runs in the family, this immersion in books.
When Daddy died, we donated over 1100 of his books to his favorite university. I can now go online and search their library catalog and see his name there. Such a nice feeling. He left a quite a legacy.
Speaking of legacies, I remember being concerned when I was a girl that since I only had two brothers, the Dean name might not carry on. I’ve since learned that there are millions of Deans, but most of them are in the Eastern United States or in Great Britain and European countries. In my life, I have only personally met two, maybe three other families named Dean.
Turns out, I needn’t have worried. My oldest brother has three sons to carry on the name and two grandsons, so far. My other brother has four sons carrying on the name and they are all at marrying age and beginning their families.
Legacies are interesting. It started with two, Mom and Dad. Sixty four years later there are forty-six of us now, plus three deceased and another seven that left the family through divorce. We stretch from the youngest who is about five months to Mother, the oldest at 85 with every age in between.
One year, there were four or five great-grand kids graduating high school the same year. In the last year, four of the great-grand kids brought spouses or significant others into the family and started having babies. Two more got engaged this year.
It’s good being here so that Mother can stay in her home but it feels different from what I thought these years of my life would feel. I miss being free to travel to my sister’s or my brothers’ houses. Laughing with the kids and their kids. I always thought I’d be there to support my nieces and nephews and their children. I didn’t imagine that I would not be able to travel to their graduations or weddings. But here I am, so that Mother can stay in her house. That’s a good thing. I’m happy to be here for her. I just didn’t expect the limitations it would mean for me.
But then, I’m not sure you can really understand what your legacy will be. A warm, safe home, with lights shining out the windows in the twilight and the smell of Mother’s cooking are what I remember. That and Daddy’s peace and calm. I guess I have to just trust that I built some legacy with my nieces and nephews and their children and that this part, this being stuck in one place, that’s part of the legacy as well.