The last argument I had with my mother was about a waffle iron. I’d flown to Kansas City to spend the weekend with her and she insisted that I take her ancient waffle iron back with me when I left. It was a 1970s era waffle iron with one dial that read “Darker/Lighter” and an old plug with both prongs the same size. It gave off more of a fire hazard vibe than a family heirloom vibe and I didn’t want it.
I told her I didn’t have room in my suitcase and she marched into my room, opened my suitcase and shoved it in, “You’re taking it.” I was 40 years old and my mother made me the kind of woman who carries a waffle iron in her suitcase swaddled in underwear.
Later that day, while we washed her garage floor, my mother slipped, fell and broke her ankle. The next day, I flew home while she had what was supposed to be a routine surgery but she never regained consciousness and, ten days later, I was packing my suitcase to go back to Kansas City for her funeral.
It’s been eight years since then and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that waffle iron.
My mother received it as a gift when I was 9 years old. She pulled a recipe from her Betty Crocker cookbook and went to work but she put too much batter in and it overflowed--the waffles burned in some places and stuck in others. She threatened to throw the whole thing away but obviously didn’t. She carried that waffle iron around for 30 years which is strange because she kept very few things.
The waffle iron sits in my pantry now and I use it regularly to make waffles for my own children. The waffles turn out every time and I have yet to burn down the house. Each time I stand there waiting for the waffles to brown, I wonder why she kept it and the only answer I can come up with is that she wanted to be the kind of mother who made waffles for her kids.
Maybe late at night when the house was dark and quiet, she sat with her beer and cigarette, stared into the night and hoped to do better. My mother and I could not have been more different but maybe we had this one thing in common--a desire to do better for our kids. She carried a waffle iron around for 30 years and now I make perfect waffles for my kids. Maybe this is what doing better looks like. Maybe it just takes time.
This essay was originally published on the site for the Washington-Centerville Public Library as the first place essay in the Human Interest - Global category of the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition in 2016.