This is my grandma, Caroline. She liked to cook. What kills me about this photo is that even though it was taken years before I was born (that’s my mom bouncing in the lower right corner), it shows her kitchen exactly as I remember it, with those same cabinets, the big sink beneath a window to the backyard, an eat-in area to the left just beyond the stretch of countertops.
Grandma lived in the kitchen, and by that I don’t mean she wasn’t as alive when she was working in the garden or driving to our house or watching I Love Lucy, but rather that, when she was standing over a counter or watching sauce simmer or pulling trays of cookies out of the oven, she was just so, you know, happy about it—and in an era when that was kind of what she had to be doing, not necessarily because it was the thing she had chosen out of a hundred options like you and I have today, but the thing she was given and took, with arms wide open.
Today is the day she died, ten years ago, after a year of suffering that included selling her house and moving into a room in ours, sleeping in a bed with me nearby in case something happened in the night, being in and out of hospitals and eating very little. And afterward, before the funeral, it was my job to put together an album of her life, to assemble all the photographs in a thick binder, and, wouldn’t you know it, I found six or seven similar photos to the one above, at different periods of her life, each with Grandma standing over a counter, or the stove, or a table spread with food to eat, focused and happy.
I guess it’s kind of strange to start something as mundane as a blog on the anniversary of a painful memory like the death of someone you love. But, I’ve often thought, in the days leading up to this one-year anniversary of my food blog and ten-year anniversary of losing my grandma, it is a redemption, wherein August 4 is no longer just a day of ending but a day of beginning and, a reminder that joy can come from sorrow.
The day she died was three weeks from my 17th birthday. I’d just learned to drive and was approaching my senior year of high school. What I didn’t know while I wrote something to say at the funeral (which I would completely sob through) was that six months later, my mom would have quadruple-bypass open heart surgery, and six months after that, I would move more than 300 miles away from home. It was going to be a hard year, because of those big things and also because of other, smaller ones, and it would all begin there, when life, and relationships, became more precious.
I could tell you it’s difficult to face hard things when you’re young, or ever. I could say it changes you, ages you, so that you become the kind of person who likes talking to people your parents’ ages and, cries easily and, reads, more than she goes out with friends. But I’d be leaving out the grace you find along the way, that you’ll later see found you, that brought peace out of pain.
It was because of Grandma that I started this blog, after months of telling my friend Becky (who, by the way, left the very first comment ever on this blog) that maybe someday I’d open a bakery or do something more with food the way my grandma did, and she’s been here all along, with her recipe files and her oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies and her Thanksgiving stuffing and her wedding cake recipe that I topped with a jar of Duncan Hines frosting.
And, just between us, I know she would have loved this place. She would have loved that I spend so much time cooking, and eating, now. She would have loved that I tell you about it. She would have loved you.
Like the year after she died, this last year has been significant, like I can picture her helping and advising and telling me stories, and it’s all because of you. With every comment, e-mail, Facebook message, conversation, note and phone call, you’ve taken part in this project, this place, this redemption.
For cooking with me, eating with me, standing next to me at the stove: