THE PROM DRESS AND THE KUGEL by Carol Boas

September 1987.

I am up to my elbows, dumping several boxes of cooked noodles into a colander. Once again, as I do every year, I’m preparing a sweet, cinnamon-spiced noodle pudding, kugel, for Yom Kippur. Sixty people are coming to my home to break the fast. It’s the first Yom Kippur without my daughter, Jill. A few weeks before, in late August, I’d left her to begin her freshman year at Indiana University. Each time she called home, her conversations were animated. Happily for me, she wasn’t shrill or sullen as she had been with me for a long time.

I have a million things to do before I can even think I’m ready. Just as I reach for the bowl to mix the eggs and the sugar in, the phone rings. I’ve never played sly games with my answering machine. I never wait for people to start talking just to decide whether or not I want to pick up but today, I consider not answering. I look at the phone, wishing it would stop, but it doesn’t, so reluctantly I wipe my hands on a dishtowel and pick up.

“Mom!” Jill says. She’s breathless. “I need my prom dress…the blue silk one with the silver belt. Please! I think it’s still in my closet. Can you go look…NOW?” She sounds desperate.

“I can’t right this second,” I say automatically. I almost tell Jill that I am making her favorite holiday food, kugel, but I don’t.

“But Mom!”

I realize I’ve missed this refrain since she’s been away.

“I need it Saturday.”

She has just been invited to her first college formal. And today is already Tuesday. I’m thinking fast. Yom Kippur is Thursday. I have to polish the silver, take down the serving pieces, and get everything done before I start preparing the holiday dinner. I will be out all day in synagogue. I have so little time to put this feast together and do things the way I like to do them. If I stop now, I will be in a time crunch. If I can find the dress easily, I know that I will have to get it to her. That means a trip to the post office smack in the middle of my carefully orchestrated schedule.

I glance at the eggs that, according to Aunt Fern’s family recipe, should be stirred into the mixture while it’s still warm. Kugel recipes are passed down with cooking advice, but no advice can prepare a mom for that day – the day you send them off to college, most likely sending them off for good. It had been heart wrenching for me. When I left Jill at her college dorm three weeks before, she had everything she said she needed. She had dozens of shoes, jeans, shirts, sweaters, and most of the contents of her bedroom that she insisted she could not live without. I drag my mind back to the present.

“The short blue one, right?” I ask, stalling for time as I whisk the eggs with one hand, the phone cradled against my neck.

“Mom, I have to have it. I love that dress. The dance is on Saturday. That’s four days, if you mail it this afternoon. It’s only four o’clock. The post office is open until five.”

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ABOUT CAROL BOAS

Carol Boas wrote The Prom Dress and the Kugel after receiving a phone call from her grown up, married-with-children daughter Jill, asking her to send the dress she’d worn to her senior prom. Carol says, “My daughter had just been invited to a 20th Reunion of Our Senior Prom Party. The guys were to be decked out in pastel tuxedos, purchase corsages and rent a limo. The girls were to wear their prom dresses and have big hair!

“Her phone call instantly triggered a memory of a similar request from twenty years earlier. Jill had just been invited to her first college fraternity party and needed her prom dress, and thus began my tale.

“Most of the story is true. It was the feelings behind the story that surprised me. For me, writing is like an archeological dig. It’s often not what’s on the surface, but what’s discovered by digging deeper, allowing the real story to bubble to the surface. Until I sat down to write, I hadn’t realized how much I had missed my daughter when she went away to college. Nor did I realize how difficult it can be for a mother to let go. I still haven’t!”

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