A Mother’s Unforgettable Journey to Sobriety

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The Hungry Mother, Recipes for Recovery and Life in the Kitchen, (The Three Tomatoes Book Publishing) is part memoir, part recovery advice, and part recipe book, all rolled into one mother’s unforgettable journey to sobriety. Jane Fox is unsparingly honest about her years of addiction, her humiliation and shame, and how her love for her children and the rituals of cooking for them, saved her. The author offers a singular message for other mothers in recovery—hope.

Listen in to this wonderful interview with producer Phyllis Haynes and Jane Fox discussing her book.  And read an excerpt below.

Excerpt from

The Hungry Mother, Recipes for Recovery and Life in the Kitchen

By Jane Fox


1972, Tucson


With careful planning, I could drive the backroads from Tucson to Aspen in twenty-four hours. Riding shotgun with Senta, transporting one hundred kilos of weed stashed beneath the trunk panel, this was my virgin voyage. Crisscrossing Indian reservations on a Friday night, my job was to look out for pick-up trucks driving home from cashing paychecks at the liquor store, drunk. Traveling through northeast Arizona, interstates were not an option as state troopers were on alert—only the most treacherous routes late at night served our purpose best.

Each passing mile of the desert valley and winding blacktop became a revelation of Senta’s rituals. She was a dust bowl angel with the gumption of a Wall Street heavy hidden behind Keene doll eyes. At 5’10”, with strawberry-blonde hair and eyelashes to match, she traveled hard with the fast crowd, daring dudes cashing in on the early days of the marijuana trade. She could sweep a man off his feet by walking into a room, but make no mistake, she kept a portfolio on each one—where their mother lived, sexual proclivity, and favored firearm. She was all business, and I was the amazed and grateful apprentice to this underground union for $ 1,000 per trip.

An adventurous winter break from college brought me to the University of Boulder to visit a friend from high school. On a whim, we decided to rendezvous with other friends at the University of Tucson and drove all night, stopping only for gas. Upon arrival, I called on a mad crush from the University of Pittsburgh, who like many young men, skipped the East Coast seeking to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War and changed his name. Enrolled in architecture at the university, he was living with a bunch of people at Eleven Arches, off River Road in the Catalina Foothills of the Old Pueblo, and invited me to visit.

Nothing prepared me for the massive adobe estate with mosaic reflecting pools nestled among kumquat trees and multi-toned hummingbirds. Two gatehouses flanked the quarter-mile driveway to the main house, complete with tie-dye banners floating out of the windows. Originally, it was the Grace estate of the steamship family, built in the early twenties, to satisfy a bohemian daughter who was tired of the continent and discovered the solitude of the American Southwest like Georgia O’Keefe. No expense was spared, and the sprawling stucco walls encapsulated several wings and outbuildings. Now, it housed a loosely related group of people, as only the early seventies could—the most divine commune imaginable!

The decision to move out west was easy. Hungover with the humiliation of the first of many psychiatric hospitalizations for substance abuse, a change in location was the perfect solution.

I had been a nursing student at the University of Pittsburgh, a five-year program in four, and if you failed a course, you had to wait one year until it was offered again. Having mastered the class on injections and syringes, I utilized those skills to try heroin. By junior year, my recreational use had turned addictive, with schoolwork suffering and my folks growing suspicions, resulting in mandated psychotherapy at college or returning home. Through “Jewish geography,” they found Dr. Hazel, a Freudian analyst whose office was conveniently located in the lobby of Western Psychiatric, part of the nursing rotation. Four days a week during my lunch break, I would lay on the proverbial “analyst couch,” avec uniform and cap, while Dr. Hazel asked questions in true Freudian fashion out of view.

Part of me sensed danger and admitted the truth to Dr. Hazel, who in turn recommended a voluntary admission in the wing located three floors up. Turned out, “voluntary” translated into three months while nursing peers stared at me from the other side of the locked door. I felt complete humiliation, disgrace, and shame. Finally discharged, I moved home and enrolled at C.W. Post College. After visiting Tucson that spring, I needed no convincing or concrete plans to move there, flying back to Long Island long enough to pack up my car and dog and skipping out on final exams.

