A friend emailed the other day. For the second time in a couple weeks, her mother burned dinner on the stove. Did I think she should ban cooking, unless supervised. I couldn’t type a reply. I was laughing too hard (and crying), thinking about my own mother’s cooking adventures.
Many years ago, while both parents were still capable of independent senior living, I received a phone call from a frantic apartment superintendent. Mom and Dad’s smoke alarm was blaring (not an uncommon sound coming from my parent’s place) and when the super ran to check, she found my mother standing beneath the alarm waving a dishtowel, while blackened peppers billowed from on top of the electric stove burner, no friendly pan in sight. She asked my mother what she was doing. “Roasting peppers. The burner works good, except for the damn smoke.”
When the super told me what was going on, I felt sure she must have misunderstood. I’d never seen my mom do anything like this and if the super was correct, Mom had reached another turning point.
A call to my Aunt Gila put me (slightly) at ease. “Usually, I roast peppers on the grill, but your grandmother occasionally did them on a gas stove burner. I’ve never tried them on an electric stove. How’d they come out?” I made my mother swear never to do it again.
In Mom’s last few months of independent living, she burned three pots black on top of the stove. She’d forgotten they were there. The third pot was brand new. I had just bought it to replace the last pot. It blackened while we sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee (says a lot about me).
When Mom moved into an assisted living situation we thought our cooking concerns were over. No stoves in any apartment. Just a small microwave and mini-refrigerator. Management finally unplugged her microwave and took it away “for repairs” after it caught fire a third time, requiring the fire department.
She’d been baking a potato and yes, “of course, I made several cuts into it” and then wrapped it tightly in clear wrap before microwaving it for 3 minutes or maybe it was 30. “You know,” she said. “The numbers on that thing are hard to read. I hope they bring me back a new one with bigger numbers.”
When to stop cooking is as difficult a decision as when to stop driving. Both are ways we feel a sense of self, of who we are in relationship to the world around us. Both give us a feeling of independence and strength. I had no perfect answer for my friend. Each story is unique and similar at the same time.
With my mother, we crossed our fingers and said a prayer. When it is my turn, I hope I’ll be understanding and stop on my own, so my children will not have to worry. Ha! It is so hard to type when you are laughing out loud!