Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cooking with Grandma

I did not get to know my grandmother very well. She always seemed more like a monument to appreciate than a person to interact with. It wasn't until I met Husband that I actually began to spend time with her, and started to build a relationship with her. The disconnect is partially because of my insecurity and fear, and partially because of my mother.

When she passed last year, my mom and her siblings asked all of us grandkids what we wanted. Honestly, it's a horrific process to pick through someone's belongings and decide what you want. As if these material goods really have a piece of her in them. It makes one feel like a vulture picking at the remains, scavenging for a tasty morsel. I'm still embarrassed that my older sister and I actually looked through things to choose, and that I actually wanted something of hers. My rationalization is that the items I wanted are of no monetary value.

Most of my memories with Grandma were playing go-fish at the breakfast bar and hanging out in the kitchen. The main high points of her kitchen were the avocado green 70's era cookie jar filled with Archway molasses cookies and the awesome mix of cereal she always kept in the cupboards above the stove. Beyond that however, were a few little items that I believed were iconic and necessary for a good mother's kitchen: brightly colored Pyrex mixing bowls, aluminum loaf pans and the Boonton melamine cereal bowls that we ate cereal out of, and Granddad had his ice cream and peaches in every afternoon.

It may sound nuts, I admit it, but anything Husband and I make using Grandma's items, always turn out. The homemade bread, lemon pound cake, meatloaf, etc., salsa and salads we make in the colored Pyrex bowls, all turn out delicious. It makes me feel like she's here with me when I use the items from her kitchen. Even though we never cooked together, and it took me until my late 20s to really spend time with her, her presence is absolutely with me in the kitchen.

My Grandmother was nothing like I thought she was. Due to my mother's own insecurities and regrets, she unknowingly prevented my younger sister and I from forming any real attachment to Grandma. Whenever Grandma and Granddad would visit, which in my memory was only twice, Mom would be in a tizzy for days cleaning her already clean and tidy home, fussing and claiming that everything had to be just right for Grandma. Not only that, but there were alot of events that happened in our immediate family that we were told to keep secret, be sure Grandma and Granddad never learned of what happened. "Don't tell them I smoke" she said. "Don't tell them I bought a new car", or that "your stepdad left." In mom's actions she made us feel that nothing was good enough for Grandma, that Grandma was a judgmental and critical woman. It's the kind of impression that sticks with a young girl, and as I grew up and made enormous mistakes of my own, I assumed Grandma was judging me. It took me too long to realize that Grandma was never judgmental, and she loved all of us. She was in pain when we suffered, when we faltered. She was straight forward, honest, had an amazing sense of humor, but was very loving. Even though they claim wisdom comes with age, my resentment and bitterness grows as I discover more truth about life. Shameful as it is, I am still blaming my mother for my lack of a relationship with my Grandmother. No, it's not her fault that I didn't have a close relationship with Grandma, but it's her behavior around Grandma that prevented me from being comfortable with her.

Through cooking with Grandma's bowls and bakeware, I feel like I'm building a relationship with her, repairing all the crap my mom and I built up with Grandma over the years. This way I get to share a pure and honest experience with the memory of my grandma, the woman she really was.

On a related note, a woman at work has a tattoo on her foot- it is a flower with "Gram" scrolled above. It is her memorial for her grandmother. She was telling me how close she was with her grandmother, they communicated on a daily basis, etc. It really touched me. I want to be that kind of grandmother-the kind that is a friend and honored, respected matriarch. A grandmother that is close with her grandkids, who has a warm, welcoming home and heart, but who is strong and respected. What a wonderful role to have, and to me, is the very definition of success.

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