**To my mom, on Mother’s Day.**
My Mom’s Mom:My Grandma Mary passed away when I was 11 years old, which is why I think my mom assumes that I don’t really remember very much about her. But considering that I had just over a decade with her, I have surprisingly clear memories. Despite the fact that I cannot remember what I did 2 weekends ago, or what food we had for dinner each night of last week, I remember tiny yet specific details about my grandma. By age 11 I don’t think that I had lots meaningful conversations with my grandmother, or that I knew her the way that you know someone when you’ve had decades to observe their behavior patterns. But the tiny details that I remember all seem to fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that keeps a fully formed picture of my grandma at the front of my mind.
This week when I was preparing for Jayce’s birthday party, I used grandma’s old and beautiful rolling pin to roll out sugar cookies. As I filled Lego candy molds with yellow chocolate, I instinctively dropped them a few times on the counter to get the bubbles to the top, as I used to watch her do. When I tinted the icing, I used gel food coloring knowing that it was the better than liquid coloring. My grandma had dozens of tiny little color pots that she used to dip the end of the knife into and then beat it into the icing for her cakes, and I remember feeling like there was a half of a second of magic when the bowl went from plain white, to a stripe of bright blue, and then settled into a color like the sky.
Grandma was always making cakes. Mostly wedding cakes, although there was a fair share of bridal shower cakes, Barbie skirt cakes, and the infamous “twinkie” cakes which I can only assume were for bachelorette parties. Grandma had a good little side business going, working steadily from word of mouth referrals. I remember after she was diagnosed with cancer, listening to mom or Barbara answer the phone and explain to these inquirers that she was sick and no longer making cakes.
I used to sit on the chair beside the kitchen table and eat the cake “skin” that she was carefully trimming off, eager to get my fill of them before the rest were tossed in the backyard to the birds. Her marble cake was my favorite, followed by the classic yellow. She was fast and precise about it, swiveling the cake around on it’s revolving cake stand, with her knife and precise touch removing any hint of the tanned edges of the cake. But her real art was her edible sugar roses. She could whip up dozens in a matter of minutes. Sometimes the color shifted slightly as she built it from the inner bud, around a marshmallow, to the outer petals. Sometimes the roses were tipped with tiny gel raindrops. They were beautiful and undoubtedly the star of her cakes. Even more so than her yummy fillings, soft sponge cake, or delicately airbrushed details.
I remember my grandma’s soft hands, and how her slightly plump frame ensured a good safe-feeling hug. I remember her getting ready to go out. How her makeup compact seemed to only ever have a rim of foundation around the edges, and how she wore it under her lipstick, something that I do as well on the occasions that call for lipstick. Aqua Net and a teasing comb were important parts of her beauty routine. It was always a treat to go with her to her hair appointments and pretend to also be sitting under the dryers as she had her hair set. But the real treat was getting a “soda” from the old fashioned machine in the back of the shop, which still delivered your Coke or Sunkist in a glass bottle. Before we left, she was sure to wrap that fresh hair up in a handkerchif, maybe even a waterproof one, before heading over to Moekler’s.
The Christmas Eve parties at her house were a big deal, as were her perogies (which she pronounced pirohy) and nut roll. We still use her carrot cake recipe each year for mom’s birthday, labelled in my own recipe box as “Grandma’s Carrot Cake,” and still the best I’ve had anywhere. I still remember the taste of her chicken soup, her cutting my bagel into bite-sized pieces even when I asked her not to, and the sound of the kettle on the stove for Grandpa’s coffee-decaf instant Folgers, black.
Grandma Mary wasn’t perfect, as no grandma is. There was the time that she had to pick me up from school because I had lice, and she brought me back to her house, where she carefully spread out a newspaper on the living room carpet for me to sit on. I remember feeling a little sad, but vindicated when Mom came to get me and was vocally annoyed with Grandma, who clearly just didn’t know what to do in that situation.
But overall my memories are good. They are of a sweet and funny lady who was always laughing at herself. A lady who would take the orders of her cake clients and sketch little doodles of women with round lips, long lashes, with tiny waists and pretty dresses. A woman who was retired technically, but making money creating beautiful cakes and candies from her home. A woman who was always at church on Sunday, always at Bingo on Friday, and never missed the church’s spaghetti dinner. A woman who picked up her grandkids from school and took them to Burger King because it had a better chicken nuggets than McDonalds.
In addition to these beautiful and fond memories, I remember the sadness of her and grandpa’s funeral having a touch of warmth. My grandparents were both older and sick, and the night after Grandma Mary passed away my Grandpa passed away as well. Though a double passing may seem romantic in a movie like The Notebook, a double funeral is something that I hope to never have to attend again. That said, it was heartwarming to see their collective community line up out the door to pay their respects and speak with the family. All of the friends from bowling, McDonalds, the Parish, and the neighborhood came. Friends from the Jednota Club, from the hairdresser, from decades of attending and serving at St Johns.
It’s funny to think back on these memories as a parent, particularly the things that I picked up on from Grandma that she wasn’t actively teaching me, but that I learned just by watching her as she did her thing. It was clearly meaningful to me just to be with her in her element and spend that time together. I hope and pray that my kids remember the special times that we share, but even if Hannah doesn’t remember making pancakes with Chris, or Jayce doesn’t remember painting Christmas ornaments with me, that they will remember us actively loving them.
I love you Mom! Good moms produce good moms, which produce good moms, so I consider myself very lucky to have you as mine. Wishing you a very happy Mother’s Day. XOXO