I woke up this morning craving a dish called chicken divan. My mom’s recipe includes broccoli, chicken, mayonnaise, cream of mushroom soup, lemon juice, shredded cheese, and bread crumbs. It is a total comfort food indulgence. My mom made this recipe for years, and it has always been one of my favorites. Steaming hot served over white rice; there’s hardly anything better on a cold winter night. So, I went on a hunt to find the recipe. She had initially seen it in The Boston Globe decades ago and had clipped it out. After many years, she put it in a plastic sleeve to protect it. After looking for that for a long time, I came up empty-handed and saddened thinking I’d never be able to replicate it without that aged and yellowed piece of newspaper. Finally, in the last place I looked, I spotted a newer white notecard with “chicken divan” written in her handwriting. Then I remembered, during her final years, she started handwriting out recipes that she knew I liked so I would be able to make them once she was no longer here. Holding it and looking at it, I expected to feel sadness. But I didn’t. It was more of a feeling of comfort. She was thinking ahead to this moment. My mom is still taking care of me, and that has comforted me more than the dinner I am going to curl up on the sofa tonight and eat.
My mom loved gardening. I vividly remember playing outside, as a child, during summer weekends, watching my mom hunched over her various flower beds with her blue and white cowboy-style bandanna tied around her head. She would be weeding or transplanting new flowers. There would be containers of near fluorescent marigolds, pansies or some other colorful summer flower. One house we lived in there was a stone wall in front of our house and my mom and planted rows of bright orange tiger lilies all along it. When I got home from riding my bike somewhere I could see the brightness from way down the street. Those flowers were like a landing strip for my bike. Out of all the flowers my mom loved though, the one she had to buy every year were geraniums. Early summer always meant there would be pots of red blooms decorating our porch or front steps. It couldn’t be white or pink. They always had to be a deep rich red color. I must admit I’ve always loved the contrast between the red flowers and the verdant green stems and leaves.
So, the other day I was missing her like crazy so I decided to go to Wentworth Gardens in Rollinsford, New Hampshire. It is a massive complex with endlessly long greenhouses and a gorgeous outdoor space filled with bushes, trees, and other flowering plants. My mom and I went there the first spring we lived in Maine and she loved it. It’s such a wonderful memory I have of her, seeing that gardening spark come alive again in her eyes again. I spent a good amount of time just walking around looking at all the flowering plants. Then I spotted the geraniums and a lump immediately formed in my throat. I made my way towards them and as I touched one of the blooms I felt the tears welling up in my eyes and I swallowed hard and took some deep breaths trying to compose myself. I didn’t want to have a full-on meltdown in public. I knew what I had to do though, and I’m sure you have figured it out as well. I bought three deep red geraniums and planted them in a large pot that sits on my porch. Sitting on the porch and transplanting them to their new home gave me a moment where I felt close to my mom again. That was a nice feeling to have when, for the most part, she feels so far away from me. Now, throughout the summer, when I see those flowers, I’ll smile because I know she’ll have the same look on her face when she looks down and sees them.