Reflection on B

BEDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the A to Z Challenge, an exercise in self-flagellation we bloggers inflict upon ourselves to teach us discipline as writers and to build audience. During the month of April, I’ll be posting 26 times, once for every letter in the alphabet. Looking on the bright side, we can each be thankful this is an English language exercise and not Khmer, the language of Cambodia, which sets the world record with a 74-character alphabet! After some misgivings, I’ve decided to proceed with my initial idea of blogging about the special people in my life whose names begin with the appropriate letter. There will be difficulties, like having more than one special person whose names begin with the same letter, forcing me to choose. And then there are those letters — O, Q and X among them — where no name springs readily to mind. What will I do then? We’ll have to wait and see!

That's my mother -- Betty.
That’s my mother — Betty.

B is for Betty

Even as an adult, I never called my mother by her first name, but a writing exercise such as this forces exceptions to the rule. Looking ahead, M is already taken, so for today only, Mama is Betty.

To say I revered my mother would be an understatement, so it’s hardly surprising that this isn’t the first time I’ve written about her. It was Mama — Betty if we must — who taught me the importance of gifts.

There are many kinds of gifts, but the gifts I’m talking about aren’t things you buy because you’re a slave to commercialism, or because you think a loved one wants (or even needs) a particular thing. Gifts — real gifts — are things that may one day take on talismanic importance because of the memories they evoke.

I have several such gifts that have taken on talismanic importance — a clothes brush, a tie tac, a key fob, and pewter shot glasses among them — but as it turns out, I have precious little in the way of physical objects my mother gave to me, but most of what I do have revolves around food and cooking. There are the pink Depression glass dishes that belonged to her, and also a Mexican sombrero she made in ceramics class that is used for serving chips and salsa. Those things still come out on special occasions, but most of what my mother gave me was eaten long ago.

Betty lived her life in service to those she loved, and part of that service was making sure everyone had exactly what they wanted to eat. It was her gift, and she gave lavishly to anyone who entered her house. She wasn’t a fancy cook, or even the best cook, but you could taste the love in everything she served.

Her service didn’t stop when the food came out of the oven. If someone wanted a bit of raw onion, or if the salt shaker somehow hadn’t made it to the table, it was Betty who leaped from her place to fetch it, and it was she who lingered behind to clean up the dishes and to bring the desserts into the family room. It sounds terribly sexist in today’s modern world, but that’s how it was, and I don’t believe she ever felt we were taking advantage of her. It’s how she showed us that she loved us, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Betty in 1987, long before the cancer struck.
Betty in 1987, long before the cancer struck.

When my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I flew to Texas several times to see her. On one such trip, my plane was delayed in Chicago or Dallas, I can’t remember, but it was getting late by the time I finally arrived in San Antonio, rented a car and drove 60 miles west to Kerrville.

I’ve written about lots of food on this blog, but Betty’s potato pancakes are one thing I’ve never mentioned until now. There’s a reason for that, a reason that cuts like a knife.

When you give a gift, you never know which one will strike a chord, which one might become that special talisman, and so Betty surely never knew that the lowly potato pancake would become hers.

Here’s the freeze-frame from my memory: I walk into the living room, suitcase strap digging into my shoulder. Daddy sits while Mama, the terminal cancer patient, stands in the kitchen, her wan and sickly face wreathed in smoke from frying something in the middle of the night — my favorite potato pancakes.

Before she died, she taught us how to make them, but you won’t catch me trying, because I already know something would be missing. You see, Betty’s recipe makes no mention of her three secret ingredients that can no longer be obtained anywhere on this earth: time, sacrifice and love. These were her gifts, and she sprinkled them liberally into all her food, but most especially into those potato pancakes she made while I watched — and watch her still — frying and dying, late into the night, just for me.

Betty’s Potato Pancakes *

My mother was justly famous for her potato pancakes. No one can make them like she could. This is her recipe, but I wish you could have tasted the real thing . . . 

Ingredients
4 large potatoes, grated coarsely
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup flour
salt and coarsely ground pepper
dash of Worcestershire sauce

Procedure
oil for frying

1) Place grated potatoes in bowl. Add remaining ingredients except oil, and mix. Heat oil in skillet. When oil is hot, with your hands, grab a handful of potato mixture and place into oil. Flatten slightly with a turner and fry until crisp. Drain on paper towels.

