Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Potato Peeler

My mother can peel a potato so that the brown peel falls away in one, long, curly spiral. It’s a graceful dance, with thumb staying just one step ahead of blade. It happens, usually, only on Thanksgiving, and only at my sister’s house.

On these occasions, I pretend to chat with my mother, but really I’m watching the potato romanced from its rough casing – until it’s naked, white and vulnerable – held aloft in my mother’s scarred hand – burned in a grease fire during the Ford administration.

I think of this now, as I struggle like an idiot with an expensive, elaborate peeler that is larger than my head. I bought it because it looked easy to use – like a Fischer Price toy. It’s not.

The potato peeling – it’s a leftover thing, back when my Mom was a teenage bride, before she became the big executive, the only Mommy, it seemed, back in 1979, who was always away on business.

The potato peeling is a reminder that my mother had a life before us.

I think of the months I spent marinating inside her flesh, lounging against her organs, sleeping ass-up inside a bubble filled with a stew of our mingled blood – and still, I don’t always know her. And she doesn’t always know me.

“You are so secretive,” she said once. “You are probably married with three kids and I don’t even know it.”

It’s true, I am secretive. I can’t help it. Or I chose not to. I don’t know which is which.

The long, brown curls fall into a 40-year-old soup pot with a light flutter. I watch.

My mother did not peel potatoes when I was a little girl. My mother did not have time to cook. My mother left home before dawn and came home after dark. My mother worked harder than anyone I knew.

Three months ago, when my father was in the hospital, Mom and I took a break from his bedside. We drove to a part of town that I didn’t know, and parked in a stranger’s swale.

“There,” my mother said, and pointed.

It was her first apartment, where she lived with her first husband – who was not my father. It was a tiny, cinder-block, one-car garage renovated into in a one-bedroom apartment. With her hands – even now, bigger than mine? – she showed me how the little box was laid out. There was barely enough walking space in her bedroom to make the bed. She cooked in a dollhouse-sized kitchen with a small oven. In the living room she’d placed a cheap davenport.

I looked at that small building and wondered about the young women who started out there – the girl who had grown into the matriarch to my left. I thought about her long, meandering path, and her decisions along the way that led us both here.

“Yep,” she said. I watched her put her scarred hand on the gear shift. “That was it.”

I felt the car lurch forward. We pulled away from the curb and drove on.


Anonymous Tony said...

You know if you really want to know about all the really cool kitchen gadgets that aren't larger than your hand, you can just drop me a line on facebook :P

BTW they have a potato peeler that slips over your finger and it works wonders at BedBathandBeyond... :P

6/22/10, 11:43 AM  

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