*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
When my parents were newlyweds, my father told my mother that he wanted her to learn how to cook just like his mom. His first wife had never cooked for him, and he was determined that his second wife would become the perfect housewife.
"My mother-in-law couldn't read or write," my mother told me. "I knew she didn't have recipes written down in a file that she could give me, but she was a culinary genius. Everything she made was a masterpiece, and your father loved her cooking. So I wanted to make an effort to get it right."
Since my grandmother didn't have written recipes she could share with my mother, she told my mother she could learn by watching her prepare my father's favorite meals. "Don't wait for me to tell you anything," she instructed. "Just follow me as I work in the kitchen. Pay attention and see what I'm doing. When you think you have the hang of it, I'll let you take over, and then you can make the meals yourself. Oh, there's one more thing. No talking."
"What do you mean 'no talking'?" my mother asked. "What if I have questions?"
"No questions," my grandmother replied. "No talking."
The day of my mother's first cooking lesson arrived. My mother was surprised when my grandmother did exactly what she said she would do, and she did it in complete silence. No talking.
The older woman moved silently around the kitchen preparing dinner as if my mother wasn't even there. My grandmother selected her ingredients: roast beef, onions, garlic, hot crushed pepper, paprika, salt, tomato paste, and white wine; and she pulled pans out of the cupboards, but she never said a word to my mother.
When my mother attempted to ask questions, my grandmother scowled disapprovingly until my mother fell back into an uncomfortable silence. Apparently, my grandmother meant business when she said there would be no talking.
My mother eventually learned how to prepare and cook my father's favorite dishes just as well as his mother did. "Sometimes, I think I'm even better," my mother confessed, "but it took me years of practice to get it right."
Personally, I have no need for my grandmother's old recipes, and my mother never taught me how to cook. I prefer takeout to home cooking anyway, and if I need to cook, there's always the microwave or the toaster oven.
I'll never forget the story of my mother's first cooking lesson and how she persevered under conditions that were less than ideal. It's a testament to her strength and determination, and it's a reminder that even the simplest things can take a lot of hard work. So, the next time you're biting into a delicious home-cooked meal, think of my mother and the silent treatment she endured to learn how to cook, and be grateful that you don't have to do the same.