|Mum, Lago di Como, May 1999|
Ten years. A whole decade. A full quarter of my life so far (may I have many more years, as Nana would have said, "The good Lord willing.") Hard to believe it has been that long since my mother lost the struggle with breast cancer. Last week was the anniversary.
|Four generations - Mum, Nana, Me, Great-Grandma Frindt|
And yet, so much has happened since that time, it almost seems possible it has been longer. In the past decade I've met and married Adam, moved three times, sold my condo. We bought a house, pets have joined us and departed. I've gone back to school, switched careers and jobs, and switched again. I'm a yoga instructor now, but no longer a vegetarian, realized I shouldn't eat the the bread and pasta I practically subsisted on in my youth, and doctors got to the bottom of the mysterious auto-immune issues. So much more, I can't even begin to list everything.
|Mum and sleeping baby Sidney|
At the time of the cancer, Sidney was the only grandchild. Adored and doted upon, Mum relished becoming a Nana (which made her mother, my Nana, Great Nana). Even when very sick, a visit from Sid would brighten everything. Not only for Mum, for all of us. Something positive and fun, an adorable distraction. Joy is the nature of children. Oblivious to sickness, no idea the situation is anything but normal. Something legitimite to do, aside from chores, a change of pace from sitting, waiting. I mean no disrespect at all, and there is no where else I would have been. All I mean to say is a toddler makes death more bearable. This could be part of the reason Sid is more or less frozen in my mind as that toddler, although she is now in junior high. It was such an emotional time, and we all spent so much time together.
|Mum and sleeping toddler Sidney|
My sisters now have a total of four children. Four beautiful grandchildren, all would have been equally adored. Nicole was pregnant with Anna at the time of our mother's death. Anna Judith is named in honor of her grandmother, Judith Ann.
|Dad, baby Anna, Sidney|
It is not surprising Mum was such a devoted Nana, she was a wonderful mother. The kind of mother who baked homemade treats to share with classmates on your birthday (when such a thing was still allowed in schools), went on the school field trips, sat on the floor to play Barbies, was the "customer" for play beauty shop, took us on beach outings and got ice cream sandwiches during the swim break, made sure all the words were memorized for the spelling test, cooked family dinner and would make breakfast for dinner when Dad was away, traveled to Italy with you, sent articles she thought you would find interesting.
|Mum and Bunkie (me) (Bunkie = a derivative of "pumpkin") - my first birthday|
Friends were always welcome at the house, she was known as "Mrs. Sid." Kind and friendly, she easily chatted with everyone, anywhere she went. Equally strong, she was not to be crossed. A stern look and raised eyebrown would set you in place. My high school boyfriend called this look "The implied dammit." Without raised voice or swearing (not that she didn't do these things, she was half Italian after all), she would command attention.
|Dad, Nicole, Me, Mum, Kim - Cole's 4th birthday - the house in Crystal Lake|
|Me, Dad, Mum, Kim, Nicole - Cole and Eric's wedding - the house in Crystal Lake|
As I mentioned earlier, I didn't meet Adam until a few months after her passing, so he never met her. I've never met his mother either, but that's a long complicated story, and his to tell. I think that feeling of motherlessness was one more thing we had in common. He has asked if she would have liked him. She would have - he is loving, kind, funny, respectful, responsible. I know she wanted to see me settled and "taken care of." I resented this remark when she made it, I am a modern woman! I can take care of myself! Now that I am married, I see all the ways that Adam and I do take care of each other. I altered her dress for our wedding. A tangible piece of her with us on the day.
|Uncle Danny, Nana, Great Grandma Frindt, Mum, Papa (dress made by Aunt Bea!)|
|Me in the altered wedding dress |
(if you look closely you can kind of see the lovely embroidery)
There are clues to be found, small glimmers of who she was, remaining in the living. In the kind, caring women my sisters have become. They are amazing mothers. Dad is now the sender of cards, the buyer of gifts, even remembering the children of nieces and nephews, and the organizer of outings. Nicole has always looked so much like her, and I think I too am looking more like her the older I get. I certainly have her big crooked teeth, subdued by braces, but too willful to remain perfectly straight. Growing up her family couldn't afford braces. She didn't like her teeth, and would smile with closed lips for pictures. Such a shame, as her authentic beautiful smile isn't captured much on film. I think of this when posing for photos, and smile a big full smile, even if my buck teeth are revealed. And there's her brother, Uncle Danny, who is practically a male, bald, bearded twin. It's the eyes, so eerily alike.
|Mum and Uncle Danny - Dominick and Candace's wedding|
|Mum and Uncle Danny - Christmas 2001|
Ten years. Long enough to soften the emotions. It's true, it does get easier with time. The pain is rounded, mellowed. A soft melancholy, no sharp edges. The all encompassing sadness bubble was navigated and exited. Ten years is also long enough to unravel the memory. My father used to casually call her Jude, like in "Jude, are we out of paper towels?" Did anyone else call her Jude? Her brother? Her mother? Any friends, or was she always Judy to them? What did her voice sound like? Her laugh?
I am grateful for the years we had with her. I was 30 when he died, a grown woman. More than some get, either in quantity or quality. Don't be sad, she wouldn't have wanted that. Even in her illness I feel our family was fortunate. She had the best medical care, and was surrounded by family and friends. We had each other. I know she is with us in spirit, smiling, and still taking care of us.
In closing, on a happy note, I'll leave you with her recipe for Double Chocolate Zucchini cake. My mother loved sweets, especially chocolate. From an early age we were in the kitchen with my mother, baking along side her. We made this every summer year with the over abundance of zucchini from the backyard garden in Crystal Lake. Same thing happens now in our yard here in Chicago. Sorry no photo, I haven't had a chance to make it yet this year. When I do, I'll come back and add a picture. Bake, and be happy!
Now with photos! Added September 30, 2012
Double Chocolate Zucchini Cake
Makes 16 servings
3 medium (1 pound) zucchini, about three cups
3 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2-1/3 cups (1 pound) light brown sugar
1 cups chopped pecans (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grate enough zucchini to equal three cups. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan (e.g. Bundt pan), set aside.
- In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt; set aside.
- In a large mixer bowl, beat oil and sugar at medium speed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Gradually beat in melted chocolate. Add dry ingredients, beat until smooth. Fold in zucchini, chocolate pieces, and pecans. Pour into prepared pan.
- Bake 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack 20 minutes. Remove cake from pan, cool completely on wire rack.
- This makes a pretty big cake. Feel free to freeze half. It does very well, just thaw in the fridge.
- Zucchini itself freezes pretty well, and is good for use in moist applications, like soup or bread. For bread, I let it thaw and drain before adding to a batter. Grate, and put in portion size bags (the amount for this recipe fills a quart-size freezer bag).
- I've also made it in two loaf pans to make the freezing-half process easier. It works well, just watch the baking time.
- This batch was made gluten free. I substituted the 3 cups of all-purpose flour for 420 grams gluten-free all-purpose flour mix and 1-1/2 teaspoons of xanthan gum.
- I was out of unsweetened chocolate, so substituted 6 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons of melted cocoa butter (regular butter is typical, I just happened to have cocoa butter on hand for the body butter I make).
|For reference, this is the zucchini I used. It yielded about three cups.|
|Instead of straight flour, blend 1 tablespoon of flour and |
1 tablespoon cocoa powder for dusting the pan.
|Ready for the oven.|
|Cooling, soooo hard to wait!|
|Ready to eat! Optional - dust with powdered sugar before serving.|