Sally Koslow’s new novel, THE WIDOW WALTZ, is about the bond between mother’s and daughters. Today Sally is sharing a bit of her story with her own mom with us. It’s a moving tribute to the things we take for granted when we’re young. And since we have a copy of THE WIDOW WALTZ up for grabs today (see entry form below) we’d would love to hear from you as well. What do you love and remember about your mother?
In my childhood, women baked in self-defense. If Fargo, North Dakota, had any bakeries, they must have been hidden in underground silos. If you wanted a decent dessert, you (a) drove 221 miles north to Winnipeg, (b) drove 235 miles southeast to Minneapolis or (c) greased a pan and pre-heated the oven to 350 degrees. Sensible women chose (c).
Until my mother detoured into Bundt-land–her default recipe featured instant pudding, vodka and Galliano— she prepared treats every Friday: pies; prune bread (sounds vile, tasted heavenly), a parade of cookies, bars and many cakes–airy angel food, heart-shaped layers for Valentine’s Day and sheet cakes crowned with broiled coconut or her mother’s seven-minute frosting.When I went off to college, Mom shipped me butterscotch oatmeal cookies in coffee cans. I suspect my boyfriend—now, husband–stuck around because he had a crush on the cookies, not me.
My mother never considered her baking special, so neither did I and spent my adolescence longing for a mom who spent more time buttering my ego while sharing wisdom to help me become irresistible to boys. I wanted CoCo-Chanel- meets-Jackie-O. What I got was a life member of Hadassah in orthopedic wedges with anklets whose hair-flair flatlined at pin curls and who, at the first rumble of stress, crashed with a migraine.
I yearned for a storybook mother-daughter relationship past the time I, too, became a mom. Then, abruptly, the fantasy imploded. I took my mother to a concert at the Metropolitan Museum which she insisted was the University of Minnesota, where she’d gone to college. I didn’t need a diagnosis of dementia–that came the next year–to guess what was happening, although Mom was younger than I am now. For the next few weeks, I couldn’t staunch my tears–for her tragedy and if I was being honest, for mine: the bond I dreamed of, measured by the high standards of my imagination, was never going to happen.
Soon, my mother forgot who I was. When we visited her new residence, a nursing home creepily decorated with patients’ childlike artwork, my husband and I tried to penetrate the maximum-security prison that is dementia. “Do you remember the recipe for those cookies you sent Sally at college?” he asked one afternoon. Recognition twinkled. “I forgot that recipe a long time ago,” my mom joked. It was the last coherent sentence I ever heard her utter.
Two years after my mother’s death, I had a dream. She was preparing Thanksgiving dinner and for dessert, she’d baked pumpkin pie, for which she gave me pointers: “Plain whipped cream has no taste. Always add vanilla and confectioners’ sugar.” As she showed me the amounts, her voice was strong and her demeanor, alive.
I woke with a smile. The dream was both hello and good-bye.
When a friend has a dinner party, I’m the one who always volunteers to bring dessert. As I bake, often from recipes in my mom’s handwriting, I hear her Marge accent that I left in Fargo. “Refrigerate the dough.” “Don’t make a crust if the kitchen’s muggy.” “Take the eggs out early to get to room temperature.” “When you measure, accuracy counts–baking depends on chemical reactions.” I’m back in our childhood kitchen. Outside, sun bounces off snowdrifts, but inside, it’s cozy, warmed by the legacy of my mother’s love.
* * *
Georgia Waltz has an enviable life: a plush Manhattan apartment, a Hamptons beach house, two bright twenty-something daughters, and a seemingly perfect marriage. But when Ben dies suddenly, she discovers that her perfect lawyer-husband has left them nearly penniless. As Georgia scrambles to support the family, she and her daughters plumb for the grit required to reinvent their lives, and Georgia even finds that new love is possible in the land of Spanx.
Inspiring, funny, and deeply satisfying, The Widow Waltz is a compulsively readable tale of forgiveness, healing, and the bonds between mothers and daughters.