The Grandmother I Never Knew

My mother’s mother, Effie, died of cancer when Mom was only 14 years old. Being the efficient and strong woman she was, she wrote specific instructions on where she wanted to be buried, and what the least expensive plot might be. She wanted no flowers, but she did say that she wanted her children to visit her when they could. The letter was addressed to Owen, her oldest son.

It was written two weeks before she died on December 18, 1945.

After the opening line, “Still bossing, you see,” she left instructions on things she wanted given to each of her children; Owen, Buddy, Raymond, and her youngest, Gloria, my mother. She tied up every loose end she could to make it as easy as possible for her children, her mother and her sister.

She ended her note in this way:

“Let me tell you, dear, you have no regrets. All you children are children any mother could be proud of, and please try to always be good.

All my love to you all including all my folks.

Mother.”

I have pictures of Effie and have heard all the stories about her from my mother. She was a strong and tough woman, and when her first marriage failed, she went right to work to support her children. Hers wasn’t an easy life, she worked hard to make life better for her children. Sadly, Effie’s oldest daughter, Vera, had only been married six months when she contracted spinal meningitis and died.

I remember my mother telling me about the tiny apartment they had lived in over a general store. By then all the boys had gone their separate ways, and it was just she and my mother together. Effie did a number of odd jobs to keep food on the table. The boys helped out as much they could.

One day Mom found her mother holding back tears—there was nothing in the house to eat. Somehow the man who owned the store downstairs heard of this, and he told Effie to never let that happen again; she was welcome to pick out what she needed. For a proud woman like her, this must have been difficult, but she accepted his help for her daughter’s sake.

When Effie died, Mom went to live with Raymond, the youngest brother, six years older than she. She took care of his home, handled the finances, cleaned and cooked and went to school. She did what she could to make her way in the world, and was every bit as tough and strong as Effie.

I am proud to come from strong women like these. So many times I have looked at Effie’s picture, and have seen the resemblance to my mother. I am part of both of them, and am grateful for my mother and the grandmother whom I never knew. But Mom made sure that I got to know her by telling me all about her.

I will always be grateful for those two smart, sassy and strong women.

 

Advertisements

A Perfect Day

The other day the Crankee Yankee and I went to a lobster bake on Cabbage Island, ME. It was a family affair; my step-daughter and her husband and two girls, Ava (6) and Juliette (15 months), and us older folk; our son-in-law’s mom and her boyfriend, and my step-daughter’s mother.

We boarded the “Bennie Alice” ferry boat out of Boothbay Harbor to travel to Cabbage Island. It was one of those perfect summer days; low humidity, bright sun and cool breezes. Everyone on board was having a great time, and there was laughter and chatter everywhere.

Once we got to the island, we were welcomed by all those who were busily steaming lobsters, clams, corn on the cob, potatoes and so on. There were several long tables with benches scattered around outside; some in the sun, some in the shade. Our group chose a shady one facing a beautiful view of the ocean.

Juliette, who hadn’t had a nap that day (and didn’t seem to miss it a bit), was on her feet pattering around, smiling and chuckling. She had a big smile for everyone, and the people nearby were all smiling at her. Her mom and dad took turns playing with her, and she busied herself walking around the table, babbling and giggling.

I have always said that Ava had my heart in her hands by the time she was born. But when “Sissy” came along, I found that my heart can hold both of them. She kept coming up to me and hugging whatever part of me she could, then laughing and toddling off. My grandma name is “Lulu,” and that day for the first time I heard Juliette call me “oo-oo.” Close enough!

Later on, Ava and her dad walked down to the beach. When they returned, Ava came running up and showed me her handful of periwinkle shells and some green beach glass. She looked seriously at me and said, “you give me sea shells and stuff all the time. I want you to have sea shells from me.”

As she filled my hand with some of her treasures, I thanked her and, in my heart thanked the great Divine for the privilege of having these two amazing girls in my life.

It truly was a perfect day, and one I will remember for a long time. As the Crankee Yankee and I drove home, I pictured in my mind what the girls will be like in the years to come. I wonder what their interests will be, what choices they will make, and who they will become.

Most of all I wonder how I came to be this lucky.

