I grew up in a tract house in suburbia with a mother who disdained traditional domesticity. She’d grown up with a mother who cooked like a dream and cleaned like a maniac. None of us want to turn into our mothers, which is one reason (I’m being kind) why mine embraced conveniences in a bear hug. For example, she swore by perma-press clothes and would rather hover over the tumble dryer with hangers to hand — prepared to pounce on Dad’s shirts the minute it stopped — than unearth the iron they’d received as a wedding gift. The phrase 100% cotton terrified her as much as the words zombie apocalypse upset people today.
As a result, I believed that potatoes came out of cans, and that broccoli was square, because that’s how it came out of the packages stacked in our freezer. I was a teenager before I saw soup made from scratch and so gobsmacked and enchanted by the experience that I followed the woman around for hours, much to my mother’s annoyance.
Trips to the supermarket were as infrequent as possible, which meant the quantities purchased in any single run could be staggering. Once, as we navigated two giant trolleys around the shop, I was so overwhelmed by shame that I began speaking in a very loud voice about what a novelty it was coming down off the mountain, and how excited my six brothers would be by the arrival of fresh vittles.
There are no mountains on Long Island.
I headed for urban life the minute I graduated from university. Ultimately – and happily — I wound up in Hoboken, where I lived from 1983 until the end of 1997. The city covers a square mile, and there was a produce vendor at the end of my street, about a five minute walk from my flat.
One day, chatting to my mother on the phone, we started talking food and meals, and I must have described what I was having for dinner, or some food craving I planned to indulge. I must also have said that I couldn’t do so until I popped up to the Koreans on the corner. (For British readers, a great many fruit and vegetable shops in the NY/NJ metropolitan area were owned by Koreans at that time.)
There was a silence and then I heard, “Wait — are you saying you buy fresh?”
I felt victorious: I was so not my mother.
As it happens, I was probably turning into my grandmother. But that’s a whole other kettle of (very fresh) fish.