When I was growing up — even through my teenage years — my mother and I were the best of friends. Even Frog and Toad had nothing on us. She was my greatest confidante, because at that point I hadn’t done anything really stupid, and the one person with whom I wanted to spend all my time. I recently read a magazine article written by a woman who said she was in love with how much she was loved by her now late parents, and I know exactly what she was talking about because I, too, am in love with how much I am loved by mine.
Things began to change once I left for college. Suddenly, it was glaringly obvious that my personality came from someone else. The teenage rebellion we all thought we’d avoided began to emerge. I became someone even I didn’t entirely recognize, but I didn’t know how to go back. And slowly we started to grow further apart. Very few people know how much I was breaking my own heart and how I desperately needed for her to love me, in spite of myself (which, of course, she did).
These days, I have grown out of it — my marriage has evened me out, helping me be a little more balanced. I got married, I grew up, I discovered true responsibility. Everything that had made things harder helped us appreciate what was now so easy. With this newfound adulthood, my mother and I find ourselves very close again — best girlfriends, a thousand miles apart. The difficult years shaped us, though, into a duo of two women whose personalities are different but beautifully complementary.
When I was in high school, that calm before the storm, we traveled into the city for gourmet popcorn, purchased at the (now) indefinitely closed Uncommon Kernel. I don’t remember how we discovered this snack lover’s mecca, the shelves covered by plastic bags of sweet and savory popcorn; traditional flavors like caramel and cheddar cheese and flavors I’d never heard of like blueberry and jalapeno. We bought as many bags as we could, in order to sample each flavor and decide which was our favorite. Later, as a family, we would agree that the many popcorns covered in chocolate drizzle were the best.
But despite our being in a grown up candy store, we couldn’t ignore the lovely wafting scent of ginger and garlic coming from outside. It permeated the neighborhood street, calling out to us. We asked the owner of the popcorn shop where the Chinese restaurant was and she told us it was right next door and was quite good. Suddenly hungry and in the mood for Chinese, we picked up our gourmet popcorn bags and walked the few feet to the restaurant’s entrance. There was something wonderful about these two businesses, side by side for so many years, different but beautifully complementary.
I remember it was fairly dark inside, with low lights hung over each table. I remember the server was a quiet, unassuming man. I remember the egg foo yung was a revelation; so unlike the overheated patties we used to order from the grocery store Chinese deli counter, that it was the food equivalent of the book and movie “The Devil Wears Prada” – the names were the same and that was it. I remember the sweet and sour chicken was housed in a perfectly crispy batter and covered by a pale pink sauce, instead of the viscous, cherry red sauce I find at every subpar Americanized Chinese restaurant that offers me two-entree plates for under $8.00.
In the following years, the Chinese restaurant would also go out of business. We have not been back to the neighborhood to see what has replaced both it and the gourmet popcorn shop, and I prefer to keep it that way; more easily maintaining the memory: a mother and daughter, best friends, sharing a delicious meal together, telling each other stories, with something special to take home.