You Need This... I Promise

The Mother's Day Peanuts

old black and white polaroid of Ann (age 3) and her mother on a lawn chair in the yard (August 1964)

me and my mom, August 1964

 

Recently I have developed a not-so-great habit of snacking on chocolate-covered peanuts in the office. We have sold Hubs Virginia Peanuts for a few years now and the joke around here is that Sid is responsible for half of the inventory because there is nearly always a tin in our office. For a really long time, I used to roll my eyes and chastise him for eating so many. And then one day, I gave in and tried a few myself. Well, now the joke is on me. They are delicious. But this was never really my kind of treat. When it comes to salt, I prefer potato chips to nuts – and if I'm eating chocolate, it's probably super dark. But I think the REAL reason I was never that interested is that chocolate-covered peanuts remind me so much of my mother.

She was crazy about peanuts… actually, most nuts. When I was a kid, she would never fail to include walnuts in her brownies. All four of us hated it – what a way to ruin perfectly good chocolate. Though I suppose it kept us from devouring the whole pan… more for her! I can honestly remember trying to nibble around the nuts – but it was impossible. Walnut scented the entire pan. And when we would make the occasional family trip to Dairy Queen, her order was a Buster Bar: a tube of vanilla ice cream layered with peanuts and covered in chocolate. I always got a pink-dipped cone (pink in color – but what flavor? who knows?) and my strategy was to eat it incredibly slowly. It was the one power I had over my older brothers, who would finish theirs in a normal amount of time and then watch me with jealousy. Small bites taken with drama.

There was another nut treat that only came out on occasion, and that was when my mother would make herself a Tin Roof. (She was from Kansas and pronounced it with the vowel sound in "book" and not "boot," just like she did the "warsh" rather than the "wash.") But the Tin Ruf/Roof was a cup of vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate sauce and Spanish peanuts… the ones covered in that annoying red skin. Of course I turned my nose up at this, too. She would just shrug. When I look back on it, she was ahead of her time with the salty-sweet thing – this was decades before anyone was marketing fleur de sel caramels or chocolate bars studded with sea salt. If she would have sprinkled a little Morton's table salt on top – the only kind we had back then – I probably would have performed a dramatic gag reflex.

 

old polaroid of Ann's mother in a party dress leaning forward holding a cigarette (June 1962)
probably going for a Scotch... or some bar nuts?

 

And finally, her love for nuts informed our first stop when we would go to JC Penney for our annual back-to-school shopping trip. (My dad spent his entire career there.) My mother was thrifty to a fault, and that 15% employee discount meant it was the ONLY place we were allowed to shop. She finally relented when my brothers reached high school age and simply refused to wear "Plain Pockets" rather than Levi's. Then all bets were off. (Come to think of it, Sid has quite a business selling plain pockets… maybe we missed an opportunity with the branding.) But for years, we would all head to the store together, each of us allowed five new outfits for the school year. First stop was the candy department at the top of the escalator. I would usually go for orange slices or some other colorful jellied thing that looked better than it tasted, and she would get her own bag of chocolate-covered peanut clusters.

I wish my mother were still here, as so many of us do – especially this time of year. Some of us wish it too late. She died in 2013, and it was only this year that I even TRIED the Hubs peanuts. Of course, when I was younger, it was my own pride and independence that kept me from trying the things she relished… just because they were hers! Thinking about it now, I have equal parts awe and shame and tenderness when I reach into the can of peanuts. It makes me feel close to her. The one place I still have not ventured is the creamed herring jar – her other major treat. I can remember staring at her in total shock. She would come home from the grocery store with this little delicacy (not so often; remember her thriftiness) and before she would even unload the rest of the groceries, she would grab a fork, crack open a jar of those little fish in cream sauce, and eat them standing up in the kitchen! Talk about a gag reflex.

But the best part of my mother was that she understood this. Me trying to be me. She just smiled every time I snubbed her choices – smiled, shook her head, and loved me to bits for it and in spite of it. It had nothing to do with her or her choices (although the creamed herring is… disgusting…) and everything to do with me and my youth. I see now that she was just confident and wise enough to not let it bother her. Although I have five daughters of my own, only one of them rebelled against my own taste in a similar way. It was astounding to me that I, too, could love her through it so easily. When she would come down the stairs for school with smudged eyeliner, my heart would just swell. It was like someone had taken a Sharpie to a ballerina in a Degas painting. And I told her so! But I said it smiling and maybe shaking my head a little, just like my own mother had done. And now, all of her sisters agree that she's the one who's the most like me.

 

old black and white polaroid of Ann's mother wearing a tie-neck blouse with a pin/brooch
an early tie-neck blouse - how chic is that pin?

 

I am often asked who has influenced me the most in terms of fashion. The answer isn't usually my mother. She was incredibly crafty and creative – she painted, sewed, decorated voraciously all nine of our houses for the 18 years I was under her roof. (Ruf.) She looked great, but she was not into fashion. I do not remember a single issue of Vogue or Harper's Bazaar or any fashion magazine in the house unless I had purchased it. It just wasn't her thing. But while combing through pictures of her for this post, I was shocked by how many things she is wearing that I have not only made, but written about here. There are slim, cropped pants just like our Faye pull-on pants… flats that look so much like our Buckle Shoes that I had to squint… countless men's-style loafers, slim turtleneckscardigan sweaterspolos. For evening, almost always a little black dress. In my favorite picture, she is smiling in a version of our tie-neck blouse that she sewed herself in a super-70s knit fabric. And white jeans! Who knew it was all lodged up there in my head, hiding out, waiting for recognition. While she wasn't a capital-F-fashion girl, she had more style than I ever acknowledged. I am more like her than I ever thought, with or without the handful of Hubs peanuts. She would really, really love those. Happy Mother's Day.

From Ann

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