 

 

 

The Tin Measuring Cup

The story of the tin measuring cup I have goes back a few generations. My mom used the full cup and its accompanying fellows; half-cup, one third cup and one forth cup. I now own them all, but the full cup was used the most and now is as fragile as paper.

I believe that Mom’s grandmother, “Nanny,” owned the set first, and either Mom’s mother, Effie, or her aunt Ruby owned them after Nanny passed on. For years, I watched Mom use them to make everything from spaghetti sauce to amazing cakes.

I use them all still, but have had to put the full cup out to pasture as it is so thin now. Its current home is up on one of the hutch shelves in the company of several ceramic and clay pots I’ve treasured over the years. I can’t bear to throw it out; it has too much history and, I believe, still holds the prints of my mother’s hands.

The “ONE CUP” engraving on the bottom of it has become a delicate stencil so it can no longer hold liquids. The little metal tab handle has long since broken off, and the cup itself is battered and dented through years and years of use. I know it’s just a tin cup, but it is family to me.

I feel as though people are much like cups, whether made of tin, or glass, or plastic, or ceramic. When we are brand new, we shine. We are strong and can hold anything. We are attractive in our usefulness and design. We have meaning and purpose, and are appreciated by those who need us.

Over time, our shine dims more and more, handles may break off, and there are signs of use and service all over us. Certainly we are still useful, but we are definitely showing our age and time in service. Do we have less value because of our age? I believe that age makes us more valuable, and, in our way, more useful.

That tin cup is as precious to me as any treasure I have. It has become a delicate reminder of all that is sweet and good in life. Whether this old cup has helped to make an apple pie, or biscuits, or beef stew, or the lemon crunch cake Mom made for our wedding day; it has been part of our family and is cherished as such.

May we be all be cherished, despite our bumps and dents and frailties.

 

Old Recipes

I’ve been going through my mom’s things when I visit my dad. We get together twice a week for a visit and go out to lunch. Each time I go up, Dad has some things for me to cull through. In this way, we are cleaning out what I can use, what can be donated, and what can be thrown out.

Each morning at 7:30 am he calls me and we chat for a while, and wish each other a great day. Around 5:00 pm or so, I call him, and we talk about our day. We always end our conversations with ‘I love you,’ and it is a lovely tradition we have made together.

Recently I found two of my mom’s handwritten cookbooks. Some of the best recipes from them–stained and tattered with use–came to me in 1988 one Christmas when she gifted me with “Mama’s Best Recipes for Jane.” I treasure that cookbook, and by now have used it so much that it, too, is now stained and tattered.

I decided to go through all of Mom’s handwritten recipes, and type them out to pass on to her friends. It isn’t all about the recipes, either. For me it is a happy ramble through memories; coming home from school on a cold day, opening the door to smell the heavenly aroma of her amazing shish kebab. It was a dish I loved, and that scent seemed to wrap its arms around me, as Mom did when I came up the stairs.

Mom used to joke that she had a hundred ways to make hamburger; she learned early on how to make the most of what she had, and make it taste great. The recipes in the little book she gave me, all written in her beautiful loopy script, were easy to follow, easy to make and all were delicious.

When I  was growing up, every mom I knew baked at least a few times each week. There were always cookies, a cake, a pie or pudding in the house. I remember my Aunt Ruby (really, Mom’s Aunt Ruby, but I called her that as well) saying that a woman had no business calling herself a wife and mother unless she could cook, bake, pickle and preserve. A woman who could consistently turn out good food and take advantage of any fruit or vegetables by preserving them, was truly an asset.

When the three of us had dinner together, Mom always made it an occasion. The lovely slender brass candlesticks from her mother held white tapers which Dad lit before each meal. Whatever the meal was, it was prepared and served beautifully. We ate on the nicest dishes we had, and everyone talked about their day. It was a way to reconnect with each other, and everyone’s conversation was welcome.

The only proviso about Mom’s meals was this (actually it was always directed at me): if you didn’t like what was being served for dinner, you were welcome to make a peanut butter sandwich. Mom worked for many years as Editor-in-Chief at the local newspaper, then came home afterward to clean and cook. As she would say tartly: “This is no bar and grille–if you don’t like what’s on the table, you know where the peanut butter is!”

