This week my book review (under Recommended Reads) is When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L.B. Deenihan. I really loved this book, which got me thinking about my own grandmothers and what they gave me. While I received many material gifts from them that I enjoyed throughout my time with them, it is the intangible gifts that I cherish the most.
Both my grandmothers were excellent cooks, and their cooking styles were radically different from one another. What they had in common, though, was the ability to cook without reading recipes. All their recipes were in their heads. They also both taught me that some of the very best dishes required considerable patience to prepare. Often the things family loved eating the most had the most love put in them. Even if my grandmothers were hot, tired, and over-worked, they still put effort into making things people loved because they loved those people. That is what made cooking fun for them.
My Grandmother Johnson made fabulous fruit pies that were utterly beautiful to look at. Her crusts were works of art, bubbled high and golden brown, sprinkled with sugar, and decorated artistically with little slits and designs. There were no instant desserts in her kitchen. Things were prepared the old-fashioned way. My brothers and I helped pick the fruit. I even got to help run the cherry pitter if we picked cherries, but Grandma alone did the rest, adding her magic touch.
My Grandmother Knapp had a way with fowl. She made excellent chicken casseroles, baked chicken, roast duck, and goose. She also hunted and fished and had probably learned about raising chickens from her grandmother. If Grandma couldn’t buy it, she raised it, hunted, or caught it. No one went hungry if she had anything to say about it. This behavior likely stemmed from childhood trauma. She’d grown up in a family of ten that experienced a horrible period of poverty and hunger. Grandma could remember being hungry at a young age and frequently was fed popcorn for supper. Her hair began to fall out, and she was ill, so her parents sent her to her grandparents to recover. (Each of the children experienced health issues from time to time and were sent to live with relatives.) My Great Grandparents had a farm where my grandmother could get plenty of milk, eggs, vegetables, and whatever else they had. She had intense gratitude for her grandparents because she felt safe and rescued by them.
My grandmothers were also gardeners, so I was always raised knowing the joy of growing your own food and putting it on the table. To this day, I too garden, although now on a smaller scale. But I swear there is no better salad than the one I make from our own herbs and vegetables. I am indebted to them, and my mother too, for involving me in meal preparation and gardening — gifts I have relied on my entire adult life.
My grandmothers shared other gifts too. Grandmother Johnson was very industrious and crafty. She made quilts from flour sacks and hooked rugs for her home. On summer vacations, she would have me practice making latch-hook rugs. This was another gift of self-sufficiency. I learned I could make the things I needed and feel great satisfaction in doing so.
I saw my Grandmother Knapp pretty much every week because she lived close by. One of my favorite gifts that she gave me was the gift of time. I was the only girl in my family and the only girl in a neighborhood of boys. I played many “boy” games and was a bit of a rough and tumble kid. Sometimes though, I just really needed to be a girl and felt like the odd one out. My grandmother saw this. When she visited on Saturdays, she would take me with her to yard sales, auctions, and running errands. She became my confidant and shared stories of when she was a girl. She treated me as her equal. Not as a child. We would go out for lunches at Wong’s Chinese Restaurant and drink tea. And best of all, when driving home, we would roll down the car windows, let the wind wildly blow our hair, crank up the radio and sing at the top of our lungs. She taught me to feel free.
Resourcefulness, the gift of time, and knowing family will love you and do their best for you are just some of the precious gifts my grandmothers gave me. I can only hope that I give my own granddaughter such priceless gifts.