Cooking With Myra: Grab a calzone when you are in a hurry
By Myra Starkey
Sept. 3, 2013 at 4:03 a.m.
Last year, I was in Lake Charles for a week or two. My mom had just died, and my sisters and I stayed with Dad to give comfort and be comforted. There is something about me losing my mom that caused me to temporarily lose my footing.
Normally, I go through life one day at a time, knowing all too well that my days are numbered by God. I hope I have lots of days left, but I can't take that for granted.
Being at home in a house that held such vivid memories of Mom caused me to feel out of control. There was the sense that she was in the next room or would soon return from some errand. It was like I wanted to see her and embrace her one more time. Death creates a chasm that cannot be crossed but one way.
It is too far to see across, and our cries at the edge are likely lost in the emptiness. It felt like being in a ship at sea that is just within seeing distance of shore, but waves keep pushing the vessel farther and farther away. I could only wipe away tears and hope that time would heal my heart.
The week after Mom's death was surreal, as we were all going through the motions in patterns that we had practiced for years. Mostly, we cleaned house, clearing out old magazines and newspapers, giving Mom's clothes to friends and trying to keep busy.
I stayed in the kitchen, preparing meals for Dad so that when we left, he would have food to eat, though, I knew his appetite had vanished when Mom died.
One day, when I was taking a trunk full of clothes into town, I decided to revisit the homes and special places of my youth. I drove by the house I lived in until I was in junior high. It was nestled in a neighborhood with trees that were now large and mature, only it seemed that all the houses had diminished in size.
I strained to see if the backyard still had my first playhouse but figured it had long ago been replaced by a modern swing set. Our red brick house had been updated with shutters. The same picture window still looked out into the front yard from the kitchen.
A memory flashed of sitting on an orange couch in front of the window where I waited for my friend, Susan, to walk from her house so we could play outside.
I moved on to the end of the street where there had been an empty field and a large drainage ditch which provided endless amounts of recreation. The ditch back then was a dumping place for old chairs, tables, pots and other trash that my friends and I commandeered for our fort.
What seemed as a deep and treacherous gully to an 8-year-old now looked only like an overflow ditch. I spotted the location of our fort, which we rebuilt every summer. The pasture had been replaced with concrete streets and houses.
I next traveled downtown to see the old house of my maw maw and paw paw. These were my dad's parents. It has probably been 30 years since they passed away. The structure looked the same. I would give anything to go inside to try to recreate lost memories as one can do sometimes when returning to such a familiar place. As children, we stayed with my grandparents when Mom and Dad were out of town or whenever we could beg my mom to take us there and drop us off.
Maw Maw and Paw Paw would lavish us with junk food and candy, the likes of which was uncommon in our own home. My sisters and I were the only grandchildren. Who could have resisted the desires of three sweet and cute adorable little girls?
I parked the car at the curb. I didn't have the courage to get out and knock on the door. My mind returned to the fading memory of those days. Soon, tears were streaming down my face as my current loss seemed even greater than the hours before. I wondered if the pain ever gets better.
I drove around the neighborhood trying to locate a friend of my Maw Maw named Frankie Mae. She lived in a modest home and was a widow, and we visited her quite often. She always served me coffee milk in small demitasse cups, which made me feel particularly grown up.
Many of the small houses bore years of neglect. I pulled over, not remembering exactly which was hers. One of the homes had only a slight hint of white paint. Much of it had peeled or just worn off. The light blue trim had faded. The yard had grown wild with flowering bushes, but I noticed two window boxes on either side of the front door filled with flowers.
The small white flowers of alyssum drooped over the edges, and potato vine cascaded in 3-foot drops as if the vine desired to cover the whole house before it had been groomed back. Red verbena, pink periwinkles and yellow miniature sunflowers peeked from the green background of creeping rosemary.
The house was not far from the road and because I love to garden, I recognized most of the plants. The boxes were a sharp contrast to the rest of the residence. They were well cared for and maintained despite their weather-worn surroundings.
As I was sitting there, a small, stooped woman appeared with a watering can in one gloved hand and the end of a garden hose in the other. She was bent over from the years of living and appeared to be older than 85. Her gray hair hung down her back in an unruly braid, which started out thick and ended in barely a wisp under her floppy garden hat.
Her gloves were the old-fashioned, cloth variety which probably at one time were colorful and floral but now were a muted pink. She wore a house dress of some small print, looking like she had awakened from a nap and thrown it on before venturing outside.
She did not look toward me despite the fact that I was parked nearby. I did not want to alarm her, so I rolled down the window and called to her telling her how beautiful her flowers were.
She smiled ,and her wrinkled face beamed with pride. She did not seem to want to start a conversation and went back to her task. The tears returned to my eyes as I drove away, heading toward home.
As I returned back to my dad's house, I realized that in life there are many things over which we have little control. Although some events bring us sadness, most of what we experience day-to-day can be filled with simple joys.
We have to embrace both the beauty we see and that which we create and not worry about the rest. Just like the house in need of paint, I needed only to focus my eyes on what was good and lovely, the flower-filled window box and the old woman who nurtured them.
It has been just over a year since my mom's death, but so much has happened. I still miss her but realize I must focus on the wonderful memories of her. I had the privilege of spending 50 years with her from my birth until her death.
When my sisters and I visit dad, we reminisce about happy times with her and even find ourselves laughing when we are telling stories.
But sometimes, as we sit around the dinner table saying a prayer before we eat, I look up quickly to wipe the tears from my eyes and realize all of us, including Dad, are thinking the same thing, and it is that there is a piece of our family that is missing.
Life changes, and there is not anything we can do about it. We should simply look for the beauty in all things and enjoy the gift of this present moment.
Last weekend, I was thinking about Pop Tarts. My mom allowed us to have these on those days that we were late to school. Sometimes, you just don't have time to sit down and eat. Being from Louisiana, we had never heard of breakfast tacos like most of us eat in Texas. Her version of a portable breakfast was meat pies, and they were delicious.
These were baked with a dough crust and stuffed with various ingredients. I have come up with my version of a breakfast calzone, which is made up of sausage, eggs, hatch chili peppers and Rotel tomatoes.
I stewed all these and added mozzarella and Monterrey Jack cheese and then wrapped the contents in a fold of pizza-type dough. I made a Cajun version with crawfish, onions, parsley, celery and peppers, which is just spicy enough to bear the name Cajun. These make for a great meal on the run.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.