It’s difficult to make the transition from talking about someone in the present tense to the past. Grandma Ruth likes
liked likes liked to bake. She made chocolate bit cookies the size of a half-dollar, taught me how to make coffee-vanilla-caramel puddings from scratch, and always whipped up a banana bread with lemon icing for my older brother. We stayed up late playing old card games and I often slept in her bed – she and my grandfather had twin beds always – and allowed me to slide around in her shorty nightgowns.
She played Scrabble and the first time she met my husband she called him by my ex-boyfriend’s name for an entire week. This was all fine until, during the final Scrabble game, my husband Adam played the word “Joey”. “That’s a name,” Grandma Ruth said. “No,” Adam corrected. “As in a baby kangaroo.” “You’re making that up,” she said, her voice rising. “Really, joey is a baby kangaroo.” Her voice grew louder, her cheeks flushed, and she stood to make her point (Grandma was the size of a large potato so this didn’t make the point she hoped). “There is NO such word as Joey – I’m no fool!” Adam stood (and he is over 6 feet and more like a parsnip) and said, “It is a word AND my name is Adam, not ____.” “Well, for God’s sake,” Grandma said. “I’m getting pumpkin bread.”
So we ate pumpkin bread and soothed ourselves with knowing that soon she’d learn Adam’s name, and soon enough we’d buy her a Scrabble dictionary.
Grandma told me stories of horses and carts, of walking home from work to have simple egg and cress sandwiches. Of losing almost all of her family in 1918. About her hilarious and disastrous first date with my grandfather. She taught me songs about kissing under apple trees and made me Girl Scout eggs and fried the cut out bread in butter. We had tea parties with sugared toast and orange tea.
There’s more, of course.
But the best advice she gave was this: Don’t always save the best for last.
“If I have lobster in front of me, I eat the tail – the best part – first. You don’t know what’s going to happen – if you’ll be too full to enjoy it later – or if you’ll drop you plate. Why not eat what you want right now?”
Grandma Ruth gave me her cookbooks, her folded corners and ripped articles for future baking endeavors. She gave me songs that I sang back to her last week as I sat by her hospital bed. Her hands felt the same as they did when I was young and her memory still worked. She’d lost most of her words then and couldn’t tell you her name, but she knew my face.
Somewhere in there were all of the lyrics to the songs she’d taught me and when I sang to her, she sang right along with me.
Isn’t the brain a mysterious and wonderful thing?
I feel sure that if she could have, she’d have protested that the word Joey doesn’t really exist, that if you want a tiny chocolate bit cookie before you eat the main course, have it. That the word love from her will never be in the past tense. I’m grateful for her 96 years, glad that like the songs, her recipes will linger.
loved love her.*
*I will post her pumpkin bread recipe as well as her puddings, but I created this compote and she adored it on yogurt, on pound cake, spooned onto baked chicken, or just plain.