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February 6, 2023

Mother’s Love and Whispers from the Past

It was one of those almost too bright sunny mornings. You know the kind: Where you have to stop and wait until your eyes adjust to the light when coming back inside. Grabbing the ringing telephone, I heard my stepfather’s voice shouting “come quick.”  Suddenly, my world became chaotic. In that moment, my mom became as absent as one can get.

For those whose mom has passed, I don’t need to tell you how painful those next days were. Your mother is your beginning and, for many, your nurturer throughout her lifetime.

My mom, however, was not a nurturer. Newly divorced, she left me in the care of her older sisters, who soon moved me to a girl’s Catholic boarding school. Mom moved from town to town in Washington State and then to California, trying to “find herself,” I believe it’s called. Eventually, she found herself in Watsonville, where she remarried and settled down.

After my high school graduation, I joined my mom and new stepfather. I was overjoyed to be with her once again. When I married, I settled into my new home just a few miles from theirs. 

We were given just 13 years, mom and me, to get to know each other. We never spoke about those first 18 years of my life—that was too painful.

Ten years after mom’s death, I was living in Southern California when my stepfather called me. He was to remarry, and it was time for me to collect mom’s cedar chest.  

It was on a dreary rainy day that I turned my car onto the street in Watsonville where my mom had lived. Bracing myself, I entered their home that I had not been inside since mom passed. Quietly, almost reverently, we lifted mom’s cedar chest into my car. Each wiping tears, we hugged goodbye, knowing I would not be back anytime soon.

Driving home, my mind traveled back to the early ’40s. Those years family business was whispered about behind closed doors when the women got together—children were not included.  

“Does my mom love me?” I would ask repeatedly. 

“Of course she does, having a roof over your head and food in your belly is what matters,” an aunt would snap. 

I knew better than to challenge her reply. 

And now, I was turning the key in the lock of her cedar chest. Lifting the lid of that chest, smelling the odor of cedar, I felt as if I were intruding upon my mom’s world. I could almost hear whispers from the past escaping.   

In the chest, tied with pieces of ribbon, were bundles of photos of me, each one dated by my age. There was my tiny handprint, cast in white plaster—you know the one. There were her paycheck stubs, a yellowed white waitress apron that she had worn years before, an outdated copy of my father’s will he had mailed to her for safekeeping while he was in the army. And, lastly, on the bottom of the chest was a small tissue-wrapped packet. It contained a tiny dress that I had worn when my first baby photo was taken, along with my childhood letters to her, each one asking when I could be with her again. 

In the twilight of that evening, holding that dress on my lap, my main question had been answered. I could almost hear my mom whispering, ”of course I loved you. I always did!”

A Strawberry Cream Charlotte for Mom


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Butter and flower an 8-inch cake pan. Line bottom with parchment.
  • Ready an 8-inch springform pan
  • 15 equal-sized Strawberries stemmed and cut in-half

Sponge Cake


  • 3 lg. eggs
  • ½ cup gran. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2/3 cup cake flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. melted and cooled butter


  • Beat Eggs and sugar on high speed 10 minutes until thick and light-colored.
  • Stir in vanilla and butter and salt.
  • With spatula lightly fold in ½ flour mixture.
  • Then fold in remaining flour carefully not overmixing.
  • Pour batter into pan and bake 16-20 minuntes until light and spongy.
  • Turnout on rack and cool.

Strawberry Cream


  • 12 oz. fresh strawberries
  • Envelope of gelatin
  • Process strawberries until smooth. Chill.
  • Into ¼ of the processed strawberries, stir one envelope of gelatin. Beat until foamy and then microwave for a few seconds until gelatin is melted. Mix into ½ cup of the strawberry sauce. Set aside the rest of the sauce (1/4 cup).
  • In a separate bowl beat together 1 cup heavy cream and 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar until stiff peaks form.

Assemble Cake

  • Place sponge cake inside of the Springform pan.
  • Spread remaining ¼ cup strawberry sauce over cake.
  • Arrange remaining 24 Sliced strawberries around outer edge of springform pan standing upright, sliced side against pan.
  • Fill center of cake with Strawberry Cream. Decorate center with Sliced Strawberry. Chill overnight.

Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].

Colly Gruczelak
Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected]


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