I miss you when I’m making soup.
Remembering the way you effortlessly threw together mediocre ingredients to make something out of nothing. Your hands methodically chopping the root vegetables, as the meat lay waiting in its styrofoam tray, beside the plastic bottle of Pepsi.
I miss watching you, never needing a recipe for your sugar cookies, never referencing a single page.
I remember the way your blue floral cotton blouse would smell. A mixture of bleach, cigarettes, Pine Sol, and the sweat of a day’s work. I remember melting into you, scabby knees at my chin, you in your black leather armchair in our living room window.
You were always on time. Always waiting for me. You had had your morning coffee and smoke, and you greeted me with a smile.
We journeyed to town, often, in the back of cabs or on the back of the bus. You were brave, steadfast, raising me to be the same in a town that didn’t always respect you because of the colour of your skin.
But I cherished you. I needed you like a child needs a mother.
I stir this soup and I think of you and your work ethic. I realize I’ve never known a day’s worth of hard work in my life. You, who sacrificed long days without your own family to raise me. You, who had done the same for a handful of other families in my hometown, for the homes whose parents worked while you tended to their home affairs.
Every day you listened to the obituaries, mourning another loss. Every day you ensured when I came home that I hadn’t been bullied, and when I had, you stomped over and made it right. You taught me to call someone by name. You taught me to respect my elders. You taught me to look everyone in the eyes. You were the perfect walking definition of humility.
You loved me even as I grew less lovable, as the childhood years turned to teen.You granted me the freedom to make my own mistakes, and made sure I learned from them.
I can picture you sitting on our front stoop, cigarette in hand, watching the cars go by. I picture you “resting your eyes” there too, leaning against our brick exterior wall.
And I wish I could get you back.
But it’s been more than five years now since we said our official goodbyes at the New Glasgow baptist church you took me to as a child. Five years since I ate egg salad sandwiches in your memory with the crusts cut off, Wren on my hip, in the crowded church basement, standing room only.
I still miss you like I did when I’d fall and cut my knees. Still remember how your weathered, calloused hands felt holding mine as we waited at the bus stop.
You were my childhood, the face in the window as I swung on the backyard swing.
I can’t do you justice. But I think of you daily, raising girls in this confusing world.
It’s International Women’s Day and I think of the gifts you gave me as I stir this pot, Gug. You, who gave me everything I am, all 30 years later. I won’t let you go.