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by Richard Ross

 
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This past Mother's Day (May of 2012) was a very special one to me. Mom would have been within two months of her 100th birthday. And the approaching date in July wasn't going to be just any centennial... On July 7th, 2012, Mom would have crossed the century mark in age. Unfortunately, her counter stopped at eighty-eight, just shy in November of 2000 of learning who was to be officially declared the next president of the United States. After dinner at my house and watching some of the election returns, she decided to spend the night in the guest room. I drove Mom home in the morning before heading off to work. The morning of November 8th was to be the last time we would share morning coffee; a sudden stroke would take her life later that day.

For some reason I felt compelled to observe the occasion of what would have been Mom's 100th birthday with some sort of "event", although I was clueless as to what would be most appropriate. And I had been thinking -- since early in the new year -- what might be appropriate and special to "celebrate" the occasion. Her life was filled with so much. Those who would count her as friend were more than I could know; those whom she somehow helped -- whether it be with a hand-sewn quilt or baby blanket, freshly-baked batch of homemade biscuits other gift-of-the-heart -- were beyond counting; the list of those who had simply enjoyed her company and laughter were without number. And who could miss a mother more than her son? So how would I mark the day?

My first thought was a special trip to San Francisco. There were so many places on the west coast that Mom loved, and San Francisco was, without a doubt, one of her favorites. My sister lives there, so it seemed a likely candidate. And then there was our favorite lake in Minnesota, to which I had journeyed with both Mom and Dad on numerous occasions; my sister had often joined us there as well. There were too many possibilities and I just couldn't come up with the right solution... and then an idea hit me; it was a simple one but seemed perfect, actually involving a sort of double-tribute plan.

Part 1 of my plan consisted of a trip to Chicago. Yvonne and I took an early train to the City for lunch. (The train I recall from many, many years ago was a Christmas-time ride on the Kate-Shelley: it was an express train that stopped only in Geneva on its way to Chicago from Iowa.) Mom would take my sister and me downtown for some shopping at Marshall Field's. After looking at trains and toys for me and dolls and clothes for my sister, we would get in line to see Santa before having lunch under the Christmas Tree in the Walnut Room on the seventh floor.

On this trip, we enjoyed an added ride on the Chicago Water Taxi (get on just east of Ogilvie Transportation Center beneath the bridge north of Madison) -- sure helped on a 95-degree day -- which dropped us off directly beneath Trump Tower near Michigan. A short walk to State and Washington and we arrived at... well, it's now Macy's, but the plaque on the cornerstone still says Marshall Field's!

The store is huge and much bigger than I remember (I haven't been there in at least twenty years!), but it took only a little imagination to be four or five years old again... We sat next to where the "big tree" would have been and enjoyed a very nice lunch. It wasn't exactly the same, but it did help a bit to raise a glass and toast in Norwegian (Sk�l). Up above, Mom was smiling; Marshall Field's was, after all, her favorite store.

The 2nd part of the plan unintentionally evolved into a sort of double tribute that I think is apropos for the occasion. After my discovery of 302 West in Geneva as possibly the finest of fine-dining restaurants at which I theretofore had the pleasure of dining, I began to take my Mom there every year for her birthday, where we would enjoy many of Chef Joel Findlay's expert creations. One of my favorites-- by far -- was his horseradish-encrusted fish.

One thing about Chef Joel -- he would never say no to sharing a recipe. The only caveat was that he never gave specific amounts of ingredients. That was OK with me; my experience in the kitchen was sufficient -- through trial and error -- to learn the correct amounts. He was kind enough to share his horseradish-encrusted whitefish recipe with me (it is mind-bogglingly simple but oh, so good!), and I have reproduced it for my Mom, on numerous occasions, in numerous places and on numerous types of fish. And so as I prepare it this evening, I will raise a toast twice. The first will be to Chef Joel, an outstanding chef who brought great joy to countless diners, including my mother and me and Yvonne. The second is once again to the greatest and best mother ever. En sk�l for dere begge!

All too quickly, the day of a 100th birthday tribute was here... and too soon gone. But the memories are sweet and will be with me forever.

 

 

 

 

 

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