As I think of more stories about my mother that I didn’t include in Spillin’ the Beans, I’m going to post them here. While many of our Jewish friends are celebrating Passover in trying times, I thought of this story.
As my mother aged and was dealing with her rheumatoid arthritis, she needed more and more help doing things around the house.When I suggested we hire a person to come to her home to help her be able to stay there, she was incensed. She informed me tersely that she was perfectly capable of finding help herself.
For the next few months she did not. Then when I went forward with the search and actually had someone come to talk to us about their services, she got on the phone with all her contacts and came up with a couple of women who could come at different times.
The most interesting of these was Janice Covington, a Jewish woman from New York, who had fallen in love with a Tennessee man and was living in the subdivision behind the farm. Janice could be there within five minutes any time Mother called unless she was transporting her daughter to and from school.
One week Mother had bought a country ham to cook for our Christmas dinner and she wanted to boil it. She couldn’t even pick it up, of course; she’d had the butcher put it in the cart, the bag boy put it in the car, and Donald take it into the house. Then she realized she needed one more person and called Janice.
“Janice, I need you to help me with my ham,” she said. She noticed there was a long pause before Janice answered.
“I’ll be right over,” Janice said. When she arrived, she looked the ham over suspiciously. “So this is a ham!” she said.
Mother told her to put it in the large can she boiled it in, and Janice did so. She covered it with water and turned on the burner.
“Thank you, Janice,” Mother said, as she eased into her chair. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Mary,” Janice said, “I never know what I’ll learn from you. I can’t believe I even touched a ham, let alone am cooking it. You are something else!”
Later, Mother said to me, “Can you believe Janice had never even touched a ham?”
“Sure!” I said. “She’s Jewish—remember?” And that was the first time Mother had put it together. To her, Jews and their laws and prohibitions about food were from Old Testament days. She’d had no idea that Janice avoided pork because she was Jewish.
“Oh, well!” she said. “She didn’t seem to mind. But I guess I don’t need to offer her some to take home with her.”