All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.
— Oscar Wilde
I wouldn't put this one in the bank.
Because long ago, and in a most important way, I became exactly like my own mother. The woman belonged in her kitchen. She was happiest when preparing tradition-rich foods for the people she loved, and most contented when with them at her three-leaf dining table as they ate and drank and gabbed and laughed and sometimes, yes, even cried.
I am especially like my mother in the important business of making meatballs. This is a woman so known for her cooking that, two days before leaving for an audience with Pope John Paul II in Rome, no less a person than my trusted associate thought to ask mom if she had planned on bringing the Holy Father a batch of her meatballs. (For the record, she was planning no such thing. "I'm on vacation," she said. "Besides, he has his own cook. Doesn't he?")
My mother and I did not share the same recipe for meatballs (hard to believe, I know) but the seriousness with which I approach the process (seen here) is a very deliberate nod to the woman who reared me.
"Nobody made meatballs like Aunt Mary," my cousin John has said of my mother thousands of times. "I'd give a lot to have just one more Sunday that had her in it — and her meatballs."
It has been alleged — though never by mom — that the secret lay not in a recipe but in her left hand.
"Your mother wasn't a lefty but she was when she made her meatballs," Aunt Laura has told me. "That's why nobody could ever duplicate them; we were all right-handed. You could follow her recipe to the letter but if you weren't able to comfortably form the balls in your left hand it didn't work."
Mom's sister Anna, also a fine maker of meatballs, tells me that many of the women in our family, as well as others outside of it, often studied alongside my mother trying to mirror both her recipe and her technique. To no avail.
"You want a better explanation than the left hand? Well, I don't have one," Aunt Anna tells me. "What do you want from me? My sister had her own way. She always did."
Should you study the details of my own meatball recipe (principally veal whereas mom's was mostly beef) you will see no mention of a left hand, my mother's or mine. That is because a parent's job is to encourage their children to cut their own path, and in this regard my mother must be judged a success.
Still, confident as I might be in my own kitchen, I stand firmly alongside cousin John here:
This coming Sunday, Mother's Day as it happens, would be a whole lot better if mom and her meatballs were around.