A Birthday Card to My Mother

Fran on her 80th Birthday

Fran on her 80th Birthday September 22, 2011


I’m sitting in my office listening to the gentle cooing of the pigeons nesting in the eaves outside my window—my blood pressure rising because I know that those disgusting birds are making an ungodly mess of my front yard below that I’ll have to scrub away tomorrow. Try as I might to calm down, I just work myself up into a bigger lather. I tap the window to scare them away, worried that I may actually break the glass, I’m that agitated. Then I see an index card for Mango Chutney (of all things) in my mother’s handwriting on my desk and immediately understand the source of my agitation.


Today is my mother’s birthday—she would have been 82. I last saw her a few days after her 80th birthday in September of 2011. The cause of death was congestive cardiomyopathy that originated from a virus that weakened her heart many years ago. The 2nd anniversary of her death is coming up and it’s almost as hard today as it was two years ago. Lots of stuff happening and she’s not here to field the mountain of questions I have…or give advice…or help her granddaughter with AP American History (her wheelhouse)…or tell me not to worry about this nonsense or that…and that everything will be fine.  Whether it would’ve been fine or not entirely misses the point of that painfully beautiful exchange. No doubt it would’ve been fine, simply by virtue of my mother saying so. But… She’s not here and I am and it sucks.  And I miss her, everyday but today especially.


Her name is Fran and she was a goddam firecracker. At 80 years old, her social life was way more robust than mine. She taught college classes on the United States Constitution and Immigration, and traveled all over the world with her best friend, Gracie (I joked that she was the Gracie my mom always wanted). They were planning a trip to Beijing before she died. She entertained regularly, had season tickets to the Metropolitan Opera, The Symphony and the theater. She gardened with the vigor of someone much younger. She took Zumba Dance and other fitness classes with women half her age and was twice as good as them.  Best of all, she cooked like a fiend—especially for holidays and visits from her kids and grand kids.


It’s possibly a coincidence, but I believe that index card for Mango Chutney popped up for a reason. To connect with my mom and remind me that even though she’s gone, she can still join me at the table on her birthday.



Mango Chutney and Salumi photo by Miana Jun




¾ cup sugar

½ cup water

½ cup cider vinegar

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

6 cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

3 ripe mangos, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces

1 cup golden raisins or currants

2 ounces crystallized ginger, finely chopped




In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, water, vinegar, ginger, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon and bring to a boil, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Add the mangos and raisins and simmer over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until the fruit is translucent and the liquid is thickened and glossy, about 45 minutes. Stir in the crystallized ginger and simmer for 2 minutes longer. Let cool, then transfer to a large jar and refrigerate.  Serve with sliced meats, chunks of cheese and bread.