Thursday, April 15, 2010

Skip the sloppy joe mix

When I opened a letter from my sister last week, I wasn't expecting to find a postcard from my mother inside. It was postmarked Oct. 16, 1970, carried a 10-cent air mail stamp and was addressed to my sister in Pirmasens, Germany, where she lived at the time.

The note reads…

"Mary Ann, so glad to hear from you and that all is well. Will write a letter later. Here’s the recipe for spaghetti sauce.

Spaghetti sauce: 1 large can tomato juice, 1 small can tom. paste, 2 cups water, 1 tbs. sweet basil, 1 tsp. salt, ½ tsp. garlic salt, 1 tsp. black pepper, ¼ tsp. oregano, 1 tablespoon dried onion soup mix, 1 teaspoon sloppy joe mix, 2 bay leaves, 3 tbsp. sugar, ¼ teaspoon baking soda. Bring to a boil. Simmer for about an hour.

Lots of luck. Secret to good cooking: put all your meals in the hands of the Blessed Mother.

Keep happy and well.



P.S. You may skip the sloppy joe mix and onion soup mix.

Mommy? At the time my mother typed this, all six of her children were older and had stopped referring to her as such. I wonder if she was resolving that feeling mothers get when it is no longer cool for kids to use the term "Mommy." Sometimes I catch myself wanting to sign emails and cards to my kids that way but quickly sensor myself and settle for plain old "Mom."

My mother's Sicilian spaghetti sauce was famous throughout the neighborhood, the school, the church, the entire town. I didn’t know she put black pepper in it! The sloppy joe and soup mixes were news to me, too. It makes me wonder. Mom cooked from memory and this recipe doesn't sound at all like the one she gave me. I guess she was doing her best to recall the mysterious flurry of ingredients she used.

I should have studied her more closely and taken copious notes on how much basil and oregano she poured into her palm and then sprinkled in the sauce.

I notice that her typewriter ribbon was wearing out by they way she filled in the "a" in "all," the "o," "r" and "g" in "oregano." My mother was a perfectionist, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that she tried to make her note just so.

She really was a talented cook and typist. I remember watching her do both and hoping that some day my fingers and hands would maneuver magically like hers.

Mom had the focus of a bull snake coiled and ready to pounce on its prey. Nothing could distract her from the impenetrable bubble of concentration she maintained in our noisy and often chaotic household.

In her empty nest, my sister's request for her sauce recipe surely must have lifted her spirits.

I took for granted watching her cook and receiving her letters. Mom is gone now and on April 8 she would have been 90 years old.

My husband asked me, "How many more times will you write about your mother?"

For a moment, I was taken back by his question, which really was a statement, and then said, "As many times as I need to."

Even though I am 58 and all my children are grown and gone, I always will miss my mommy.

2010 © Copyright Paula Damon. A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Damon is a national and state award-winning columnist. Her columns have won first-place in National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women Communications Contests. To contact Paula, email, follow her blog at and find her on Facebook.

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