Becoming Marilyn

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I worry that I’m becoming my mother.

The other day in Trader Joe’s, I found myself lamenting the fact that they don’t sell half-pound packages of ground beef.

After years of cooking for a small army of children and whatever stray souls my father had dragged home — and after divorcing him — she had winced at the sight of a one-pound of package of ground beef in the grocery store.

“I’m just one person, I couldn’t possibly eat all of that meat!”

She was living alone by then, in a stucco bungalow in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

All that extra food and the prospect of wasting it, overwhelmed her.

Still, she had planted a huge organic garden for us, filling it with lettuces, beets, carrots, radishes, corn, tomatoes, and green peppers. Never broccoli. She’d intimated that she had had a bad experience with her alcoholic father, who’d named her after an iconic movie star, and often raged at her and her mother over trivial matters.

She’d always worried about food going to waste. People think I’m kidding when I tell them we weren’t allowed to leave the table until we’d eaten everything. A grain of brown rice on our plates would keep us from being excused.

She’d been a vegetarian for awhile, feeding us garden-fresh meals and rice and bean, and the occasional hamburger.  At least once a week, she prepared a special steak for my father, serving it to him as if he were royalty, after we’d all gone to bed.   

We were a family of seven living on my father’s teaching salary. It occurs to me now that she abstained from meat to economize as much as for humane reasons, and to ensure my father’s affection. He was a red-meat eater through and through.

He teased her about the vegetarian thing. They’d banter about plants and their capacity to experience pain.

“I bet that vegetables scream when you harvest them, if you listen closely,” my father said.

“I never heard a carrot cry when I pulled it out of the ground. Cows and chickens, they scream.”

“And fish?” he’d asked.

“I don’t know about that.”

It’s funny, the ways my life today is like hers was after she left California.

I live in a small stucco house the desert, one state away from her last home, before she passed away of congestive heart failure. I have a dog by my side every minute of the day. I watch only regular TV (thankfully not Judge Judy, which my mother enjoyed).  I love a good cup of coffee in the morning and green tea in the afternoon. I talk to houseplants and the cactus in the front yard.

There are plenty of ways I’m nothing like her, and wish I was: She could train dogs like a professional. She read a book every two days and mostly kept up on The New Yorker. She sewed countless beautiful quilts, made the best bread I’ve ever smelled and eaten, and built bookshelves and additions on houses.

She had a certain hardness about her, which I may or may not carry, somewhere in me. She could be brash and opinionated. She could also be vulnerable, gentle, loving, and funny.  I remember how much she’d wanted to see Easter Island and Scotland, but she hated airports and crowds.

I miss her.

And not because it’s Mother’s Day, which she despised. To help bring in a bit more money, she had waitressed twice a week, Monday Rotary Club lunch and Sundays, in the small town where I grew up. Working Mother’s Day at the Palace, a steakhouse, had cured her of any romance she may have had about the holiday.

She often said, “Once a year, people are nice to their mothers. What a sham.”

I sent her a dozen roses one year, almost to spite her. If she enjoyed them, which I imagine she did, it was grudgingly.  

To honor her this year,  I’m going to buy a pound of ground beef, and grill two burgers, medium rare with a lot of cheddar cheese.


6 thoughts on “Becoming Marilyn

  1. Love it 😍 You brought back many memories of you all. Happy Mother’s Day. Where are you living?


  2. Lovely writing Leebird. You captured her so succinctly. The banter between your parents made me laugh. I picked up similar characteristics in Marilyn to my Mom. So happy to have had the pleasure of meeting her. Buy that package of beef and enjoy a burger in her honor.❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for bringing my friend to life for me one more time. Although she is never very far away. She was a resilient soul wasn’t she. With so much heart. I’m pleased to hear the resemblance. 💕


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