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The Silence of Stains: Express Yourself By Saying Nothing
My thoughts drifted back to that cookbook last week, when I saw NPR's piece on the history of community-based cookbooks. The writer, Jessica Stoller-Conrad, pointed to The Woman's Suffrage Cookbook and 1904 Bluegrass Cookbook from Kentucky. Like me, she recognized their outdated references belonged to a time when women didn't have a lot of personal or professional choices. But she also felt the books were social outlets that "were so much more than just a catalog of recipes—they were fundraisers, political pamphlets, and historical accounts of the communities they served."
They were memoirs too, I suddenly realized. Every gravy stain and little handwritten comment ("add extra salt!" or "need more clam juice") tells a story. My cookbook, however, is wonderfully blank. My mother did not cook. She was a social worker in the 1970s. She did not have the time, interest or energy. Her lack of comment was a comment: There's a big world beyond the kitchen, honey. The silence of stains on each page may just have resulted in my being a working mother too (though I do love cooking, especially when it's something like "Mooseburger Meatloaf.").
Now that we live in the age of round-the-clock blogging, any lack of commentary (of any kind) seems harder and harder to find. I see these kinds of tell-all-say-nothing moments occasionally when a friend restrains herself from making a political point over dinner or someone shows you a photo but fails to tell the story behind it. I wish there were more of them. These omissions aren't nothing. They're windows into our choices: to cook or not cook, to explain or not explain, to show and see if anybody is ready to understand instead of just lecture and opine.
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