Celia’s Rugelach

Lovin Spoonful is the name of a band that was popular in the 60s. Years ago, I changed the colors in my crayon box, exchanging the grey skies of a New York winter for the golden-orange welcome mat of San Francisco. I was giddy those first days. “Do You Believe In Magic” was the song playing in my head. Yes, I said. I believe in magic.

I’ve been thinking about my mother-in-law, who died last week. She wasn’t the best cook, but she dished out plenty of spoonfuls of lovin during her almost 92 years. Hers was a quiet presence; she inhabited the spaces between words and the corners of rooms. Her love didn’t need words. While her husband was the exclamation point at the end of a sentence, she was the parenthesis, often containing a meaning within the meaning of what she said. Her observations were always spot on, even when she was struggling with dementia at the end of her life.

Three of her grandchildren spoke at her funeral. Like a Greek chorus, they provided commentary and brought back the spirit that was missing during the last years of her life. Through them you could feel the love that she and her husband passed down. They talked about how their grandmother cared for them when they were sick. Tofutti Cuties in the freezer. Rugelach. Mandel bread. Their grandmother’s selflessness. That in spite of their grandmother’s problems walking, each step she took was a victory over her pain.

It has become a tradition in our family that when a loved one dies, we cook one of their recipes. When my wife’s grandmother died, she made her chicken fricassee. It was the first—and I think, last time—that she cooked this dish. Chicken fricassee will never taste as good as it did that night. The morning after we found out that her mother had died, my wife scanned her mom’s handwritten recipes for rugelach, mandel bread, and chocolate mousse pie and sent them to her sister so that she and one of her daughters could make them. They were waiting for us when our plane landed in New York. Her chocolate mousse pie was a family favorite, even after it was discovered that cool whip was one of the main ingredients. There was always a chocolate mousse pie sitting in her freezer, on the ready should anyone drop by. I’m sure there’s one in her freezer in heaven.

I pick up my mother-in-law’s cookbook and see the creases and stains in the pages of her recipes. A life was lived. Her life mattered.

A lifetime of photographs is scattered across our table. “Do you believe in magic in a young girl’s heart?” I look across at my wife and then at my daughter seated next to her. I do.

Celia's Rugelach

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3 responses to “Celia’s Rugelach

  1. Michael, Beautiful words about mom.

  2. Richard Trafford-Owen

    I am very touched by that tradition of cooking a remembrance meal.

    When my father goes, I shall open a pack of cookies. I feel sorry for whoever commemorates me. They’ll be cooking all day and everyone will be starving by the time they eat.

    But seriously, a touching post. Thank you.

    • Right now you’re the one cooking all day and everyone is starving. Sounds like the end result won’t be that different:) I’m sure everyone is happy to wait for anything that you’re cooking. Thanks for your comment, Richard.

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