My husband liked to claim his mother missed her calling as a chef. She wasn’t a gourmet, but more of an Aunt Bee meat and three type of cook. Like her husband, she grew up poor in a rural community where people went to church twice a week and didn’t want for anything more than simple comforts. She cooked amazingly well, too. When the husband was in college and break time came around, the friends with nowhere to go all wanted to ride up with him and sit at the dinner table.

We used to joke about how one day we’d buy out the corner grill in their little town and my MIL could cook the daily specials. Fried chicken, pasta casseroles, stuffed French toast.  It won’t happen, sadly.

Though she had various health problems, my MIL had nothing terminal. One night this past July she died in her sleep, quietly and peacefully, and we are much poorer for it. She was the type who never knew a stranger and loved family, especially holiday get-togethers. Thanksgiving and Christmas were events at their home, with the entire house decorated and the table groaning with food.

These next holidays will feel empty, and her shoes are definitely a challenge to fill in this respect. More than likely we’ll go out that day.

In the meantime, my MIL’s death has had quite an effect on me in terms of how we live and eat. For much of our marriage, we’ve gone out or bought heat-up meals. My husband’s work schedule changes constantly due to the nature of his career, and even the addition of a child hasn’t normalized things. I’m in middle age and only learning how to cook with ambition.

Last year I made lasagna for the first time. It tasted rather bland, and I realize now I didn’t season the meat enough. Recently, I took possession of MIL’s casseroles and tried a few recipes. In a way I feel as though we’ve been thrown into the deep end with her gone. My FIL never paid the bills, and she did all the shopping. We’re all learning new things.

The last time I was there, I made fried green tomatoes for the first time. Turned out better than the lasagna did, and it helped to have some comfort food around. I find, too, comfort from being in a kitchen and making it a new room for me.

Maybe that second career as a chef is still doable.