My mother died five years ago. She was 52. I was 28. It was not enough time to learn all that I wanted to learn from her, but enough time to learn a lot of things. I still repeat her mantra of “sugar, shortening, dry ingredients” whenever I make cookies. I think of her every time I change my sheets because she taught me how to make a hospital corner. (Although I still can’t remember which way I’m supposed to tuck the sheet).
Our friends invited us over for Christmas Eve dinner. (They are always doing nice things for us). I volunteered to bring a jello salad. My husband wanted to know why I would volunteer for jello. He doesn’t like jello and I never make it. I volunteered because, growing up, my Mom used to make a jello salad for Christmas Eve dinner. It was red and green and had a layer of pineapple, cream cheese and whipped cream in the middle. It did look rather festive. My Mom would serve it on a bed of shredded lettuce and we’d always make fun of her for it. We aren’t a family that is into the art of presentation.
I bought all the things I thought I’d need but when I went to make it I couldn’t find the recipe. I called my sister in Georgia: she didn’t have it. I checked my files again: nothing. I searched online: nothing like what my Mom had made. I began to wonder if the recipe had died with my mother. It wouldn’t have mattered much: we only ever had it at Christmas and, even then, it was met with mixed enthusiasm. But, oh, must we mourn that loss, too? The loss of the recipe for Ribbon Jello Salad? Just when we thought we were done mourning?
I finally called my Dad. He looked through my Mom’s recipe file. It was a sweet thing for him to do. It was sort of like the night I called him at 3:00 am because my daughter had a high fever. Somehow I thought he could help. He couldn’t, but he’d wanted to. Maybe that’s all that mattered.
He did find the recipe, though. “It calls for marshmallows,” he said. “I remember her making it with marshmallows once,” he said, “but she didn’t like it with marshmallows. It’s better without them.” It sounded like he misses her. We all do, even if we don’t particularly miss her Ribbon Jello Salad.
Incidentally, mine didn't work out at all.