Looking for Laurie
Posted by Rosa Jurjevics November 26, 2014
Editor’s Note: To mark the publication of a new edition of Laurie Colwin’s classic works on food and life, Rosa Jurjevics looks back on her mother’s legacy, on and off the page.
Sometimes, all it takes is a glance. I’ll be on the train, or waiting in line at the supermarket checkout, or about to cross the street, and right there, right over there, is a tiny piece of my mother. It’s always a small something—a skin tone or a hairstyle, a striped shirt, those perfect teeth I’m lucky enough to have inherited—grafted onto the body or face of a stranger. Once it was a tiny, irregularly shaped gold-hoop earring on someone with a head full of chestnut brown curls that did it. I hung there as everything rushed by me at the same speed, tunnel vision locked on the unfamiliar woman who had no idea why the big-eyed weirdo was staring at her unflinchingly.
Shocked doesn’t quite describe how I am or how I feel after the sudden appearance of a mysterious not-my-mother; dumbfounded might be a better word, with longing a close second.
It’s strange to think that the last time I saw my mother (whom I will at times, out of habit these days,
Laurie’s death was the end of the line for us as mother and child, in most ways; in the ways that matter the most. No longer could we quarrel over what was going in my school lunch (“YES, Fruit Roll-Ups, Mom!”), or go for a walk around the neighborhood together (just because), or shop for my father’s birthday present (a tie, from Saks).
She didn’t get to see me graduate from high school or college; she didn’t have a chance to read the articles I wrote, watch the videos I made, or get a hand-drawn card from me in the mail. In turn, I don’t get to have her over for coffee (from the blue Hall teapot I would have begged off of her) at my apartment, call her up to ask how long I ought to bake chicken and at what temperature (45–55 minutes, 350 degrees in the oven I have now), or introduce her to a significant other (not that she’d have liked most of them).
It is hard to carry on a rapport of any kind with a person who is no longer alive— harder still when that person is your mother. But, though the idea is undoubtedly an odd one, there is still a relationship between us. As I would were she alive, I still get mad at her when I learn of something she did that angered another person, or left them hurting.
In antique stores, I consider which pattern of plate I would have bought for her, or what kind of teacup would have fit perfectly in her small, long-fingered hands. When another of her beloved New York institutions closes and reopens as a gentrified mess, I am indignant on her behalf as well as my own. Laurie would have forever mourned losing the Empire Diner, Balducci’s in the Village, and the L&S Dairy, and would have cursed every mega-million-dollar hotel to invade the meatpacking district. “These developers are morally bankrupt and out to lunch,” she might have said, slouched in a booth at the still-standing Carnegie Deli. And, lifting her can of Cel-Ray high, she’d toast: “To the same old thing!”
Though there will be no more words from Laurie Colwin, no more –isms and quotable sayings, no more long breakfasts, roast chicken dinners, or lazy Connecticut summers together, I still continually discover her. More of her comes out through what has already happened—the past rockets into the present in the form of the letters that I rescued from my grandmother’s nutty Philadelphia townhouse, or scribbled notes my mother took throughout my lifetime, and stories her friends and frenemies (though death seems to bury most hatchets) relate to me over meals, emails, and the phone calls.
And, of course, there are the books. I need only to crack open my well-worn copies of Home Cooking—complete with an illustrated inscription from my mother, crayon-colored in my 4-year-old hand—and More Home Cooking to see the life we led together as real and as immediate as if those days of warm fires and tussles over chores and Halloween gallivanting and gingerbread-making were still ahead of us.
Laurie leaps off the pages of her books, and not just in my hot little hands but in kitchens and favorite reading chairs across the country; from bedside tables and shelves holding beloved volumes in France, England, Spain, and Japan. “She’s like the best friend I never met,” people tell me, and I get it, for she was the mother I never fully got to know.
I will constantly be looking for Laurie; I will reach for her again and again and again, as long as I’m here. It’s to be expected, and it’s not a sad thing. In fact, it’s a hopeful one. I can still get to know my mother as her now-grown child, by hearing tales of her years as a young woman, learning who her favorite poet was, or reading about where she got the original recipe that inspired her amazing beef stew.