I sliced radishes for Mom today. She’s been gone for over a decade now, but I sliced them for her. I was cruising the aisles of County Market in search of something that would put some zing to a summer salad when I saw a clump of radishes and I think I had a flashback. I don’t usually buy radishes from a grocery, figuring that it’s silly to purchase a vegetable from California that can be had locally, but when I saw the red and white bundle of memory staring at me I had pick them up and toss them into one of the store’s mini-carts.
I wasn’t under the influence of anything illegal, but when I got them home and started slicing the little rascals into tangy ovals I was transported back some fifty years. I’m not kidding. It was almost a holy experience.
My mother was a wonderful cook. I guess every guy thinks his mom was the best cook in the world, and I’m no exception. I still seldom order a steak, knowing that no one alive can match Mom’s T-bones. My sister-in-law pays homage to Mom every Christmas with her delicious cheese and potato casserole and everyone else’s Christmas Trifle is trifling compared to Mom’s. I’m sure you have similar foods that immediately transport you back to your childhood kitchen.
And I have no idea why radishes would stand out in my memory. As a youngster I watched Mom cook all types of food. I wasn’t that eager to help, but she’d often offer me a Bisquick biscuit or a French fry if I hung around and bothered her long enough. And we had a bounteous garden producing all sorts of veggies all summer long. Not a meal went by without something on the table that wasn’t fresh from the patch out back beside our basketball court. As the years went by our court got bigger, the garden got smaller, and Mom’s trips to the grocery store became more frequent.
But slicing radishes. Why did that trigger such a vivid memory? She’d stand over the kitchen sink and drop the stub ends into the garbage disposal, carefully slicing each piece into a perfect clone of the one that came before it, paring knife in her right hand with her left hand tossing the finished ovals into a bowl. She’d leave a few radishes unsliced since Dad liked to erect a small mound of salt on his plate and dip them whole into the pile of the condiment.
It’s strange and somewhat comforting to know that certain foods trigger our sense memories. There’s no gravy on earth to compare with my Grandma Orr’s white milk gravy made in same pan in which she’d just fried chicken and purposely left both the grease and the cracklings in the pan. Sometimes when she had neither the time nor the energy to mash potatoes we’d simply put the gravy on slices of bread. Frankly, I preferred the bread method since that left more room on my plate for gravy.
My Aunt Margaret didn’t cook much, but whenever there was a family or church gathering she’d make cornballs. Back in those heady days the potluck was often set out on two hay wagons and Margaret would purposely put the cornballs toward the edge of the wagon’s bed, well within the reach of little fingers. Many families had the tradition of letting the little ones go through the line first, their patience level being somewhat lower than the average Presbyterian, and I could care less about the salads and casseroles and even Aunt Mary’s homemade rolls. My eyes were set firmly upon Margaret’s cornballs, and I think I may have injured a cousin or two fighting my way toward her Corning ware bowl. Beat me in in Handy Over and I won’t blink an eye. Step in front of me when I’m headed for the cornballs and you’ve got trouble on your hands, cousin.
I once sat around a circle of seventh-graders at Triopia and asked them what foods reminded them of someone special in their lives. I think that every hand in our little congregation shot into the air. There’s something about food that’ll do that. Homemade cookies seemed to top the list, but noodles ran a close second with spaghetti coming in a distant third.
It may be easy to take the family out to dinner tonight and since I’m not doing the cooking I won’t interfere with your family’s schedule, but it might be warming to remember the memories that future generations will cherish. Now excuse me while I go slice another radish.