Will I Ever Have Chicken Kababs This Good Again?
My mom made the best chicken kababs I’ve ever tasted and it makes me sad. Her dementia is such that it prevents her from giving out recipes reliably anymore. It’s not like she has a set recipe anyway, she’s always trying new things. It looks like she went all out with the chicken kababs as I noticed cardamom pods, cloves and bay leaves in the delicious curried mixture reminiscent of how biryani is made.
I have just a few kababs left that I will likely eat tomorrow for dinner and I wonder, will I ever have chicken kababs this good again? How long will my mom be well enough to keep cooking? Will she ever be able to recreate this recipe? Will I ever be able to recreate this recipe? Are these amazing chicken kababs a fleeting, one time deal in my life?
Mostly I’m sad because I love my mom so much and I’m terrified of losing her. The phenomenal chicken kababs just remind me of A. how awesome my mom is and B. that she is 83 years old with moderate-stage dementia. This means that she isn’t going to be around forever.
Of course, I’ve always known this. Ok, maybe not always, but I’ve known this for a long time. It isn’t until I lost my dad three years ago that I began to truly understand the finiteness of life. That, in fact, the center of my family’s universe will not live forever. Her dementia diagnosis only makes it that much more real, that she has a handful of years left and there’s no way to predict how cognitively intact those years will be.
I’m also sad because like these chicken kababs, all of our traditions and heritage reside inside my mom’s head. For example, she knows exactly what to do at family weddings, with the special red sequined shawl that is draped over the bride during the sagai (engagement party) and the gor, where you waive money around the bride and groom’s head and drop it in a tray they are holding on their laps. She also knows exactly what to do when someone dies. She hosts a somber get together to pray for the soul of the deceased. She has in her possession all the little prayer books and prayer beads that she distributes to each of the guests and she knows exactly which duas (prayers) to recite when.
What will happen to this ancestral knowledge once my mother is gone? Do my older siblings know about these traditions or do they know them just piecemeal and anecdotally like me? If, by chance they know them well, will they carry them on?
My mother is also the keeper of old stories that no one else remembers. Like the one she told me last night that my brother-in-law used to be a teacher before he got married to my sister. He used to teach little kids English and Portuguese in his native city of Pemba in Mozambique. I have known my brother-in-law for approximately thirty-six years and I didn’t know that about him. But my mom does. She knows a lot of things, what actually happened, first-hand accounts of our family history.
What about our language? Currently the only two people I speak Kutchi to are my mom and my sister-in-law who is from Kutch herself. So once my mom is gone my Kutchi-speaking world will diminish greatly. Will Kutchi eventually fade from my family’s life like Portuguese did? What, if anything, will keep us tethered to our motherland?
These are all the unanswered questions that bubble up and give me anxiety as I eat my mom’s insanely good chicken kababs. I am sad but also accepting and hopeful. I know, for example, that even though Portuguese faded out of our lives, it planted the seed for several of us being fluent in Spanish, a result none of us could have predicted when we moved here from the Portuguese-speaking country of Mozambique thirty-five years ago.
I know that my mother’s legacy will live on in her children, vast array of grandchildren and growing number of great-grandchildren, even if it’s not in the ways I expect or predict. Maybe the shawl tradition will die out but it will spawn something new. Maybe instead of these exact kababs, my great-niece will make something similar for her kids without knowing that it’s inspired by her great-grandmother’s cooking, just like I’m sure my great-grandmother’s culinary methods show up in my own cooking.
Life goes on in the most beautiful ways and we are rooted in our past in ways we don’t even realize. Our history, our heritage, our beautiful relationships with our ancestors, they are the mulch and the soil of new growth, of the future. My mother will live on in a multitude of ways.
I tell myself to enjoy the kababs and stop worrying, aka, stop trying to control everything. Life has a way of finding the best path forward. My only job is to be here, right now, and enjoy the deliciousness of my mother’s cooking and her presence.