My mother is in her last days. She has had a good, long life, filled with struggles and triumphs, as are the lives of all who are lucky.
This has been a difficult journey for her, as she has very, very slowly lost her strength of body, but never her strength of heart.
I am sad. I feel helpless to ease her on her way. I am blessed, and I know it, because I am surrounded by my loving siblings and because I have a chance to tell Mom how much I love her and what a good Mom she has been.
Still, I feel deeply sad that I can’t find the right way to honor her.
I woke up this morning in my own snug bed. As I slowly rose to consciousness, I remembered a dream. A very vivid dream of my Nana, my Mother’s mother. In the dream, Nana was serving us dinner, as she did thousands of times in my life. She made chicken cutlets, in her special Italian way.
I woke up with the taste of those delicious cutlets in my mouth, and the determination to make them today in my heart.
Because I am something of a food hoarder, and a patron of our local farms, my freezer is well stocked with fresh and local meats. I got up early and took a package of chicken breasts out to defrost.
The day went on as usual, and I was busy taking care of my two little grandsons. There was playdoh and hallway soccer and trucks and more superheroes than I can count.
But as the afternoon wore on, I decided that I wanted to enlist the boys in the preparation of my “Nana cutlets”.
So the boys helped me to slice the chicken breasts, to pound them (18-month-old Max was particularly thrilled with this part), and to bread and fry them.
As the chicken simmered, I talked to the kids about Nana. I used the few little Italian phrases that I know. I told the silly story of the way that Nana would call us in for lunch by yelling something that I thought was in English.
“Come in, fill your belly” is what I heard.
It was many years later that I realized she was saying, “Come in, figli belli!” She was calling us her ‘beautiful children”, but we didn’t understand that.
I smiled to myself today, looking at my own “figli belli” and making cutlets with them. I loved the way that my Nana’s memory was shaping my day with the kids.
And after the boys went home, I looked at my leftover flour, bread crumbs, and egg/milk combination. I didn’t need any of it, and would normally have thrown it all out. But then I remembered Nana. I had a clear and wonderful memory of her standing at her stove, frying the cutlets.
When all of the chicken was gone, and only the coatings were left, Nana used to make a little pancake out of them. She would mix it all with a fork, and pour it into the hot olive oil. Then she’d mix it up in the pan, and gently flip it over to form a crispy little something that she let her little grandchildren eat.
Nana called it something that sounded to us like “Bishy woh-woh.”
It was DELICIOUS.
Once again, it took me many years and several classes in Italian to realize that this wonderful leftover treat, given as a gift to the grandkids, was actually called “pesce uova”, or “fish eggs”.
I love the history of this little dish. I love using my Nana’s recipes, although none are written and all are stored in my aging head. I love sharing this food, this love, with my grandchildren, just as Nana shared them with us.
I love that tonight, as Mom is readying herself to cross through the veil and join her parents on the other side, I love that tonight my grandkids helped me to make Nana’s cutlets. And that we will eat “Bishy woh-woh” with our dinner.
I pray that my dream means that Nana is close and that she is reaching out to Mom. Reaching out to bring Mom home.
I pray that one day one of my grandchildren will wake up from a vivid dream, and will make some special meal that they remember from their time with me.