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My Mother’s Salt

 

 

Photo by Francesco Alberti on Unsplash

 

Two years ago or so, my mother, who was already mostly blind from macular degeneration and was suffering from increasing physical frailty as well as a spiralling vascular dementia, asked me to add salt to her grocery list even though she no longer really cooked for herself – but she had cooked all her life, and salt was a basic staple she knew she needed in the house, and she was worried she was running low. So I bought her salt. It doesn’t apparently come in small containers – salt is such a staple condiment and used so often and so much that it is assumed that you need it *in quantity* and it comes packaged LARGE when you get it in the stores (unless you’re getting dinky specialised Himalayan rock salt or some such exotic variant which means they give you as little as they can for as much as they can get…) She opened the salt container and decanted some salt into a smaller sprinkler, but just as I suspected that was pretty much where things ended. The newly purchased large container, 98% full, sat in her kitchen cupboard, languishing. When she left her condo to go into assisted living and the place was being cleared out, the company doing that clearing out gathered up a bunch of stuff that they passed back onto me – and in that package, there it was, the salt container. The nearly full salt container that was bought as much to ease my mother’s mind and spirit as for any condiment value. She herself lasted only two months in AL before she fell and broke her hip, and then went into a coma, and ten days later died.

It’s been a year since that happened.

I haven’t unpacked that container that the clearing-out company gave me. My mother’s salt is still in there. I have no idea what to do with it – there’s enough there to last me for the next decade given how little I myself directly cook stuff – and I have my own supply in the house, predating this legacy from mom. And here’s another weird snippet to go with this – I actually can’t taste salt, or at least I can’t taste it until it is so over-present that normal people would gag at it and that’s when I go, oh, yeah, there’s salt in this. ( It was kind of bracing to discover that I the Ozarks it is believed that witches don’t eat much salt, so if someone complains about food being too salty, she might be regarded with suspicion. I might have been burned at the stake, back there.) Recipes that call adding salt “To taste” are useless to me because if I did that I would wreck whatever I was making beyond any hope of salvation… and oh yeah, think about that word for a moment. Salvation. Apparently covenants (in both the Old and the New Testaments) were often sealed with salt – it is the literal origin of the word “salvation”. The church, particularly the Catholic Church, has used salt in a variety of purifying rituals – adding it to holy water, for instance, or placing a dab of salt on a baby’s lips during the ceremony of baptism.

I know of some salty facts in tradition and superstition. Where I come from, in ancient Slavic lore, it is considered to be a token of welcome – guests are welcomed into a home with bread and salt, or these gifts are given in order to bless a new home for someone just moving in. I still hold a potent superstition that spilling salt is supposed to be bad luck and that if you did you were supposed to take a pinch of it and throw it over your left shoulder in order to ward that bad luck off (or, in some more potent varieties of this, to keep the Devil from taking your soul); in other lore, spilling salt at the table means that a violent family quarrel is on the way. My late husband used to have a thing he did in restaurants – he would spill a small quantity of granular salt and then balance a certain kind of salt shaker found in some eateries on the edge of the container in a mind bending kind of way – he was pretty good at it but it always gave me the Slavic superstition willies and I was left frantically throwing pinches of salt over my left shoulder. (By the way spilling salt as bad luck is not just me – take a look at “The Last Supper” painting. Judas Iscariot has just spilled his salt. And you know what happened to HIM.)

I also know that salt is used in ritual and protection, and when I went to read up more on that a lot came up, from around the world. In parts of Europe salt was scattered around butterchurns to keep “witches” from souring the butter, and to protect the cow which provided the starting materials for the butter. Salt is used in places ranging from Ireland to Ukraine to determine if a child has been “fairy struck” or to determine if someone has been bewitched, and ancient Egyptians burned salt on hot coals before setting out on desert journeys to ensure that “evil spirits” would not get in the travellers’ way. The magical properties of salt were so given that in some parts of the world it is considered bad luck to “lend” salt to anyone, partly because the person borrowing it could use it as a magical link to curse or bewitch you. But mostly what I knew about ritualistic aspects was the protective aspects in that salt circles were drawn around sacred spaces to ward off evil or salt might have been scattered around a house to “protect it”. In eastern traditions, Buddhist and Shinto, salt features in that context – it is customary to throw salt over your shoulder when entering your house after having been to a funeral to prevent the evil spirits you may have brought home from crossing your threshold with you, and a handful of salt is traditionally thrown into a sumo wrestling ring before a match to ward off malevolent spirits (they get around, those malevolent spirits).

Salt  was representative of purity and preservation, welcome, chastisement (think about Lot’s wife…), fidelity (because of its role in helping to seal covenants), and luxury (because in ancient days it was a rare and precious thing and usually available only to those able to afford it). At the same time, because of its corrosive abilities and its ability to ruin soil and drinking water (ever heard of salting the earth, and wrecking wells in a retreating army’s wake by adding salt to the water?) it is linked to bad thoughts, contamination, and death.

To sum it all up, on one website I found this:

 

 

“Salt is powerful. It is believed to have purification and protective qualities that can help the body and spirit to heal. It can cleanse us physically and energetically and is believed to extract or release what no longer serves us in our energetic field, which has a positive impact on our physical form. Caribbean spiritual and religious practices use salt for the protection of the home or sacred space. Salt placed in the entrance of a home is used to ward off evil or negative energy from entering the space. Pink Himalayan salt is arguably the best and purest form of salt to use in spiritual practices. Sea salt is the next best thing. Do not use table salt or iodized salt for spiritual practices.”

 

 

…ah. And there’s the rub. All of this is to be taken, as it were, with a pinch of the CORRECT salt – and my mother’s salt is the poor common iodised table salt, so presumably it isn’t worth its, er, salt, in the ritual business.

Which leaves me where I began. I suppose I could use some of that salt to ward off malevolence – but it probably wouldn’t work because it’s the wrong salt for the job – and would it ward off my mother’s own ghost, too? Or other beloved spirits in my house? I don’t think I’d want that. Should I leave the container in the local Blessings Box where people leave food for those in need? Surely someone will always need salt. But it’s been opened so I don’t know if people would trust it.

The truth is, I have no idea of what to do with my mother’s salt.

Perhaps some day when I too am gone someone going through what remains in my own wake will find this ancient container of salt and wonder at it. And then it becomes somebody else’s problem. As for right now, it is sitting there all wrapped up in its myths and its superstitions and it is gently mocking me, and maybe making me cry.

It is no coincidence that this tribute I pay – the tears – has… salt in it.

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2 thoughts on “My Mother’s Salt”

  1. Salt mixed into a slurry with water or cooking oil can be used to scrub any non-stick surfaces, like pans with cooked on gunk. This is especially useful with cast iron or carbon steel pans.

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