Notes on the Pressure Cooker

by Jeff Oaks

When it came down to choosing what I wanted to take of my mother’s kitchenware, I took almost everything but her old pressure cooker because

a) I have no idea how to pressure cook anything;

b) The only thing I remember her cooking in it was something that she called steak but turned out to be cow tongue. I probably ate it for years, but one time when it didn’t taste like the steak she said it was, I asked her point blank what it was I was eating, and she lied and said steak. It was one of the first times I realized she could lie to me about anything. Even she was a mystery. It was one of the first times I accepted the evidence of my own senses over her assurance.

c) I hated the way the pressure valve on top, the “jiggly” valve rattled and threatened to blow. I don’t know if it could blow off, but since the water inside was super-heated, I feared it. Lapsed presbyterians, we were devoted catastrophists; I learned that the worst would probably happen.

d) I’ve come to love roasting more than cooking with water or liquid. My mother was a water sign. I am air.

g) It was too heavy. You could kill someone with it.

h) It reminded me too much of the other threat of violence we lived with all the time: my father’s drinking and explosive anger, his slow whistling away of the family’s money.

i) I already had boxes of things I was afraid would trigger memories, grief, loss. I thought I had all I needed for the rest of my life.

j) Little did I know. When I looked up pressure cooker a moment ago to find out what the frightening little valve on top was actually called, the second result for pressure cooker was pressure cooker bomb.

From a Department of Homeland Security bulletin in 2004: Pressure-cooker bombs are made with readily available materials and can be as simple or as complex as the builder decides. These types of devices can be initiated using simple electronic components including, but not limited to, digital watches, garage-door openers, cell phones or pagers. As a common cooking utensil, the pressure cooker is often overlooked when searching vehicles, residences or merchandise crossing the U.S. borders. They are cheap to make by any extremist group. White supremacist groups refer to them as hellhounds.

k) Not everything can be saved, I said to myself, boxing up all the things my mother used to use. Let yourself leave something alone. Don’t make the past with all its sadnesses, its enormous grievances against us, everything. Leave room for the future, I said, which is where love wants you to live, if it really is love.