The old Indian gentleman takes out an old-fashioned handkerchief to dab at the tears spilling from under his oversized glasses – his whole family, three generations by the look of it, is huddled around him, at the departure gate of the Tom Bradley terminal. It’s easier to concentrate on his sadness than on mine, while fighting a private battle with my own tears that are clearly on the winning side. It just doesn’t get any easier – every time a member of my family or a close friend leaves after a visit, once she or he walk down that long corridor where I can’t follow, I feel a tad more lonely, one more inch farther away from my roots.
The house is devoid of shrills and perfumes and purchases and card games and plans for the next day. Ottie started moping as soon as he saw the suitcases lined up in the hallway and he is now wondering who he will be sleeping with tonight, now that my mother has gone. It was easy twenty years ago, to live out of a suitcase, to move homes and continents at the drop of a hat – it was exciting and fun and selfish, at a time when selfishness mattered. Not so much anymore.
The tortelloni my mother made yesterday are taunting me from the kitchen counter and I am debating whether to polish them off tonight or freeze them for when nostalgia strikes. I watched my mom roll the pasta on my kitchen table with the same rolling-pin she brought me all those years ago. They don’t make them this long over here and, pre 9/11, the customs’ officer was just mildly amused at this baseball bat size pin a crazy woman was bringing in from Italy. The flesh on her bare arms has relaxed with age while the deftness of her hands rolling the tortelloni hasn’t changed a bit. In a rather morbid way I would never confess to her, sometimes I wonder when the last time will be that I will taste her food. As good as I am to reproduce most of what she makes and as much wider the range of my cooking has become (on this trip I dazzled her with my vegetables en papillote and a Nutella pot de creme) I know I will never be able to make tortellini as tiny as the ones she spends hours making every Christmas, or the creamy lasagna that has no match in the Western world. Mothers’ cooking has a defining taste for every child that invariably disappears with the disappearance of the parent, never to be replaced.
For a few days it was just the three of us, three very different women thrown together by family and luck who never once fought – our mother might not understand or approve of many of my sister’s and my choices but she never criticizes and, better late than never, she has moved to that side of feminism that characterized and influenced her daughters’ lives and that I wish she had found earlier. While my sister and I were moping around this morning, my mother was whistling, also sad to be leaving, but looking forward to her little house and her daily activities and the children she looks after. My mom knows nothing about zen precepts or meditation yet it’s in her inner self to just be in the moment and find contentment in what life deals her. For all the gifts I have been blessed to receive, I always envied her that. And that is just what I will have to hold on to right now to see me through the loneliness and the doubts and the nostalgia that will keep me company for a little while.