My friend, Sarah, recently lost her 95-year-old grandmother, a mite of a woman in terms of size but giant in spirit and determination.
Grandma Kimi, a Japanese American, survived the Great Depression, internment at the Manzanar camp during World War II, and later, her husband’s suicide. Kimi was an enormous presence – a life force – for Sarah and her family, and Sarah is naturally reeling from her death. I, too, lost a beloved grandmother, Casey, five years ago at age 96, and I think a lot about the eventual death of my remaining grandma, Mrytle, who’s 93 and in the final, ugly stages of Alzheimer’s, or so I hope.
Living into your 90’s is an incredible feat. Good genes? Luck? My guess is probably a bit of both. My first husband, Brett, died of a brain tumor at the age of 39 so trust me when I say, “living a ripe old age is a fine, fine thing.” While Brett’s death was a tragedy and remains very different, the loss of older loved ones still leaves deep pangs of grief. We don’t miss those we love any less because they die later in life. In fact, I’d argue that in a sense, we miss them more because we can’t help but see our lives and histories reflected in theirs.
Time is the great healer, for sure. So, too, is the power and sweetness of memory. I think about my grandmothers all the time – but always alive and vital. I can still taste Grandma Casey’s crispy chicken wings and picture her masterfully slicing, dicing, and fanning vegetables. Had she lived, she might have been dubbed “Iron Sous Chef” by the Food network. And Grandma Myrtle … it’s awful to see this classy lady reduced to diapers and utterly removed from reality. So I try not to. Myrtie can no longer form words and understand language, but I still picture her staying up half the night reading. She’d plow through six books a week in earlier days. She doesn’t hum anymore either; yet I hear her clear as a bell singing dah dah dah, dah dah dah, dah dah dah. I wish I held onto her gold lame slippers, but I wore them threadbare.
What I’ve discovered is that sharing stories and traditions, even recipes, allows lost loved ones to endure.
I’ve just opened my Grandma Casey’s recipe box, lovingly written in her own exquisite hand. Here’s her recipe for strudel:
2 cups flour
½ pound oleo or shortening or butter
1 egg yolk
¾ cup sour cream
Mix well and knead into three balls. Refrigerate overnight. Roll dough into three thin sheets – spread coconut, raspberry jelly, chopped nuts, raisins, and cinnamon. Roll into long strudel. Spread milk on top. Bake 375 degrees about 45 minutes or until done. Cut into pieces and serve.
Enjoy. That’s my ode to grandmothers loved. Grandma Casey would approve.