As I sift through all her recipes, I remember so many meals we enjoyed together. It wasn’t just about the food–it was the feeling of “belonging-ness,” the comfort of family, the easy chat about our days, and the sure knowledge that this was my family, my anchor, my safe place; my home. Reading these recipes brings those times back, and sometimes I swear I can even smell the shish kebob.

The recipe follows, and I hope you enjoy as much as I did.

Shish Kebabs

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs. beef or lamb, cut into 2” cubes

¼ c. salad oil

4 large onions, quartered

½ c. tomato paste

1 T. oregano

3 T. vinegar or lemon juice

S & P to taste

Green peppers, quartered (as many as you like)

Tomatoes, quartered (as many as you like)

Directions:

 Mix the first seven ingredients in a large bowl. Cover and let stand overnight or at least four hours. Put everything, including the peppers and tomatoes, into a large pan and broil:

  1. Approximately 12” from broiler, 10 minutes
  2. Approximately 6” from broiler, 15 minutes
  3. Approximately 4” from broiler, 15 minutes

Comment: This is a delicious shish kebab dish, and it pairs beautifully with crusty bread, and a salad if you like. Great for picnics!

“It’s an Eagle! It’s an EAGLE!!!”

My mother enjoyed nature, especially when it stayed out of her house and minded its own business. She liked the seasonal birds who ate out of the feeders she provided (of course the birds never knew that the reason she put them up in the first place was to entertain the cat), and was fine with the occasional butterfly or luna moth–again; as long as they stayed outside.

She was always impressed by large birds. One winter’s night when I was in grade school, we were driving home from my grandparents’ home. At the time, Dad drove a beautiful little cream-colored MG-TD with green leather seats. I was still small enough to fit in the well behind the two front seats.

The hood ornament on the MG was quite large, and on that night as we drove home, a big gray barn owl flew up and landed on it. It stared at the three of us–and all four of us were transfixed for the moment. Then it flew off, and, the spell broken, Mom exclaimed, “It’s an eagle! It’s an EAGLE!” To her, any big bird was an eagle.

Prior to 1962 when we moved into the first (and only) house we ever owned, we lived in a wonderful apartment with a large sun porch overlooking the lake. We loved that sun porch with its wonderful view of the lake. During thunderstorms we would quickly gather up all the pillows we could find and sit on them on the porch to watch the lightning dance across the water.

There was a long rolling hill down to the water with a dock. On warm days I spent a lot of time diving off it, swimming , or just lying on a towel in the sun reading. Dad’s canoe was tied up there, and we took it out many times during the summer. One misty morning, Mom was enjoying a second cup of coffee on the sun porch. All of a sudden, Dad and I heard her yell, “It’s an eagle! It’s an EAGLE!”

Of course, we went thundering out on the porch to see it. There on the dock stood a great blue heron. Not an eagle, I told her. “Well,” she said. “It’s as big as one!”

Dad mentioned recently that one time when they traveled up to Maine, she happened to see a moose with a huge set of antlers. Excitedly, she shouted to Dad, “it’s an eagle! It’s an EAGLE!” (I’m thinking she saw the huge antlers as wing span.)

Just the other day as I was talking with a friend on the phone, I saw an enormous blue heron sail across the sky and land right on the top of a big spruce across the street. I starting laughing because I just knew that Mom was somewhere saying; “it’s an eagle! It’s an EAGLE!”

It just goes to show that just because someone has passed on doesn’t mean that they don’t still have their sense of humor!

Mom’s Old Bean Pot

Mom’s old bean pot

Is now the queen of all the pots I’ve got–

Who knows from where it came

Or how it gained such fame

As the be-all and end-all

Of the best baked beans we all

Have loved and eaten for years and years–

‘Though the onion at the bottom of the pot gave us tears,

While the caramelized bacon on top gave us delight

With that first bean-y bite—

How I revere that old brown-and-cream pot

From whose humble belly we helped ourselves— a lot!

I do believe that there’s magic within,

(Probably gifted from some old bean jinn)

That keeps that old pot

Producing great beans, fresh and hot–

As tasty and good as ever there was,

I’ve puzzled and puzzled til I broke my puz

On the tasty magic Mom’s old bean pot’s got–

But suffice it to say, those beans hit the spot!

Though the vessel itself is quite spotty and humble,

But about its looks we cannot grumble

That magic lives on in that pot, it’s all true—

Just as clear and as right as I’ve told it to you.