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  • I taught myself how to cook as an adult, after discovering Nigella Lawson, and how she made food look so goddamn sexy I just wanted to dive into it like a whole body experience. But I think I must have actually acquired my culinary skills from my grandmother. She never followed a recipe, but her buttermilk biscuits were to die for – oh, so many layers, so fluffy and plump. And always lopsided. Sort of like her body.

    When she was in her 50s my grandmother had her right breast removed. That didn’t stop the cancer from coming back to kill her, but it did give her an excuse to show off the hollow that once was a palisade of fertilization. She’d grown eleven babies on that tit, and certainly suckled her fair share of men. I’d like to think my grandmother just didn’t believe in birth control or blame it on some religious deference she had, but the truth is she was just kind of clumsy like that.

    My mother thought of her mother as being vacuously stupid, but I think maybe she thought it was all she had to offer the world. Her sex. Not in and of itself . . . but her act. I think she liked sex, at least I hope she did, which would be pretty cool as grandmothers go, but I think she enjoyed the attention even more. You know. The fact of being seen, even on such slight scale. She just never quite figured out how to stop paying for it.

    She was a Choking Woman. We’ve all known her.

    Whether she came into the same public toilet you were using to stick her finger down her throat and purge all that she had consumed, or if she was the neighbor on the corner in the big crumbling house, with the yard full of leaves, who every day stumbled in her bare feet to the neighborhood pub and back again to top off her blood alcohol level like oil in the old, beater car parked in her driveway.

    She may have been the girl you knew in freshman year, who had multiple partners who bound her with rope and blinded her with satin, who told you through tears she liked it but she was sure she was a bad, bad girl to enjoy such things.

    Or maybe she was your favorite Aunt Judy who, unbeknownst to her children, sat at her dining table in the dark contemplating all the ghosts in her house, looking at her life as a series of doubts, revealing her secrets only to her husband’s pistol in her hand.

    In my world, my mother was the original Choking Woman. She was gorgeous, gifted, intelligent . . . but she hid her beauty behind wounds of poverty, and she left her creative to dwindle away as hopes in her children; and she buried her genius in self-deprecation. When my father died, she was left to figure it all out – how to feed us, house us; give us joy in a life so full of finality and despair, with her own life a sea of virtual endings. So when looking at how my mother was brought up, one can better understand why she did some of the things she did with us. 

    Her mother had abandoned her when she was two years old.  She left her little girl to be raised by her father, an alcoholic airman, and what was he to do with a child as he’s off dropping soldiers into Korea? 

    Like so many single parents have to, he left her with rotating family members – most of whom, to varying degrees, abused her. This would continue through his three other failed marriages – first to a drunken, foul-mouthed woman who, in fits of jealous anger would rail against my mother her bitter disappointment in her husband, the 90-day Wonder “Flying Ace” who’d knocked her up and hijacked her from Houston society. Next, he married a blonde Floridian beauty with movie star looks, who made Mama feel pretty in new dresses but never failed to remind her – through a flawless smile – how the silk was worth more than the child. And lastly, he married an Icelandic diplomat's daughter who tried to sell my mother to the highest bidder - any fisherman with enough money to take her off her hands so she wouldn't have to live with her back in America.
    So, imagine my mother’s surprise, when her mother – whom had disappeared ostensibly because she couldn’t handle the binds of marriage and motherhood - returned some fourteen years later only to introduce her to her stepfather and seven younger siblings.
    If that don’t fuck up your perspective, I don’t know what will.
    So throughout my lifetime with her, my mother experienced moments of rage, downright ugly, primal rage that later in her life were fueled by rum but always were the result of her lifetime of grief, the seed of which had been planted when she was still a diapered babe and recklessly weaned from Grandma’s buttermilk breast.
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