It’s 9 a.m. on a glorious July morning. My 81-and-a-half-year-old mother taps her foot impatiently.
I try my best to ignore her. I’m inhaling coffee and adjusting to my new environment. After one month on a remote island and three days in the Comox Valley, I’m jangled to find myself in Edmonton. It’s relatively quiet in my ma’s condo but even so, I find the traffic and construction sounds disturbing. And then there’s the audio track of my mother’s impatient sighs.
It’s Saturday. It’s Market Day.
I gulp back the last of my coffee, grab my knapsack, my sunglasses and my chapeau. That wide Alberta sky can deliver serious rays. My ma herds me to the bus, and then, just as quickly, herds me off. Are. You. Sure. I ask. This ain’t where we used to go to market years ago: a sad, dusty indoor place that’s been around since the 60’s. Yes. I’m. Sure. she says haughtily and disappears into a crowd.
This is a delightful surprise: a sizeable outdoor Edmonton Farmer’s Market spanning two city blocks.
I speed up, trying to track my Ma’s white hairdo in the crowd. She’s already bought rhubarb, poppyseed roll and cherries by the time I catch up. She’s excited about the cherries: We’ll. Make. Cherry. Perogies. she says. I manage to score some organic garlic scapes and kale from a charming vegan couple who host the only organic booth at the market. Local raspberries, and honey face cream from Coal Lake Honey Farm start to weigh down my bags.
Oddly, there’s a Sobey’s Supermarket next to the outdoor market. My ma concludes her high-speed shopping by roaming the fancy aisles, which span both groceries and a kind of upscale cafeteria, She’s got a routine. Now. We. Have. Lunch. she says firmly. She spoons herself some mushroom soup from a steaming cauldron and heads, with great dignity and determination, to a cafe table.
I know those soups. They’re salty and greasy. My Ma slurps hers with enormous satisfaction. She has high blood pressure, and most of the time she eats pretty healthy. But sometimes the lady needs a break.
I slip out and grab shrimp ceviche from a Mexican takeout trailer I noticed at the market. I sneak it back in and join my ma. It’s delicious, tangy and spicy. My mother shakes her head in mock-exasperation as I finish my illicit nosh. She’s had a bit of an outing, got her shopping done, had a visit with me. She looks happy, satisfied.
As we head back on the bus, I wonder how the coming week – the length of my visit – will go. There are spaces as large as frozen fields between us, differences impossible to bridge. There’s no way I can understand what it has meant for her to have her body ravaged by cancer. What it’s like to eat only pureed foods; to wheeze constantly; to speak through a tube in your throat.
She’ll never get the queer details of my life, what it means for me to have a lover that i can’t really talk about, someone who fills me with an intense joy that I have to hide from her. What it’s like to constantly edit those queer details: in the classroom, in the lunchroom; in her very own kitchen. What effect that’s had on my intimate relationships: sometimes, it just didn’t seem worth the trouble it would cause.
But for now there is soup to be made. I have bought local hothouse tomatoes, cucumber, peppers. When we get home, I will make my mother a fragrant gazpacho.
Sometimes, it’s the food and not the words that bridges the gap.
2 1/2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 small fresh jalapeño chili, or to taste, seeded and chopped (wear rubber gloves)
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced and mashed to a paste with 3/4 teaspoon salt
enough white bread, crusts removed and bread torn into pieces, to measure 2 cups (about 4 slices)
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, or to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
ice water for thinning soup
In a blender purée chopped tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeño, onion, and cucumber, garlic paste, bread, vinegar, oil, and salt and pepper to taste. The soup will taste better if it’s chilled for a few hours.
Thin soup with ice water and serve topped with croutons.