37/52 – My Mother-in-Law

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​Having just returned from Ireland, with October upon us, and our applepicking happening just this afternoon, my mother-in-law has been much on my mind. Jean. Our trip was visiting her home, her cousins, and interring her ashes with her father, and applepicking was her “holiday”. She came up every year for applepicking and was also here for most of my middle child’s birthdays. He was born in October. She didn’t drive, but that didn’t stop her; not one bit. At home she traveled by public bus or walked or with friends. She used to take bus tours for those senior casino trips. She rode Greyhound or Trailways or whichever line was available to see us, arriving in New York’s capital in the afternoon before the roads were seized by rush hour. She also took Amtrak to visit my sister-in-law when she was in Virginia or Maine. She knew how to pack and only brought what she could carry, leaving plenty of room to bring home loads of apples.

When she left home in Northern Ireland, she traveled the world, meeting new people, finding adventure. From the UK to Afghanistan to India to Australia to America, where she settled, getting married, and having kids.

So many stories to tell, tea to drink, food to create and share, not to mention her Christmas dinners that I can only try to emulate and her trifles that I won’t even attempt for fear of not meeting anyone’s expectations, least of all mine.

Growing up in Northern Ireland to a Catholic mother and a Protestant father, she was not a fan of the church and its rules, especially because of the way her father was treated back in the day. However, she was remarkably supportive when I became Catholic with no warning or preamble. She encouraged me. She found items that she had from her mother – a book of Catholic prayers for example, signed with her mother’s name and dated 1919. She said she didn’t know why she had kept it for so long, but now she knew and gave it to me along with a small First Communion statuette and a key chain with tiny figures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

She was kind and generous and gave more than we could have ever given back.

Every step, every rock, every drop of rain in Ireland reminded me of her, especially always bringing an umbrella along.

Just in case.

36/52 – Applepicking

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​My second son was due on October 21st (in 2004). On the twenty-third, I was sitting in the backseat of our station wagon while he was sleeping in his car seat. His grandma, Dad, and older brother were in the orchard adjacent to us, amidst the trees, picking apples.

Red ones.

Green ones.

Each eating one from the tree as was (and continues to be) our tradition. We took a few photos of apples piled on him as he slept and compared the largest ones to his tiny head.

However, he was not two days old, but eleven having come nine days early after two excruciating days in unrecognized labor. His was the most difficult of my three pregnancies, but his kind and gentle personality, his compassion and willingness to help others makes all of that, not only worth it, but mostly forgotten. His birthday is filled with his favorite, cheesecake – the only child who gets a homemade birthday cake because I can do a great cheesecake – the best according to him. Thanks Philly!

We also always go applepicking and spend the rest of the season eating perfect New York apples in all its variety – cider, cider donuts, turnovers, pie, tarts, chutney, sliced, and the best way, right off the tree or right out of the bsket kept in the coolness of the back porch.

34/52 – October

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​October.

When the real fall begins.

The colors of the leaves are changed just enough to notice on every highway; every corner.

If you have kids they will bring home fall art of trees using “fall” colors in torn tissue papers, sponge prints, fingerprints with tiny thumbs red from pressing apples onto the trees.

Rows of pumpkins appear on every church lawn, primarily Methodist for some unknown reason (to me) reason.

Harvest festivals and school fundraisers as well as my local retreat center and interfaith council.

Apple, pumpkin, and sweet potato pies fit for space on supermarket shelves.

Trying to squeeze in family applepicking before the apples are gone, but scheduling around work schedules and birthday parties.

October is also the month of the rosary. This year is a special one as we celebrate the centennial of the Marian visitation to Fatima, Portugal. The process for Sister Lucia to join her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco in sainthood has begun. Will she be beatified on the centennial of the final visit (October 13th)?

This will be my second year participating in the Living Rosary at my church.

Jack O’Lanterns, spiders, and a row of little Batmans and Disney Princesses round out the moth and usher in the holiday season from Halloween until the New Year.

October has arrived.

Sweet Potatoes are My Comfort Food

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​Whenever comfort food is brought up, whether it’s a writing assignment or discussion or online meme, my head goes straight to chicken noodle soup and/or Kraft Macaroni & cheese in the blue box, although not eaten together of course. I will eat the mac & cheese as a leftover, but there is nothing like the taste of the macaroni from the blue box, hot and creamy, right when it’s first made.

Out of the pot even.

However, for real comfort, my heart goes to an evening that I was probably about eleven, maybe as old as twelve, where I am sitting in my mother’s bed, my legs sticking out from a nightgown that I hated wearing, with my back against the headboard.

The only light coming brightly from the hallway and that dim blue from the television just beyond the end of the bed. I was watching whatever happened to be on. There were not many options for change before remote controls, and with everyone else in the family downstairs, I was stuck with whatever it was.

On my lap was a plate, and on the plate, I am using my fork to smoosh around a thick piece of butter melting on a warm, soft, sweet potato. The orange flesh absorbing each bit of butter dripping off the pat. Long after this day, I’ve seen people put cinnamon and brown sugar, even caramel and marshmallows on sweet potatoes, but for me all it needs is the hot insides and the sweet, melting butter. 

Even today, the perfect, succulent, sweet potato brings me back to that sick day in bed, the smell, the taste, the warmth from the plate on my legs still warming me decades later.