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Cooking With Myra: Letting go hard to do

By By Myra Starkey
Aug. 7, 2012 at 3:07 a.m.

Louisiana Jambalaya  (Poor Man's version)

Louisiana Jambalaya (poor man's version)*

Seasoning mix

• 1 tsp. salt

• 2 tsp. pepper

• 2 tsp. cayenne pepper

• 1 tsp. gumbo file

• 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

Jambalaya

• 1 tsp. Louisiana hot sauce

• 1 stick butter

• 8 oz. tasso or smoked ham (chopped)

• 8 oz. andouille smoked sausage, diced**

• 8 oz. smoked pork sausage, diced

• 2 cups chopped onions

• 2 cups chopped celery

• 1 cup chopped bell pepper

• 4 cloves garlic, chopped

• 2 cups uncooked rice (long grain)

• 4-5 cups chicken stock

• 1 bunch parsley finely chopped

Combine seasoning ingredients and set aside. You can also use Tony Chachere's seasoning in place of the above mixture and add gumbo file separately. Melt butter in a heavy skillet Add smoked pork sausage, andouille sausage and tasso ham and cook for 5 minutes. Add onions, celery, bell pepper and seasonings. Add garlic and cook until browned and all vegetables are wilted.

Stir well, making sure to scrape the bottom of the skillet. Stir in rice and cook for 5 minutes continuing to stir occasionally. Add 4 cups stock, stirring well. Bring mixture to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer until rice is tender, being careful not to stir. Simmer for 20 minutes, adding spoonfuls of stock and stirring at the end of 15 minutes. Serve this as a main course with a salad. Truly comfort food.

*We call it poor man's version since only sausage is used, rather than chicken, rabbit or seafood.

**If andouille is not available, then use kielbasa, diced.

Those we love don't go away, they walk beside us every day.

Unseen, unheard, but always near; still loved, still missed and very dear.

- Anonymous

It is interesting to me that the brain sometimes refuses to acknowledge things it knows to be true. We think and act in the present time and stay busy in order to shut out recent painful events. Last week, there were moments when I thought I could still hear the distinct call of my mom's voice or a familiar creak of the floor and expect that it would be her rounding the corner.

My mom died two weeks ago on Saturday. I decided to stay in Lake Charles to grieve with my dad and two sisters. The funeral was to be at the end of that week. Our grieving process consisted of housecleaning and weeding flower beds. Dad silently watched.

He would sometimes make conversation as a momentary distraction to his deep sadness. We were there to keep him company, but the one who could quench his loneliness would not return. Adult children are only a barely acceptable substitute for a wife of 50 years.

We welcomed visitors who brought jambalaya, bread pudding, kibbies, smoked ribs and brisket, roasted pork tenderloin with field peas, assorted cakes and quick breads. Each night, the three daughters and Dad would sit at the kitchen table eating together, just like we did all those years ago, except Mom was now gone.

Our conversation was usually about how delicious the food was or how much we enjoyed visiting with various friends and relatives who had come by to pay their respects. Much of the time, we talked of frivolous things, choking back sobs and tears, each of us wishing Mom was still alive.

But as Tuesday became Wednesday, we began to share memories of her. We continued to clean and scrub, throwing away clutter, which had collected over the months and years. Each day, we found joy where we could and even laughter came as we reminisced about old memories of growing up.

My sister, Cindy, and I tackled the inside of the house, while my sister, Susie, ventured out of doors and began the tedious task of landscape maintenance. None of us minded the work because we knew that in our own way it allowed us to heal together. I have to confess that at night when I closed my eyes I thought only of Mom. My brain seemed not so willing to accept the reality that she had passed.

Occasionally in the week, I would be so absorbed in my tasks that I would forget the heartache. At the grocery store one day, I told Cindy to get a certain type of tea because Mom liked it. She looked at me sadly with disbelief, and I realized the mistake my brain had made.

Our minds must develop areas that pertain to fulfilling the needs and desires of each individual that we love. And when they die that door is closed, only that the latch was so seldom used before that the door tends to work its way open with the slightest brush of effort.

My mom was a lifelong collector of all sorts of things including keys, matryoshka dolls, small hurricane lamps, toy chairs, nativity sets and dishes. She seemed a bit obsessed with this at times. Her favorite items were the nativities, and she had literally hundreds of them. She proudly displayed these in lighted cabinets in her house.

They were not so much incredible in their value or quality, but rather in their sheer number. She purchased them on trips and was always looking for unique depictions of the holy family. Her friends gave her even more of these items as gifts because they knew it made her happy.

Over the years, I tried to get her to give some away and although she was extremely generous in most ways, she could not bring herself to part with any of these nativity sets. There was really no reason that she needed to get rid of any of them. It would have been much worse had she chosen to collect something like stray cats or junk cars.

About a year ago, I had a birthday party for her in Lake Charles and invited a lot of her friends. She and I had talked then about giving away some of the nativity sets, and she had again declined, accepting the fact that one day her three daughters would probably just get rid of all her collections.

When she was diagnosed with cancer this past May, the subject of her potential death surfaced, and I posed the idea that I could give much of the collection away at her funeral. She thought about that briefly and agreed. On the night preceding her funeral, my sisters and I individually bagged hundreds of these sets to share with her friends. We talked and laughed and told stories as we wrapped the delicate pieces, which would find their way into another home the following day. Our hope was that every time someone sees their nativity from Mom, they would remember her.

It has been a hard week for me being back at work, having to smile and try to graciously deal with life's challenges, when deep down I sometimes feel tears. Work seems to be good for my soul and it is slowly healing. So many of you have sent cards and letters, and in those, I have read words which have healed my heart, as well. I thank you for loving me in those words of encouragement.

Death is hardest on those left behind and as the days go by, I feel myself getting back to normal. It is a new normal in which I can only comfort myself with the fond memories of Mom and the sad realization that some of those will fade. One day, I too will be gone, and I only hope my legacy will be as rich as the one Mom left behind.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email myra@vicad.com.

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