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Learning to Cook This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


The heat as Mom opens the oven door makes me step back against the refrigerator. She slides the pan of cookies inside the depths of the oven while I look on.

“Mom, can I do it? I want to do it, Mom.”

“When you’re bigger, you can. I don’t want you to get burned. Now, see how the oven’s hot already? That’s called preheating.” She moves back toward the table and sits down. I watch her for a moment. Her hair is lighter than mine. It slides over her shoulder, against her cheeks, slightly unbrushed. I think she is beautiful, her hands move softly, working the dough on the table. They are pale and freckled, strong, but the skin lays over the bones like tissue. She lights a cigarette and takes a drag. Everything she does is comfortable, familiar. She smells like smoke and Heaven Scent perfume, and when she’s gone at night, I sneak her shirts into my bedroom to sniff as I fall asleep. I cannot imagine anything without her.

I pull a chair from the table and climb onto it. I cannot see the surface from the floor, but Luke will build me a stool, maybe, to stand on. Luke can do anything, I think. He fixes cars and stuff, and he fixes Mom, too, I guess. For Christmas, they gave me a tricycle that is painted metallic burgundy. They brought it at a yard sale for 50 cents, sanded and painted it with clearance spray paint. I love it just the same. I don’t notice that they can’t afford other things. It proves that Mom and Luke can do anything.

From my chair, I help Mom. We take pieces of pie crust and make a triangle out of it. Mom sprinkled on cinnamon sugar, but she won’t let me. I am upset, because I know I could do it.

“Mom, Mom, let me do it. Let me do it!” Mom finally hands the jar to me; I slowly spill the grains across the table and cooking sheet. I think she is smiling.

The dough is soft and squishy. It sticks to my fingers when I roll it up (big end to small end), but that’s okay. The sugar is grainy when I lick it off my hands. The house smells warm and good from the crescents in the oven. I eat the dough when Mom isn’t looking.

The kitchen is my favorite room. It is long and skinny. The table is at one end and a sink at the other. I know that the Formica counter is white with funny green flecks, even though I can’t see it. The refrigerator is a color Mom calls avocado, and the stove is pink. I like it. There is one window at the sink end. Later I will learn to whistle at that window, looking out at the neighbor’s yard. The curtains are sheer and white, with little cotton baubles hanging at the edges. There are ugly. I look out the window at the rain and want to live in the kitchen forever.

On other days, it is sunny when Mom and I cook. We are making fried chicken to take camping. It is Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. Or Labor Day. They all run together, but they are camping days, and they are in the summer. I like holidays a lot. Last year on Valentine’s Day, Luke brought me a white dress with blue flower, for no reason at all. He brought Mom chocolate candy and a card. Camping holidays are the best, though. We go with my aunt and uncle, and I swim with no clothes on with my aunt and mom. At night we sit around the fire, and I climb into the tent to sleep while they play cards in the lantern-light.

Fried chicken is hard to make. Mom asks me to stir while she goes to the bathroom. I stir for a long time, until I get tired of it. Some falls out of the bowl. I wipe it up with my fingers and stick it in my mouth. It is awful. I climb off the chair and onto the counter. I open the cupboard door and look at the jars. I pull out the one labeled p-e-p-p-e-r and sprinkle black flecks into the batter. I stir more, careful not to spill any. Then I add more and stir more, until the batter is full of black specks. I think it looks very nice, much better than the smooth white batter. When Mom comes in, I tell her right away that she doesn’t think it is very pretty.

“Destie!” she says that loud. When Mom cooks, she makes everything from white cards, reading the whole thing before and during cooking. The cards tell her what to do. I didn’t see any card talking about pepper, but I didn’t look either. If it tastes good, I don’t think it matters that much. But Mom likes to know how much to put into things.

When we are camping that night, we eat cold chicken with lots of pepper in it. I think it is good, but no one else takes seconds, probably because they see how much I like it. Probably my favorite camping food is s’mores. I like all the dirt and things that get in the food when we camp. I used to peel my apples and roll them in the sand before I ate them, because the kids in the neighborhood thought that was gross. I didn’t like them. The kids, I mean. The apples were fine.

Mom and I cook chocolate chip cookies together also. And pumpkin pie. I don’t like raw pumpkin pie, I don’t think. But raw cookies are good. I eat as much as I can before Mom catches me. I like the way the sugar grinds in my teeth when I chew it. I like them hot too, when the chocolate burns on my tongue and the mild tastes extra cold because of that. Most food is good raw, especially desserts and stuff. I also like Jell-o when it’s hot and sort of slippery. It’s good to suck off the wooden spoon, and tastes kind of limey-splintery.

For the rest of my life, one of my favorite things will be cooking with my mom. We don’t do it a lot, but I like it. When I’m older, I’ll want to do it all on my own. To prove that I can, I guess. But later, I will want to cook with Mom to have her teach me how, to be a child again, because this time is so perfect. To have someone who knows tell me just how to do it, how much to add and for how long, so that there is no guessing and things always come out just right. It won’t be the same, though, as it is now. Sometimes, I won’t want to help. I will just want to watch, to see the way she moves, stirring and pouring. Maybe she will think that I don’t want to be with her, or maybe I don’t want her helping me. Maybe she will think that I am just lazy, but it won’t be that at all. I will just love the sight of her, so familiar and warm. There is nothing better than cinnamon crescents with Mom on a rainy day.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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