Making My Mother's Meatloaf

A week after my mother died, I decided to make her meatloaf for my father.

I was hesitant, still a bit hazy. The hospital bed was gone from the living room, but the Lorazepam and Neurontin were still in the cupboard, the morphine pump by the door, her clothes still in the closet.

But I wanted something to seem familiar to my dad, something to feel in place. So I dug around in her kitchen until I found the recipe. It took me a while to find it, because my mother was a recipe fanatic—she had dozens of books and boxes, ones just for crock-pots, 10-minute meals, clipped out recipes she wanted to try, or ones she had noted as EXCELLENT at the top in felt-tip pen.

When I found the card, its familiar, loopy writing made me take a sharp intake of breath.

1 to 1 ¼ lb. ground beef or meat loaf mixture (Note: I use ¾ lb. ground beef and ¼ lb. ground pork but mixture is sometimes available).

I loved the parenthetical comment.

And 1 cup raw oats (Regular or quick cooking) (Can use wheat germ)

She was clearly a woman of options.

And of course, ¾ to 1 cup chopped onions (I use frozen – prechopped). My mother was also a woman of efficiency. I remember when she told me that they started selling frozen cut-up onions—she thought it was revolutionary.

Her cylinder of Quaker Oats was still in the pantry. I gathered the ingredients, and pulled out that oh-so-familiar dark-coated 9 x 13 pan, the one she always used for our family’s favorite sour cream chocolate bit cake. The bottom of her pan was scarred with cross-hatches from cutting batch after batch of brownies, cake, meatloaf.

While your hands are greased, shape the loaf.

I looked at my hands, and noted that they were like my father’s—strong hands, round fingertips like a carpenter’s—not my mother’s slender’s artist’s hands.

My dad was watching the History Channel in the other room, and he hollered in to me.

“How’s it going in there?”

I could hear a hint of happiness in his voice, just that the light was on in the kitchen. He was pleased that his 37-year-old daughter was in there.

“Fine, Dad…”

I remember that I could barely get the words out.

“Don’t forget to spread ketchup on top before you cook it,” he added.

And that I did. But not without noting to myself that Mom always called it catsup.