Ketchup, Scotch Tape, and Humility
I remember my mother every time I make beef stroganoff. Specifically, I think of her when the recipe calls for me to add two tablespoons of ketchup to to the pan.
My husband, whose admiration for this dish led me to learn to prepare it, was astonished the first time he saw me assembling the ingredients: top loin of beef, beef stock, fresh sliced mushrooms, sour cream, diced onion, minced garlic...and ketchup.
"I can't believe it has ketchup in it," he said.
"The recipe says it does," I responded.
Later that night, as we ate, he admitted that despite the ketchup, the stroganoff tasted just as stroganoff should, with no identifiable ketchup flavor.
Sometimes, you need humble ingredients to make something grand.
My mother knew this well.
My first year in high school, she sewed a beautiful blue velvet formal for my first big dance. We chose a pattern together, with banded puffed sleeves, an empire waist, and a modest v neckline. The fabric was fragile and soft, an exquisite blue like the sky, the moment before darkness--brighter than stodgy navy, but subtle, all the same. We picked a narrow gold braid to trim the neckline and sleeves.
She sat at the Singer and sewed, calling me to her occasionally to fit the sleeve bands precisely to my arms. After I stood for the hem, she sewed lace seam binding to the raw edge of the velvet, then painstakingly hemmed the dress by hand, catching the lace with her needle every half inch with a fine stitch.
"A regular hem will leave a line showing around the bottom--it'll mar the velvet," she explained, teaching me as she sewed.
Even though the hem would be one inch from the floor, even though the the lighting would be dim at the dance, she did her best to perfect that detail.
The dress was grand. I wriggled into it, admiring my mother's work.
And then, minutes before my escort was due at the house, I caught the heel of my golden sandal in that delicate hem and ripped it loose.
I would have cried, but I had spent several minutes applying mascara with my wobbly fourteen-year-old touch.
"Don't worry," Mom said. She left my room, returning a moment later. In her hand was a roll of Scotch tape.
She knelt on the floor behind me and taped up the sagging hem. Then she ran a length of tape along the entire back of the hem, sealing those half-inch gaps from my heel's marauding intrusion.
I'm not afraid to put ketchup in the stroganoff recipe because my mother wasn't afraid to mend my dress with Scotch tape. It's one of the greatest lessons she taught me:
When you're making something, a dinner or a dress or a child's character, use the best ingredients you can assemble. And don't be afraid to add something humble if that simple thing will make it better.
My mother knew this well, I think, because humility shone from her. Quick to offer praise, she never boasted in herself.
And that made her grand.
My Brother Tim and Mom, in her Kitchen, Christmas.
In loving memory of my mother, Marilyn Lee Downs Seiler
August 20, 1936-September 30, 2008
8 He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8 (NASB)