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Friday, July 26, 2013

Happy Birthday, Gram!

Yes, Gram has been gone for some sixteen years now, but she continues to be a part of my life. We spent so many years together, and living with her helped in the formation of my character, philosophies, and personality. I imagine that one could look at all of these things and say that her effects on me may have been both good and bad, and I am sure that she would get a kick out of that. It's interesting to me that you can be reminded of a deceased loved one at odd times, and by such random things. One of the most delightful for me is something that almost become a totem for me. It is a simple but beautiful thing. Gram's favorite color was yellow. Although the rooms of her home were all painted different colors, the kitchen was a bright and sunny yellow. I'll admit that if I ever have a house I will want to paint my kitchen yellow as well. It adds a warmth and sunniness to this important room on even the dreariest days. 

After Gram's passing, which was an extremely difficult time for me, from time to time I had those days that anyone who has lost a loved one can easily understand. There are just some times when the loneliness for someone you love, and the grief at any family ugliness that occurred at that time, can overwhelm your emotions. Your guard is down, and suddenly you are incredibly sad, perhaps even crying. A few weeks after Gram's passing, I was walking to my mailbox on one of these days. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something fluttering just at the edge of my vision. I turned to see what was there, and it was a beautiful yellow and black butterfly. It flew alongside me as I finished walking to the mailbox, lingered a bit, and stayed nearby until I was nearly back to the stairs leading up to my apartment. At the very first moment I spotted it, I burst into tears. I felt as if it was a sign from my Grammie that she loved me, and that everything would be all right. I felt at peace, and knew that if I persevered, I'd be okay. In the years since, I have noticed yellow butterflies when I have had times of stress or sadness. Trent has even noticed them with me, and almost always says, when he sees them, "Look, Katrina! It's your Grammie!" 

Something else I still love about Gram is her cooking. She made all sorts of dishes without ever using recipes. This doesn't sound too impressive at first; many of us throw meals together without any planned recipes or strict measurements. But she could do it with things like cookies and doughnuts! Anyone who bakes (like me) can tell you that there is science as well as art to baking. Chances are that if you just throw a bunch of stuff in a bowl, you might end up with something that looks like a cow pie rather than a cookie. Not Gram. She'd add the flour and know just by the look and feel of the dough that she had the right mixture. She even did it with bread, both yeast and fruit breads! She and I used to get a laugh about it almost every time she made sweets, whether peanut brittle, doughnuts, cake, or chocolate chip cookies. I loved to watch her cook, and wanted to learn from her. I'd ask her how much of a certain ingredient was needed. Her answer was invariably, "Enough!" Now that's an exact measurement for you! We'd dissolve into laughter, and I knew I would have to learn to make my own versions that came with instructions.

Another thing Gram made that I have never been able to replicate was an absolutely delicious rice dish. She told me that a Chinese cook she met when she was young told her that she could use her hand to measure the amount of water needed for cooking rice. Something about putting one's hand flat on the bottom of the pot and then adding water to reach your wrist. I have not been brave enough to try it, but I know she never measured either the rice or the water, and it always came out just fine. The rice dish she made that I loved included chopped onions, beef bouillon, and a liberal amount of paprika. When it was done, it was an orange-hued, fragrant, savory dish. I've tried to make it, with no success. Maybe I'll give it another shot this weekend. After all, disappointment doesn't kill, it just stings really, really bad. And sometimes it bruises.

Gram made all sorts of dishes ranging from Hungarian goulash to spaghetti sauce, corned beef and cabbage, pepper steak, and the best chili con carne and beef stew that I've ever tasted. When she made beef stew, she always added extra potatoes because she knew I loved it that way. And her desserts were wonderful. In the summer we'd often have strawberry shortcake made from berries grown in the back yard. We used little cakes from the supermarket, and after the strawberries were placed on top, we poured half-and-half over them and them topped them with whipped cream. They were heavenly. And I am pretty certain that if I could make a lemon meringue pie as good as hers, I'd be as famous for my pies as Mrs. Fields is for her cookies. The woman made an amazing tall meringue that browned gorgeously and sat atop a tart-sweet lemon filling. Just writing about it makes my mouth water. And yes, when she made the crust, filling, and meringue, it was all without the benefit of any measuring implements!

Perhaps Gram's cooking methods could be a great philosophy for life. We do not need to measure every moment, experience, or person we encounter to have a delicious experience with living. Sometimes we just need to use our instincts to know when and what is enough, and trust that things will turn out fine. Wow. Maybe my little white-haired Gram was on to something big. You go, Gram! Happy Birthday! We miss you!