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In a music doc for Tom Petty, some talking head claims the story of rock and roll could be one of dead mothers. The viewer is supposed to acknowledge the ghost in the room, but with Mother’s Day always on the horizon, I think of you.

You worked in so many jobs designed to kill you—packing trucks, third shifts, mall security, plastic molding, vinyl factory—your body so fragile from decades of labor that you’ve found solace in delivery driving. I saw you in faint glimpses between showers, occasionally at dinner, but mostly slipping in and out of sleep on the couch. You would chuckle at reruns of King of the Hill, drifting off because tomorrow was already exhausting.

I’ve been thinking about how work is a kind of death.

You call me like a stranger relaying a message. You’re so lucky, you remind me that I’m older than you were when grandma died. You resolve on her anniversary we should make pig in the blanket, not the American dish but the one we consume in winter.

I Google it, and the internet says it is called “töltött káposzta” in a language grandpa no longer speaks. When I attempt to say it in a terrible accent, you say it sounds like childhood. It smells like childhood too.

We start with a steamed head of cabbage. You threaten to burn yourself peeling back the leaves and ignoring the cloud of steam that floats out of the separation. Our glasses, along with every window, steam over. As they clear, it’s like the room cries.


You don’t blink when I break up the leftover rice with my fingers. Using a comically large bowl with the rice, the meat, some seasonings, and breadcrumbs, you mix to the point of overmixing but claim that’s how grandma did it.

I don’t know what she was like, other than what you say when washing your hands and even then the water muffles everything. You miss her, have missed her my whole life, yet, when you speak of her, it is always tinged with fear; she was mean is the gist of all you ever say. Any anecdote, any picture, any detail of the life she led or the life you saw, slips away from us.

We form the smallest assembly line of cabbage leaf and meatball and rolling and placing into my new Dutch oven, a pan you say you never heard of even though that’s ridiculous and I don’t want to fight about it. As we line the pan, I think of what little I know: Grandma and grandpa worked at Jeep. You were the youngest of many. You only spent time with her when she was dying.

I spent the most time with you when she was dying. I was so young, I remember freaking out my aunt, when I woke from sleep saying I saw grandma in the closet. I saw her walking up stairs that weren’t there, heading towards the sky.

We top with jar sauce and bagged sauerkraut, authenticity be damned. The dish will bake all day, the house will smell like hot fermentation. You’ll settle onto my favorite chair, and I’ll let you, looking contemplative before saying something so ordinary like There’ll be a lot left over for you.