My family has been working on a cookbook featuring my mother's cooking, gathering recipes, stories, and pictures which my creative, well-organized, and high-tech sister-in-law, Jan, has been entering into an online "make your own book" template so we all can have a printed cookbook for Christmas. (Thank you, Jan!)
As I've thought about the food my mother made, the cakes she decorated, and the canning she did, I keep coming back to this picture and the story it represents.
When my father was in the military he received new orders every two years which seemed to always involve moving his family across the country. If he was stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for instance, he'd be sent to Camp Pendleton, California. And if he was in Camp Pendleton he'd be sent to Quantico, Virginia. So every two years we'd drive across country on what turned into memorable family vacations. Since my parents didn't have money, we camped or stayed with friends or relatives as we traveled. On our later trips we had a big tent that we usually slept in and a camp stove for cooking.
I think this picture was taken on our way to California in the summer of 1963, when we had taken a northern route through the Pacific Northwest. That's me in the blue shirt, Jean is in the plaid shorts, my brothers are playing badminton in the background, and my father must have been the photographer. As it so often does in the Oregon and Washington, it had been raining. My mom had bought some good steak as a special dinner but the rain was ruining her chance of cooking it and she was worried that it would spoil. So when there was a break in the rain, we all piled out of the car and my mom put the steak on the cook even though it wasn't yet dinner time. After a bit it started to rain again and we all sat in the car while my mother finished cooking the steak. At some point we all enjoyed eating our meal which we dubbed, "steak in the rain."
There are many things I love about this story and this picture. First, I love that it is a family story and that I have brothers and a sister who shared the experience and understand the iconography of this photograph. Second, I love seeing my mother pictured "in action," since most photographs of her are posed. And she is in action cooking, something she enjoyed doing for her family right up to her last years. Third, she is dressed the way I remember seeing her so often as a child when she was doing outdoor things, in pedal pushers (never shorts since they were too short and never in jeans) and a lightweight sweatshirt jacket over a tee shirt (never a plain sweatshirt since she didn't like to pull sweatery things over her head.) Most photographs of us as a young family show my mother in a dress, of course. Fourth, the photograph shows how the family jobs were determined by gender. The mother is cooking, the oldest girl is helping, and the younger girl is nearby while all the males are doing something fun. Well, okay, they weren't always doing something fun, sometimes they had their own gender-based jobs to do. My brother recently wrote his remembrances of camping with our family on these cross-country trips and how it was his job to help set up the big tent since he was a boy. That's how it was back in those days. So the photograph is a reminder of how we have progressed as a society.
It is bittersweet to see all of us so young. My mom was forty-one when this photo was taken, I was was just turning twelve, and Jean was ten.
Could we ever believe that we were so young if we didn't have photographs like this to prove it?