March 08, 2009

A Eulogy in Food

In the beginning, she cooked for me. In the end, I cooked for her.

The food my grandmother cooked for me was the staples of the fifties, food from cans and boxes, but she made it work in a way I never did. Her au gratin potatoes were creamy and cheesy. Her casseroles didn't taste alike, even though cream of mushroom soup was the main ingredient of all of them. Jello salads behaved for her. None of this two inches of fruit on the top and none in the bottom.

The food I cooked for her was improvisational and made from scratch. A couple of ham and pork shoulder bones taking up room in the freezer. Turn them and the leek ends into stock and add...hmm, what have we got? We froze some of the ham. Potatoes, I think, for starch and onions and corn to add some sharp and sweet notes. A little paprika, just because. Call it soup.

She'd cooked for more than seventy years but always talked toward the end about all the new things she was eating. My grandfather said the same thing, but his tone was more of relief than wonder. For me, my grandmother's cooking was the comfort food of my childhood. Unlike a lot of food I ate as a kid, I don't hate it now. I miss it.

I'm going to miss her, too, even though we had about as much in common as our cooking styles would suggest. I'll miss the fidgeting and fussing. I'll miss the worrying about everyone and everything. I'll miss her never quite getting that the fact that we could take care of her meant we could take care of ourselves. I'll even miss her perpetual wonder that my husband and brothers cook just as well as I do.

I'll miss the cookies every Christmas, but I'm happy to know that they weren't store-bought cookies this last year. They were, sometimes, in recent years. This year, she found the energy somewhere. That consoles me almost as much as knowing it was one big stroke that took her, instead of all the tiny ones that got her mother.

Just over a day with some brief confusion but mostly unconsciousness. Knowing that helps. Knowing that my grandfather will need easy-to-prepare food in her absence helps a little more.

Time to go cook. It's a different kind of comfort food.


Lou FCD said...

I will be thinking of you today, Steph.

...and perhaps I'll cook something.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Thanks, Lou.

Kelly McCullough said...

Hugs and condolences,

Kelly & Laura

Stephanie Zvan said...

Thanks to both of you, Kelly.

gregladen said...

Hmm... After our last email about this a couple of days ago, after which you never said anything more to me, I assumed you just needed some time. And here you are blogging about it!!!

Your grandmother had a great life, and the best kind of death (at an old age). And she had the best possible grand daughter. So good for her.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Thanks, Greg. I actually wrote this when I knew she was dying and I needed to do...something. Posting it was easier than, well, anything else I might have done to tell the people who needed to know.

Silver Fox said...

I tried to write earlier, but had recalcitrant phone posting capabilites: Belated condolences. Grandmothers can be very special people. I know mine was, and yours sounds very much that way. Memory can be difficult sometimes, all tied up in things like cooking or for me shells and the beach. You've written so well about her here, and that's a true gift. For all of us, I think.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Thanks, Silver Fox. Mine was a shell person too. She spent more winters than I can count on Sanibel for the shells.