Friday, December 4, 2009

Lessons from Granny

This past week, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the Broad Meadow and my family, especially my great-grandmother, or as we call her, Granny. Last week, hurrying to the bathroom (a situation I am constantly in; we must be related), she fell and broke her hip. Requiring surgery, she has been in the hospital since last week and looks to endure a long and tedious recovery, especially for a woman of her age. Did I mention Tuesday was her 105th birthday? So, along with the current holiday, my mind has been traveling back to the country, back to where I came from, and to the people who made me. Granny has always been a very strong presence in my life, the grand matron, a titan of character, wisdom, and sass. When I was young, we made frequent visits to Granny's little house on 23rd street (she lived by herself until the ripe age of 98) for long chats, games of UNO, and fried chicken. I would pound on her screen door and yell, "Ma Boiles, Ma Boiles," and she would slowly come to the door, saying, "I'm a-coming." Oftentimes, she would watch me while my mother ran errands or was at work. My mom loves to tell how Granny used to sit with me and read, and as she or I would begin to doze off, I would nudge in the side to "Read!"
I think one of the most important lessons she taught me was to celebrate and value the important things in life, and for us that meant food and family. A fresh peach, a ripe juicy yellow tomato off the vine, homemade applesauce, and long green beans, grown mature and beany. A little glass of milk and cornbread. A homemade pie, sitting fresh and pristine on the counter. These were all causes of joy and wonder. Food has never ceased to grab my attention or warrant my praise. For a long time, we would go to the orchard every summer to pick up bushels and pecks of fresh apples and peaches and drink fresh apple cider. Food was a time to celebrate, a time to share. Days spent canning beets, making homemade jelly, husking corn, or snapping beans, were really opportunities to visit and gossip, to appreciate the wonders of God's earth. It was never treated as a chore. For many years, every Halloween, Granny would make homemade popcorn balls, a most delicious treat, and a truly daunting task. To make these confectionary spheres (the store-bought stuff doesn't even come close), you take freshly popped popcorn (knowing her made on the stove, not in the microwave), and combine with a hot corn syrup mixture to gel the kernels together. Then, trying to not completely burn the living daylights out of your hands, you reach into the vat and form this sticky mixture into balls, working quickly before the syrup cools and hardens, then wrapping each ball individually in plastic wrap. They were so good, and so sticky, one of my favorite parts of the holiday, something to be savored until the last bite. Next up came Thanksgiving, which was always a major affair, hosted at her sister Eula's house in big Fort Wayne (not quite as big as Big New York, but still big in comparison to our town). Every year, she would invite gobs and gobs of people into her house, relatives from all across the spectrum, and we would eat and eat and eat to our heart's content. I can't even begin to list the number of dishes she made, not to mention the dozen or so pies laid out for dessert. One of my favorite memories of her house is waking up early the morning after Thanksgiving, always one early to rise, and eating a big piece of homemade cherry pie for breakfast. Whether it was a mammoth holiday celebration or a simple lunch at Granny's, it was always a time to share, savor, and celebrate. It's funny, I remember in French Women Don't Get Fat, with the book's point being on enjoying and savoring your food, Mireille talks about her grandmother's joy in the kitchen and appreciation for each season's produce. Though rural Indiana and the French countryside are quite different, I'd like to think I know exactly what she's talking about.
And so, as I anticipate heading back for the holidays and pray for Granny's speedy recovery, I have to celebrate my life, to find the joy instead of the woe, appreciate the little details that make life special, and be brave. As Granny says, "Life is for the living," and that's just what we have to do. Though, to try to savor and cherish hospital food, seems a bit of a losing battle. However, I hear she's been receiving smuggled goods from the outside world, so it looks like she's in good hands. After all, we have to break the rules a little now and then.

1 comment:

  1. Bradley, you make me smile. :) Would love to squeeze your neck if you're home over the holidays. :) Keep writing, I'll keep reading.