Monday, June 27, 2011

summer thinkin' - on grammas

My two oldest granddaughters are with me this week. They are beautiful, funny, and very very messy. Oh, and always hungry.

On Saturday I came across an old leather journal belonging to my gramma Iva (dad's mom) whose name I share. Gramma Iva was not all that accessible to me. I remember a few experiences I had with her. She was a southern woman with nails filed to a point, and a bit of lace in the V of her dresses. Her immaculate home smelled of old wood. I spent one overnight with her and grampa alone. It was very special. I remember her standing me in front of her and tsk tsking my hair, which stood up in all directions. She muttered something about my mother not getting me a decent haircut and decided she would cut my bangs. What she didn't take into account was a wild 'cow lick' ... and the result was not quite an improvement. But I liked it. I liked her cutting my bangs. It is a vivid memory.

When my gramma died my mom gave me two of her possessions. One is a tea cup that I still treasure - very old and fragile, covered in gold. And her 'journal.' I was disappointed to find the journal was really just her recipes... and I put it away. Yesterday I found the journal in a box of family 'stuff'. The leather is stamped 1933. I sat on the floor and carefully moved through every page and note to see if there was something of my gramma in it. I discovered that like me she was pretty random. There are alphabetical divides but she doesn't seem to have used them all the time. Scraps and bits of paper are stuffed here and there with many recipes repeated on several notes. Many of the recipes have names attached, all prefaced by "Mrs." Mrs. Iris Riddle. Mrs. Eugene Platt. And a lot of canning recipes: grape juice, which my mom used to make (I wonder if she learned from my gramma); pickled cucumbers and beets; canned chicken; etc. She has a lot of recipes for desserts and now that I think of it, we always had a good dessert when we ate at her table.

Once a year my gramma and mom would plan a picnic at Niagara Falls, Ontario. We would drive the hour to the falls and on the grass (that is now an amusement park) we would spread blankets and containers of food. The meal was a happy feast - unlimited amounts of fried chicken, jello salad, potato salad, buns and iced tea poured from a huge plastic jug, and squares. The adults would sit on the blankets and talk and laugh the afternoon away and us six kids would throw a ball and chase butterflies and roll down the grassy hills, staining our clothes. At the end of the afternoon all the left overs were pulled out and we ravenously emptied the containers. For one marvelous day my family was happy.

I worked through the recipes on Saturday, thinking about this woman who made sweets for her husband, who wrote details down carefully and didn't organize her recipes alphabetically, but rather named them by the friend who gave them to her. She doodled in long lines that look like lace, much as I do. She watched her spinster daughter marry and divorce, buried her husband and struggled (I think) to accept the farmer's daughter her son married, not to mention the rambunctious half dozen children who followed like a parade of unruly dogs behind him.

I found one sheet on which she had absent mindedly written her whole name out a couple times. Iva May Christie. Iva May Christie. I put the scrap on the window sill, chose a recipe from the journal and laid it beside her scrawled names: coconut, chocolate squares. Then, measuring carefully I made her dessert.


Shepherd Snapshots said...

I love this post Beautiful!! This year, on the 'anniversary' of my brother's death, I made my great aunt's peanut butter ball recipe (his all-time favorite dessert). 9 years into this journey of loss and healing, it was a lovely and delicious remembering.

rachel said...

coconut chocolate squares are my favorite. :) and i loved this, mom. i had never heard any of it... and i think it's the first unqualified, happy memory of your growing up i've ever heard. our tribe is full of boisterous, happy memories. thanks for that. xo

Lee Ann said...

I spent a lot of time with my grandma growing up. She and my Mom are the two most influential women in my life. We have a large family that descended from her and her six siblings. We still gather at Christmas every year, some 75 or so of us. I can say without a doubt that all of our family, brothers, sisters, children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, cousins, ... shared the happy memory of licking the beaters and scraping the pan in her small kitchen after she made us her homemade fudge. She often used it to ice a cake and if you were lucky, you might find a small plate of excess setting up in the fridge. It was a favorite to all. It was one of the few things that she made from scratch and that you really had to be taught to make-the perfect soft ball stage, the right amount of time to cool before you began to beat it, and when to stop beating so it would harden but wouldn't turn to sugar. I spent countless hours practicing with and without her, and consulting over the phone. She died in November last year, and I brought "her fudge" to the family Christmas party. I wept for her loss and rejoiced for having been loved by her the whole time I made it, and I was grateful for the sweet remembrance of her.