In 1972, Tucson was an odd combination of frontier and college town. Flavors of the Old West dotted the landscape, and the university attitude mimicked a Jack Kerouac novel. The stunning northern Sonoran Desert, neatly framed by mountain ranges on three sides, was where the commune had a restaurant, The Hungry Mother Café, where I first heard the story of the Hungry Mother. I settled in with a job, a new boyfriend, and a storybook place to live. Here, being a college dropout with a shady past of drug abuse held no shame. It was in sharp contrast to the loser I felt like back East among family and accomplished high school friends.

Downtown Tucson’s Fifth Street was lined with stores owned by guys whose nicknames blended into dubious career paths. Turquoise Lenny, Wayne’s Leathers, Zips’ Records—such establishments formed an economy founded by draft dodgers and pot dealers, where no one used their true name, as big money was made and spent. It made all those “desirable” JAPs (Jewish American Princes) from Great Neck seem like wimps.

These dealers were sexy in their pearl-snap shirts and genuine cowboy boots, riding around in shiny pick-up trucks—dogs in the back, tongues hanging for water. They were mysterious, too, with lots of cash to go around for restaurant dinners of twenty guests—the fast crowd of pot-smuggling cowboys bearing gifts of Indian jewelry and safe houses hidden in the desert. Melt my heart, it was the land of milk and honey, and I was game. Yeehaw!

Eventually, Senta’s steady driving lulled the thought of the kilos from my consciousness, an essential attitude for this business. At five a.m., sleep deprivation fueled a sensation of spiritual awareness. Seeing the sunrise over the Painted Desert preserve brought me to a visionary chapter in my life. The “Folly of Youth” and its sequel, “How to Live Above the Laws of God and Man Without Getting Busted,” were required reading for so many of us then. Snorting coke off Senta’s curved pinky fingernail, a must-have accessory, fueled my fantasy. It was the final launch sequence, catapulting me into an orbit of substance abuse where logistics for re-entry had not been fully calculated. What was the name of that astronaut’s college?

The conversation turned sporadic, and we talked of how we’d spend the money, the men we slept with, the moves they made, the drugs they offered. Senta reminisced about the finale of her last run, crowned with celebrity status by the “reception” committee waiting at Jerome Hotel’s bar. In the seventies, pot dealers were the rock stars of Aspen, and the couriers, bold young women, an asset to promote and protect.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” she quietly lectured. “You’re greeted at the door by your backer, beaming with good judgment, thrilled you earned him $50,000 in a single haul. But find a quiet moment and search his eyes for that hidden glimmer, a silent code of affirmation. If you ever burned him, are short on poundage, or give up his name, he’ll hunt you down. Learn it, memorize it, don’t ever forget it.”

She was a cornucopia of information, providing tricks of the trade and nuggets of survival secrets, not all of which were unpleasant. How to party with clients without getting too stoned to drive home, and never get into bed with a backer until the job was done and cash changed hands. She shot me a sobering look. “The best insurance policy is intimacy, so sleep with him at some point. A lover will hesitate before hurting, buying time to escape by words or action.” Pulling up a bell-bottomed pant leg, she revealed an abalone shell snub-nose .38 strapped against her delicate ankle. “My back-up policy.” And in a twinkling of an Okie laugh and a flutter of those luscious, strawberry-blonde lashes, she passed the mantle onto me.

Senta, now silent, pulled on leather driving gloves so sweat wouldn’t loosen her grip on the wheel. Great lament welled up behind my over-stimulated eyeballs as I envisioned the headlines in the Great Neck Record, “Body of local girl recovered in Colorado ravine.” We pressed upward on a two-lane road, reaching Red Mountain Pass at 11,000 feet, and then descended. As we passed through Silverton and Ouray, Victorian ghost towns and a rumored art colony, a low-hanging cloud cover masked the road in front. Now headed downhill for 5,000 feet, brakes squeaking as our cargo shifted in the trunk, we slowly coasted down to the desert plateau below. My heart and stomach lurched in silent tandem with each passing mile.

And then suddenly, the sun burst through my tears as the lush magnificence of Montrose’s agricultural valley appeared in the distance. God is good! Yeehaw! Falling out of the car at the first gas station, complete with a farm stand, we embraced like survivors from a shipwreck. Early evening light chased the cold hand of fear long enough to buy pounds of local peaches and PAYDAY bars before tearing off into the oncoming dusk in the home stretch to A-town.

©2022 Jane Fox. All rights reserved.


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