Twice I’ve had shepherd’s pie. The first time I was maybe three, probably two, back when children graduated from high chairs much earlier and rode bikes with no helmets. Back when I stood in the middle of the bench car seat holding onto daddy’s shoulder while he drove, his extended arm my only seat belt. The pie was mother's attempt to make something special on a meager grocery budget. Once, when we were down to our last mason jar of green beans, my sister and I, toddlers, oblivious, mom made the green beans, seasoned them as if part of a grand meal, set the table, poured the tea, put the beans in a glass serving dish (a cookpot on the table would never do), lifted the dish from the counter, and then, hands wet, the glass slipped, and the green beans exploded on the kitchen floor, spiced with shards too splintered to remove. And mom sat down right there in the middle of the green beans and cried. The shepherd’s pie happened around the same time. Sixties food wasn’t fancy. Grocery stores didn’t stock arugula and truffle oil and quinoa. Life was more meatloaf and mashed potatoes. But, shepherd’s pie, it was all mixed together. And was that a pea? I didn’t like it on sight. Dad said, “you eat what your mother prepares.” I tried and gagged. My sister and I slumped in our chairs and stared at our plates in terror. Dad dug in. “You will sit here until your plate is clean.” Hours passed. Still we sat. Still dad glared. I think we ate it, but I don’t remember. I just remember The sitting and the staring and the glaring. Years later, dad said, “I sure made some mistakes, and there are some things I wish I could change. I would never have made you girls stay at that table and eat something you didn’t like, for one thing.” His 60-year-old self was now embarrassed by his 23-year-old choices. All I know is his stubbornness, his mistake, made a day I remember in a childhood I have largely forgotten, a bookmark in my story, the clearest picture I have of my boy father. Last night, Nickie made shepherd’s pie. She didn’t know the story. I told her -- smiling, laughing, remembering, I told her. Then I tasted shepherd’s pie for the first time. And then I went back for seconds. © 2020 Deborah E. Moore, All Rights Reserved
Several years ago, a tiny book called Life’s Little Instruction Book was a best-selling phenomenon. H. Jackson Browne wrote the book as a gift to his son who was going to college. If you were alive on this planet 20 or so years ago, you know of this book. It was everywhere. I had the privilege of briefly working for the original publisher of the book, jokingly referred to by those of us in marketing as “The House that Jack Built.”
It was such a simple and rather obvious concept. Despite its simplicity (or maybe because of it), the book spent almost a year at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List. Copycat publications began to fall like rain behind it.
As a young writer, I longed for that kind of publishing success and wracked my brain trying to create a similar premise for a book. Creating the simple is often the most difficult task.
With Mother’s Day just behind us, I’ve been thinking about my mom. Well, of course. In the story arc of my time with my mother, what she has taught me is not exactly conducive to book form. Sure, she has given me quite a few lessons over the years, but there is a definite and predominant theme which would ultimately be the whole of any literary endeavor built around her wisdom. It has been my mother’s answer to everything: “Get up and move around; you’ll feel better.”
When I feigned sickness to avoid school as a child, that was her swift reply. I suppose some mothers might feel a forehead or sit at the edge of the bed in pursuit of further information about the purported illness. Not mom. As she would zip through my room, probably putting away freshly folded clothes or (often) running a vacuum cleaner as my alarm clock, she would fling the phrase over her shoulder. No matter how pathetic I made my plea sound, her response was the same: “Get up and move around; you’ll feel better.”
And the part I couldn’t easily admit as a child was that she was almost always right. Even when I did have some aches or pains which might have justified my complaint, usually if I just started moving they began to dissipate.
Over the years, I have heard my mother’s voice echoing in my brain on many occasions. When I was ill or depressed or just in a general funk, I could hear my mother advocating her cure for everything.
When life felt untenable and just generally bigger than me, “Get up and move around; you’ll feel better.” When a job or my checkbook or the mess in the garage seemed out of control, “Get up and move around; you’ll feel better.” When my heart or my spirit or my hope was broken, “Get up and move around; you’ll feel better.”
It’s no secret that exercise can combat depression. My mother knew that far before it became the conventional wisdom of mental health, though in her eyes exercise is a waste of precious time you could actually use to work and accomplish something. Of all the great wisdom in the world she could have passed on, in her endlessly pragmatic way my mother gave me the one piece that is actually useful in most situations.
I hope my mother is on this earth for many more years. But, when the time should come for her to slip this mortal coil, this will be my vote for her epitaph: “Get up and move around; you’ll feel better.”
We had a party on the Fourth of July. (It was great. Sorry you missed it.) This means, of course, that we spent all day Saturday and the bulk of Sunday morning preparing the house for the arrival of guests in the afternoon. The lawn had been mowed on Thursday. Saturday morning began with a marathon weed-eating session. We have two acres, lots of trees, a long driveway, several planters, sidewalks, etc. Weed eating this mo-fo is not a small task.
Since I already carried the stench of one of the original transcontinental railroad track layers after a week under the prairie sun, I tackled the rest of the outdoor chores. Moving the patio table and chairs, cleaning out coolers in preparation for ice and beer, setting up the slip-n-slide for the young’uns, blowing off the deck and patio, picking up dog poop, etc., etc., ad nauseam, et. al, i.e., e.g., and so on. Then to the outside windows and doors.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m a perfectionist. My partner, Susie, is the queen of the day-to-day upkeep of the house. I, on the other hand, take these tasks far too seriously. If you ask me to clean the kitchen, I will emerge two hours later from a kitchen that looks like it was just newly installed. So, cleaning doors and windows extrapolated into a detail job involving a broom, Windex, far too many paper towels, Q-tips, and a bamboo skewer originally intended for grilling kabobs (not enough room here to explain the necessity of the last item). The Buddhist part of my nature hid behind my inner pragmatist while I (inadvertantly, but resolutely) killed unknown numbers of spiders with the lethal weapon of an ammonia-soaked environmentally-unfriendly disposable towel.
Then to the inside, and I shant bore you with details with which you are likely all too familar. Dusting, vacuuming, more Windex, etc., etc., ad nauseam, et. al., i.e., e.g., and so on.
Here is the interesting thing, and the point of this diatribe (I DO have one). I did all of this with immense joy. I physically felt really good, which helps. And I usually find some modicum of joy in menial tasks such as these (the Buddhist part of my nature). Also, I receive an inordinate amount of pleasure in a crisp, clean, neat little house. But cleaning the house is a different experience based upon the event it precedes, I have discovered.
For instance, why was deep cleaning for a party a joy, but cleaning for my mother to come visit is often fraught with anxiety and pressure? I anticipate both events with equal levels of happiness, and I receive ample house admiration in each instance. But, my mother’s compliments often feel more like a validation of my very personhood — my issue, not hers. Wait, did I just hit on something here? Does cleaning house for my mother’s arrival contain elements of my value as a person, my essential goodenoughness? With my friends, face it, I’m just showing off. With my mother, I’m showing up, who I am, how I live.
I originally learned how to live in my mother’s house, naturally. I learned her value system of cleanliness. Perhaps the act of cleaning before she arrives feels somewhat like a test. How well did I learn what she tried to instill? Now, mind you, it’s a test administered by me, not her. As with most things, I proctor my own life exam. I’m not quite sure how to completely stop grading myself when it comes to my mother (if anyone has figured this out, COMMENT BELOW PLEASE!). But, for the party at least, I give myself an “A.”
Should have taken pictures. So I could send them to my mother, of course.