Source: Betty Redus

*Transcribed by my sister

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40 Comments

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  1. What a remarkable lady, Betty was. My mother is also an incredible person and gives unconditionally – her time, her wisdom and continued support of me throughout my various careers. I blog about her a lot too. She is the reason I am who I am and I will be eternally grateful to have been blessed with such a mother. Her name is Angela and she is truly an angel. Thank you so much for sharing Betty with us. I must also add that my most treasured memories and the thing I look forward to most are the times I share with my mother around the dinner table. It is always a pleasure and we laugh so much. A super and heartfelt post. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I very recently lost my own mother, reading your piece touched me even more. I do like the idea of food being gifts, in my family there is one all kids are served when they go home to their parents (my dad and his siblings when visiting their dad but also my sister when she comes home, I live a bit too close to be served the dish every time).
    This is such a loving post. I am looking forward to your others.
    Oh and potato pancakes are one of my favourite dishes too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a lovely testament to Betty. I’ve gone all teary eyed. These portraits of your family are so touching. Looking forward to seeing what you bring us tomorrow with C.

    Cheers – Ellen | http://thecynicalsailor.blogspot.com/2016/04/b-is-for-boatyard-nancy-drew.html

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, since we have Sundays off for good behavior, C won’t be coming along until Monday, but I know what you meant! Thanks for the kind words about my mother, and I’m happy to have you on board (nautical reference) for whatever comes next!

      Like

  4. Deborah Farrisi April 2, 2016 — 7:53 am

    Beautiful. And you made me miss my Mom. A lot. sigh.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. A beautiful post about a beautiful woman – those photos shine out. Coincidentally, today would have been my mother’s 100th birthday, so mothers and the love they offer are on my mind. Looking forward to the rest of the alphabet!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A beautiful blog post for what sounds like an amazing and beautiful woman. I’m sorry for your loss but am happy that you had such an amazing mother. I especially enjoyed the freeze frame moment of you walking into the kitchen still seeing your mother put others first before herself despite what she was going through. Very touching.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Betty is beautiful! And so true – it never tastes as good because key ingredients are always missing. Thank you for a touching post.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “Time, sacrifice and love. These were her gifts.” Those words sum up Betty for me. I loved her so much and miss her every day. She was a wonderful person, the best mother-in-law anyone could ask for. You’ve written a beautiful tribute to one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever been blessed to know. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Not to get all misty at this late date, but sharing Betty with us was a true gift. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh my goodness. I’m reading this on a break at a conference and totally just teared up 🙂 How incredibly sweet!

    Happy B Day!
    ~AJ Lauer, an A-Z Co-host
    Twitter: @ayjaylauer

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Such a wonderful and loving tribute to your mother! A very special, beautiful woman indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. wow i thought, that would be a great woman to have known. then i realized I do know this woman. I know you and you very much carry her with you in your actions everyday

    Liked by 1 person

  13. The memories we cherish, the ones that last through everything else, are the ones involving those 3 secret ingredients. Thank you for sharing such a personal memory with us, so we may remember to cherish those moments while we can.
    @ScarlettBraden from
    Frankly Scarlett

    Liked by 1 person

  14. You made me tear up and ultimately wish I could have met Betty. Wonderful homage to your mama.
    Your fellow A-Zer,
    Jen

    Liked by 1 person

  15. What a lovely tribute to your mother. I’m sure she would’ve loved to read it!

    Farin from The Newest Vazquez

    Liked by 1 person

  16. What a beautiful lady! That was an emotional read! Makes me want to give my mum a hug right now.

    [@LMayhewWriter] from
    Lauren Mayhew Author

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Darn you! You made me cry. Again! What a lovely tribute. :). Monica

    Liked by 1 person

  18. She’s beautiful! I’m glad you have such lovely memories with her. I like the idea of giving food as gifts too. My mum always says that food tastes magically better when cooked with love 🙂 Maybe you cook the pancakes for your grandkids and they’ll turn out just like Betty’s!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. What a beautiful tribute to your mother and the many gifts she shared with her family! This reminds me of my grandmother, a woman who never had a lot of money but who always made sure every guest in her house was very well fed. For Christmas each year, she’d give each of us a loaf of homemade cinnamon bread. Those are the most memorable gifts, aren’t they? Thanks for sharing this memory!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Isn’t the whole ‘rules’ thing at odds with the creative process? Some people do it this way. Some people do it that way. Long copy. No copy. None of it matters really. You either have good ideas and express them in a way that gets the right sort of attention – or you don’t. Advice be damned I say.

    Like

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