Thursday, January 6, 2011

Maria, Mothers, and a Mango

I loved Maria before, but now I really, really love her.

My planned 30 minute visit turned into a three hour delight. She lives in a difficult-to-find location, way up in a nearby canyon, so rather than risk my getting lost, she had me meet her at a predetermined place and then I got in her car and she drove me up to her house. When we arrived, it was like being in another world. A fresh stream gurgled by, the oaks still held onto their yellow leaves, and not another car (or human) was in sight anywhere. It was so peaceful. She showed me around her property, what had been the original house, what rooms her handy husband added on as the family grew.

She showed me the crates and crates of jams she had stored, jams made from every imaginable fruit. She told me how she loves to make them ("It's what I do," she said with a huge smile) and then give them away to everyone, and somehow she still always has plenty for her own family. She gave me a quart of mango jam. Mango! I told her about my attempt to make freezer jam this summer, and what a dismal failure it was, and she promised to include me this summer so we could do it together. (Yay!)

She showed me the crates of bottled honey she has collected from her beehives, and she freely handed over a mayonnaise-sized jar of her orange-blossom honey, golden yellow like I've never seen before. I get to watch that happen this summer too. I cannot wait.

Inside, she had her daughter baking me a dessert. I told her that the way this is supposed to work, I am the one who should be bringing her treats. She just laughed. She said she so rarely gets visitors, that she was just so excited! Then we talked about how life is when you cannot have any deliveries ever. No pizza. No Chinese. No UPS, FedEx. Whoa. But despite the inconveniences, she loves where they live. The peace, the serenity, the privacy, the beauty. I had to agree.

She told me about how it was that she came to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and how beautifully her life has changed since she made that decision, how happy their family is, and how at home she feels. We talked and talked and talked. Well, mostly she talked, but I loved listening.

Maria is from Mexico. She is the 11th of 12 children. She told me about life growing up, how different it was at that time and in that culture. How there was so much less stuff, and yet so much love and contentment. She spoke so lovingly about her mother, whom she has so much reverence and gratitude for. She told me several stories about her mother, and I've been thinking about some of them all day.

Their family would gather around the table at mealtimes, but Mother never sat down with the family. Instead, she served her husband first, and then her children, one at a time. She would stay by the stove making additional tortillas, serving up more beans or meat, as the growing brood would finish one serving and beg for more. She kept the food coming until everyone was full and then she would eat whatever was left. With sweetness, Maria told me that it wasn't until years later that she realized her mother never dished up a plate, but rather ate out of the pots because there was rarely enough left to plate up and she didn't want her family to know. It made me feel pangs of love for my own mother, who similarly fed the nine of us from the stove as she poured batter and flipped pancakes, until she would finally eat whatever was left.

This was my favorite story though:

In Mexico, people didn't keep food in their houses. Rather, every day the mother would go to the market for the food for that day, and that day only. So, early each morning the children would wait for their mother to return from the market. Maria said her mother would come walking down the road with her two sacks of food, one in each hand with the ingredients for that days' meals. The kids would run to meet her, practically knocking her down, as they dug through the bags still in her hands, grabbing bananas or whatever else they could out of the bags to begin shoving in their mouths. It reminded me of when my own mother would go to the grocery store and as she would set bags on the table and go back for others, we kids would just start tearing through things, ripping open bags of cookies or loaves of bread or boxes of cereal (sometimes just to get the prizes!)

Well, one day her mother bought a huge, beautiful mango at the market. It was bigger than any mango she'd seen and smelled so sweet and fragrant. Her plan was to hide it from the kids so that once they all left for school she could cut it up and enjoy it all for herself as a special treat. She tucked it between some clothes in her closet until the kids went to school, but, as mothers frequently do, she got caught up in the chores of the day, and she forgot all about the mango. Weeks went by, and one day she smelled an odor that she couldn't figure out. Finally, she was led to her closet, where she found the rotten mango, still hidden between the clothes. She sat down with her head in her hands and wept. Not because she had forgotten the mango, but because it had rotted due to her selfishness when she tried to keep it from her children. She vowed to never do that again, but instead to share every sweet thing with her children.

I love that story!

Now, let me tell you, I am not so much like that mother. I always sit at the table with my family, and I always have a plate dished up. I probably have even told my children they couldn't have seconds if there wasn't enough for me before, I'm sure. And please. I have stashes of "Just for Mom treats" all over my house. There's "don't-touch-those chocolates" and "don't-eat-that ice cream" and everyone knows the rules about any bag of Cheetos that comes into this house. But I'm not necessarily proud of any of that. I have some food issues because sometimes things were hard to come by when I was young, and things are still hard to come by now. Food is like gold to me. But food, like gold, I suppose, shouldn't be hoarded. And look at how freely Maria gives away whatever she has, probably because of her mother's unselfishness.

So, I'm not going to have stashes anymore. I am still going to sit and eat at the table from a plate, but whatever comes into this house will be shared openly and lovingly, because it feels so good. Much better than chocolate tastes from my stash late at night. And it seems that the more we share and give away, the more that comes back to us.

Definitely true with love, and I've only been to Maria's one time. I can't wait to go back.


Stephanie Humphreys said...

I love reading your blog! Thank you for sharing your visiting teaching experience. I need to stop hording, food too. My mom used to strictly ration all our favorite foods because there were so many of us and not so much money. I've had to learn not to let it affect the way I handle food in my own home, although I still hide the occasional bag of chocolate.

Annette Lyon said...

I have a sneaking suspicion that your resolution to love is going to affect a LOT of people as you blog about it.

What a cool experience.

Abby said...

Remember..sometimes there wasn't even enough batter leftover for mom's own pancakes or waffles and she would just eat what was left on our plates. That woman. She's just incredible.

I needed to read this today as I have my own things to work out and be better at. Thanks :)

Sarah said...

I have been wondering how your visit went! I'm so glad you posted about it! I'm so glad that it turned out so well for you! Maria sounds like an amazing woman!

P.S...We are planning another trip to Disneyland in February...

Cynthia said...

Wow! I love this post. I have tried to hide chocolates by my spouse can sniff out any contraband, I swear! LOL! Still, the story of Maria's mother is a powerful one. Wow.

Hannah said...

Awwww! I loved it. I loved thinking about how great our own mother was and is and what a sweet mother Maria has. I want to be a better mother so badly.