It’s been a rainy few days, and when I walk into my mom’s house, I am hit with an unmistakable smell. Over at the stove, she is browning oyster mushrooms.
I light up. Foraging. “What?! Where did you get the mushrooms?”
“I picked them from the stump in the backyard,” she tells me casually.
Of course. Mushroom hunting, like so many things that are trendy and artisanal these days, is something that’s been part of her life for so long she forgets to make a big deal about it. I briefly have a flashback of her browning wild mushrooms in the cast iron skillet when I was a kid. Being the obnoxiously picky eater I was, I probably wouldn’t go near them.
And it gets me to thinking: Miriam was the OG hipster. She cooked garden to plate before that was a phrase every restaurant was jostling to tout, canned pickles long before the fermentation boom and made ribbon-worthy pies that she never even took pictures of, let alone Instagrammed in the most flattering light possible. She churned ice cream from scratch, processed venison with my dad after he had a successful hunt, bottled quarts of salsa every summer from her tomato crop, made the best applesauce on the planet with fruit harvested from her trees, and fashioned us all manner of quilts, pajamas and dresses from her station at the sewing machine. One year, when Care Bears where the must-have toy, she even made one each for my sister and I. (Though they were fantastic replications, they were missing the heart buttons on the bums, and we immediately detected they were frauds.)
So many qualities that people — myself included — aspire to these days, Miriam’s been embodying forever. And her cool factor, which I never in a million years would have acknowledged as a teenager, runs even deeper than that. In her unassuming way, Miriam has long been showing me the value of living close to the land, making things with your own two hands and paying attention to nature.
She’s the one who taught me to recognize the nasal honk of the red-breasted nuthatch, the whistle of the mountain chickadee, even the plaintive cheep-cheep of the robin. She told me how to identify northern grosbeaks and lazuli buntings at my feeder, and her passion for birds helped me awaken to just how rich life is when you notice the patterns and personalities of wildlife.
She knew the flowers, too, the shooting stars and lupine, the bistort and king’s crown and our favorite, the silky phacelia (which looks like a purple caterpillar and is never not fun to say). She fried trout over the campfire on our weekends in the mountains, bribed us with Gorp to get us to hike to the falls and taught me the Nordic ski technique of the herringbone — all methods intended to aid in my falling in love with nature (they worked). One winter when I was 11, she took me skiing, spending the day on a run called Eagle’s Rest in Jackson trying to convince me that I didn’t need to cling to the chairlift bar like it was a lifeline.
She inducted me into the family pastime of growing food, telling me how to break off the lower branches of tomato plants before transplanting them, teaching me that carrots get better after a frost and dispensing advise on thinning (namely, do it).
But it’s her latest lesson that is shaping up to be the most meaningful: how to be a mom. When I had my own daughter last summer, Miriam was right there, cooking vats of soup for us and holding the baby so I could nap. She helped me through the challenges of breastfeeding, sorted clothes with me and provided weekly child care so I could work. She saved my bacon. Nearly 10 months have passed, and Grandma Miriam continues to play a crucial role in my daughter’s life. She dotes on her a little too much and tends to dress her like she lives in Antarctica, but other than that, zero complaints.
When Mother’s Day came around this year, it felt big, meaningful. I experienced a welling of pride that I didn’t see coming, and felt a newfound awe for all the mothers I know. It can be tedious, demanding, thankless work. But god, so much joy.
I went to my mom’s for dinner, plopped the baby in her arms and felt some good old-fashioned gratitude.
These days, Miriam’s teaching me in explicit ways how to be a mom. But really, she’s been showing me the art of motherhood my entire life.