My mom is one of the bravest women I know. During a period of time when divorce was uncommon, my mom gave my dad the finger and walked away from an abusive relationship. It took guts and moxie for a woman with two young boys to begin a better life. When you factor in the realization my mom had been told by society and the education system that her only career would be a wife and mother, and you also know that my brother was born with brain damage, my mom becomes a bad ass rock star for believing we would be better off without my father.
While I now know my brother complicated our lives, he was never a burden. He was an amazing teacher for me, and what he taught me made me a better man. As we got older, we grew apart, and even though we are not best friends, his impact on my life is enduring. If it weren’t for him, I would not have learned to cook and would not have found my inner superhero. This is the legacy you would expect from a gold medal World Special Olympian! I am proud of you TJ.
During summer breaks from school, my mom had a difficult time finding babysitters who could handle my brother. I, of course, was a gem and a curious tinkerer. Let’s just say a 9-volt battery cannot be charged from a dismantled nightlight. She made the appropriate, albeit tough, decision to send my brother and me to Florida for nearly three months each summer to stay with our grandparents. I remember watching her cry as we drove off for our summer adventure. I still wonder if they were tears of sadness or joy.
In the back seat of my grandparent’s Cadillac or Lincoln, my grandma and I would play cards, talk about school, and make plans for the meals she was going to teach me to cook. We would decide if we were going to visit Disney World or SeaWorld, and explore the crafting options we would tackle including ceramics, stained glass, or cross-stitch. Summers were never boring.
During my first trip to Florida, I woke up to my grandma making homemade donuts. It was amazing; I thought donuts only came from the donut shop. I pleaded with grandma to teach me to make them. She agreed and also insisted I learn to cook, bake and clean. I was so excited. Grandma was an amazing cook and Papa’s girth was further evidence.
Before I continue, I need you to understand that my mom is an okay cook. Her best meals were takeout pizza and to-go dinners from Casa Gallardo Mexican restaurant. I’m not complaining, but the truth has a slight sting to it. When she did cook, I was happy to eat it; it was her way of showing me she loved me.
As the summers ticked by, my love for cooking and baking grew. I was comfortable in the kitchen; it was my passion. Cooking was fun, adventurous and intriguing. Recipes did not exist except when baking. Dinner was always an event because we would allow our creativity to craft the menu.
Just before my thirteenth birthday, my grandma died. The summer prior to her passing was the last opportunity I would have to learn from her experience and her fearlessness in the kitchen. It was the last time I would have her homemade donuts, applesauce and grape jelly made in that Florida kitchen.
Her legacy lives on with me. During those long summer days with my grandma, I unknowingly learned some valuable lessons that have helped me throughout my life. Be brave. Be curious. Be willing to fail. Mistakes can be tasty. Being perfect is boring. Spice is nice. Experiment. Trust your instincts. Great husbands cook. Cooking is wonderfully frugal. Food is fun. Laughing makes food taste better. Family is important. Food is love. Music and dancing are soul foods. Bear hugs warm the heart.
Teaching your son to love the kitchen has more benefits than learning to boil water. It can help him be a better man.