By Shelley A. Sackett / Correspondent
Susan Mineo and her five siblings grew up on the predominantly Italian Pratt Street in Salem, smelling her mother’s famous sauce and tasting her unrivaled cooking every evening. As kids, she remembers even their school lunches being the talk of the Bowditch School lunch room.
“We had brown-bagged meatball sandwiches and eggplant parmesan, beef cutlets, chicken cutlets, pork cutlets, etc.,” she said, admitting that on a few occasions, she traded her gourmet home cooking for the “more common” peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
She also loved watching her friends’ faces when they were lucky enough to be guests at the Mineo dinner table. “While they were eating, their eyes would roll to the back of their head. So many would say, ‘I can’t believe you eat like this every night!’” she said with pride.
Her mother was equally caring and generous in feeding sick friends, or “just anybody who happened to walk in.” Her father’s back seat was like a Mineo Meals on Wheels, full of carefully labeled plates for him to deliver.
“My mother had a compassionate, nurturing self. What she was proud of was being a mother. That was the proudest role in her life,” Mineo said.
Mineo’s mother, Gloria, learned to cook from her mother, whose family was from Abruzzi, Italy, but took what she learned to a whole new level.
“Most people either bake or cook. My mother did both extremely well,” she said.
Continuing the tradition
Gloria, in turn, passed on her love and skill to her daughter (and her five siblings, including three brothers), and some of Mineo’s favorite childhood memories are when her mother taught her to cook.
“I loved when she was teaching me to make Tiramisu. It is so complex and was so easy for her. She was so talented — she was a true artist,” she said.
Gloria also invented a few recipes, including Easter turtles with colored eggs, and on more than one occasion would cook more than one thing for dinner if Mineo or any of her siblings didn’t like what she had prepared.
“We were spoiled rotten. We were lucky kids,” Mineo said with a chuckle.
Seven or eight years ago, she decided to start working on a cookbook of her mother’s recipes. Her mother kept her treasured recipes on handwritten index cards, and each time she visited her parents in Florida, Mineo took some home with her. She and her parents developed a system: she would format the recipes into her computer, send the hard copies to her mother for editing, and her father would mail them back. “We were a team, because my mother didn’t drive, so my father played a crucial role,” she said.
The family continued this routine for three years. “My mom was my second set of eyes and there were lots of things in her head that were not on those index cards, so I needed her. We used tons of paper and ink and postage, but we accomplished what we set out to do,” she said.
All her siblings supported her project, adding excerpts and even having their own children write something about their grandmother’s legacy. Finally, she designed the book, took photographs, and had her son enhance the cover page. Sadly, her father died from cancer just four months prior the book’s completion.
On Mother’s Day 2011, she presented her mother with the finished product: “Gloria Mineo’s Family & Friends Cookbook with her own personal flair.”
“I don’t think she ever expected it to be what it was. When I handed it to her, she was shocked and just cried. I knew then I did something important which touched her deeply,” Mineo said.
Gloria passed away last October after a long illness, and this is Mineo’s first Mother’s Day without her. In their final days, both her parents were at Kaplan House/Care Dimensions. However, that care didn’t end with her mother’s passing. With the support from the Bertolon Center for Grief & Healing, Mineo has had ongoing help with her journey through her loss with an array of grieving groups and individual sessions.
Because Mineo was the primary care taker for both of her parents, their loss created a tremendous void. She lauds Care Dimensions for allowing her to mend at her own pace. “Their emphasis on no time limit has softened the edges of my loss. They acknowledge the individual as who they are,” she said, noting that other companies set arbitrary numbers of weeks or months, after which a person should be healed.
“The staff is a gifted group of compassionate, patient, thoughtful and dedicated people,” she said.
Although this Mother’s Day will be an especially hard one for Mineo, she takes solace in having completed and shared the cookbook with her mother before she passed.
“It gives me solace, looking at it, touching it and, of course, using it. My Mom is not in my past, as she is in my daily world as much as ever,” she said.
Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in over 100 communities in Massachusetts.