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Cabbage Rolls Again?

July 14, 2017 , , ,



She knew from the smell when she opened the front door that her mother was cooking cabbage rolls again.  The hallway and the stairwell smelled heavily of cabbage when she came home from school.  For her it was the reassurance of a meal to eat, but for others who visited her after school it was foreign.  They always asked when they arrived at the landing in front of her upstairs apartment, “What is that smell?”  Her parents were both from Poland, and her mother was an excellent cook.  She used cabbage almost every day because it was cheap and healthy.  Audrey was both proud and ashamed of her heritage and her ethnic diet at home.  She wanted to blend in with kids at school who ate much differently than her family. Her mom was really the one with the mad chef skills, but she was ashamed of that cuciferous odor coming from the kitchen all the time.

Her home and the family income were average for the time and the place.  Audrey felt that she and almost everyone she knew in school would be classified as “middle class”.  There were fewer class distinctions in elementary school than there would be later in life.  She had friends, boyfriends, and was popular. In the 1950’s in our tiny town the children were given relative freedom to do as we pleased until dinner time.  Friendships that began on the whiffle ball field or in a snow fort would often conclude with an invitation to eat dinner at another kid’s home.  Most mothers would consent if an extra child was brought home, but permission had to be granted from the visitor’s parents.  In this way we checked out each other’s family dining habits and parental norms. It was a very common practice. She held back from accepting invitations because she did not want to reciprocate.  This was the beginning of her social withdrawal.

Now that she is back at home taking care of her parents in their home she wishes she had learned to make stuffed cabbage the way her mom did.  She is an adequate cook, but does not know any of her grandparents’ traditional recipes from the old country.  She buys frozen foods and prepared packaged meals.  A certain amount of guilt consumes her as she spoon feeds frozen corndogs to her mom.  She does not understand what her mother is telling her in Polish, and she feels a loss that cannot be recovered.


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I know the smell of cabbage cooking. My grandmother would make it though it was not part of her ethnic origins nor her mother’s but was learned by hergrandmother along the way of being raised in European orphanage, moving around the continent and then emigrating to the US There are recipes from both my grandparents that I wish I had taken more time to learn. However I did learn how to do a great fried chicken


Stevie Wilson (@LAStory)

July 15, 2017

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