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.

1 Comments:

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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