You could always count on mom to be readily equipped with the antidote to your hunger—hard candy. “Do you want a butterscotch?” she’d ask, as she desperately tried to stave off Ethiopian flies from your soon-to-be distended belly. Us kids—and later as adults—found this form of nagging to be intrusive and annoying, but if that was the extent of her yenta-ing, we’d just have to suck it up, along with the butterscotch.
Mom was not a heavy woman. She just ate like one. But mostly, she liked talking about eating. About you eating. Or you not eating enough, rather. And she had a penchant for taking home leftovers like it was nobody’s business. She carried baggies in her purse because a restaurant could not be entrusted with providing something as precious as a foil-lined paper bag. She started her ritual in the days before the ubiquitous styrofoam container became a mainstay of the dining scene. Back then, it was up to proactive women with too much plastic and twist ties on their hands.
Yes, my mother was the reigning doggie-bag queen. There was no leftover too small to leave on her plate. I remember the time in a restaurant when she had two bites of meat loaf left and asked the waiter to wrap it up. Beet-red with embarrassment, I wondered why she had to take home two measly bites. Was it from living through the Depression? Was it because an animal should not go to waste? Did she merely want to be reminded the next day of how much she enjoyed the previous night’s meal? Or did she do it to piss us off? Who knew. But that night, those two bites got lost in the restaurant's kitchen (probably mistaken for blowback), and when she found out they were never to return, the look on her face conjured up the horror in the song, MacArthur Park: “Someone left the meat loaf on the plate, and she’ll never have those last two bites again. Oh no…” Needless to say, that was the last time mom left her leftovers to fate. From that moment on, it was paws off, except for hers.
Sadly, my mom died two weeks ago, unexpectedly. When I started going through the clothes in her closet, I noticed that she had about 40 shirts, all with two pockets. The left pocket of every shirt contained three items: a folded Kleenex, a folded baggie, and a piece of hard candy. She lived in a retirement home and didn’t get out much, so chances are, she was only going downstairs to the dining room for her three meals a day. But apparently, it was far enough that she thought she might need sustenance on her journey down the elevator.
Now, with all that's happened in the past two weeks, I'm feeling kind of weak. And even though I ate a big meal just two hours ago, I could really use a butterscotch. I would give anything just to hear her ask.