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Mom's Recipe For Life

Story ID:10490
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Western Springs IL USA
Year:2000
Person:Garnet Julien
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Note: This story is in my latest Chicken Soup for the Soul book--Thanks To My Mom. It seemed appropriate for Mother's Day weekend.


I have a lot of Mom’s recipes in a blue tin box where all my special ones reside--the pumpkin pie she made during my growing up years, the light and yeasty dinner rolls that were family faves, and the tender date muffins that her own mother made. Every time I see one of the cards with Mom’s handwriting on it, I am carried back to the aromas in our small kitchen where she reigned. Even so, the recipe I treasure most is not on any index card. Nor did she send it to me in a letter. On the contrary, she lived this recipe all of her life but I was too blind to see and appreciate it until her final years.
My mother grew up in a small coal mining town in southwest Iowa. My grandfather once told me that she knew no stranger; she considered everyone in that community her friend. That attitude continued wherever she lived for the rest of her life.

As a tween and teen, I cringed every time my mother addressed strangers in the grocery store or on the city bus. She talked to everyone and offered a smile. In my naiveté, I was embarrassed.

Mom had a cheerful greeting for everyone she encountered and a question of some sort that triggered an answer and more conversation. She spoke to the mailman, the grocery store clerks, and the girls who worked in the neighborhood bakery.

“Hi Lorraine,” she’d say to the woman who owned the bakery. “What did you think of Jackie Gleason’s show last night?” Lorraine chatted about the show as she sliced the usual loaf of bread for Mom, then asked what else she wanted. “Half a dozen of those wonderful crullers,” Mom might say. Then she’d lean closer to the counter and say something like, “Isn’t life wonderful?” I’d roll my eyes and accept the free cookie Lorraine gave me even into my teen years, then hurry out hoping no one would see me with the woman who talked to everyone.

Decades later, after my father passed on, I drove the hour and a half to my mother’s house every couple of weeks to spend a day with her and help with errands. She grieved for Dad for a long time inwardly but her smile never wavered. “No sense being a Grumpy Gertie,” she’d tell me.

I watched as she spoke to the Walmart greeter before he even had a chance to open his mouth. “Hi. How are you doing today? Isn’t it great to see the sun?” She flashed him a million dollar smile as he helped her get a shopping cart while he chuckled.

I noticed that she smiled at everyone she passed in the store’s many aisles. Almost all of them responded with a bright beam of their own. Some spoke, others nodded their heads at this elderly woman who brought a little light into their day.

What really sold me on Mom’s approach to life was her experience on the senior bus, a story I’ve repeated to others many times. The weeks I could not be there, she used this low-cost transportation to the grocery store. After her first trip, I asked her how it went.

“Ha!’ she said, “I got on that bus and what did I see? Thirteen little old ladies and one old man and not one word was spoken.”

I wondered how long it would be until the somberness on that bus would change. On my next visit, Mom mentioned the girls on the bus and something one of them had told her.

“Oh, are you talking with them now?” I asked.

“Of course,” she said. “One day I climbed up the steps of the bus and before I looked for a seat, I gave them a big smile and I said, ‘Isn’t it a wonderful day? I noticed a few shy smiles.”

Mom didn’t give up. She greeted them all each time she got on the bus and before long, the whole group was laughing and talking to one another. The bus became more than just transportation.

When we went to the various stores, I observed as she smiled and chatted with perfect strangers. Some of them looked like the sourest person you’d ever met but once Mom beamed at them and started a conversation, most responded favorably. She had a man with deep frown lines laughing over a little joke she told him as she leaned on her cane. My mother didn’t embarrass me any longer. I found myself admiring her.
She’s been gone for ten years but I’ve carried on her recipe for life. I smile at people as I walk by and often begin a conversation in the checkout line. Silent, solemn people respond with smiles of their own and a bit of chatter. All it takes is for one person to initiate the smile or a greeting.

Recently, I noticed a woman ahead of me in the checkout line. Her red raincoat looked cheerful on a wet day, and I told her so. She had looked quite serious only a moment before, but she smiled and thanked me. “You know what?” she said, “I really like the color of your raincoat, too.”

It’s such second nature with me now that only the other day I noticed that everyone I passed in the grocery store smiled at me. Must be a lot of happy people here, I thought. Then, I stopped walking and bowed my head in a grateful prayer of thanks for the mother I had been given. It was me who had done the smiling first and all those people had responded. My mother didn’t lecture but taught me by example. She’d given me a recipe for life.