Wednesday, January 13, 2016

ONE YEAR LATER

Our kitchens were stacked.
          Mine was on the second floor with more dishes than I could ever handle. I would clop clop clop around in my cooking clogs, practicing the art of keeping young children alive.
          Hers was on the first floor with enough jars and tupperware and folded paper bags and cocoa squirreled away for any kind of apocalypse that might happen to come along. When it came to cooking, she knew everything about everything. She had just stopped doing it, her culinary world reduced to tapioca pudding, toast, and tea.
          My grandmother heard my children grow up. Every tumble, every tantrum. She heard me grow up. Ten years of marriage. Four years of trying to conceive a second baby. She heard every thrown plate, every slammed door, every episode of “Battlestar Galactica.”
          I worried she was hearing too much life through her ceiling. So I apologized for it all. She wouldn’t hear of it. She wanted the noise. She wanted us up there.
          I had moved into the upstairs apartment when I was 33, when I had a 9-month old baby girl, when I had heaps of unspoken post-partum sadness. My grandmother would listen to me talk and talk and talk. I would tell my stories about parenting and marriage just to see if she would smile or laugh. She was blind in one eye, so sometimes I would think she wasn’t listening. But months later she would repeat my world back to me. Moment by moment, the details locked into her brain like the words she gobbled up from her never-ending pile of New Yorkers, New York Review of Books, mystery novels.
          We respected each other’s privacy. No knocking. Just carefully penciled in dates. She liked having her dinner alone, or so she said. I think she didn’t want me to feel put out. So it was just tea or drinks. Her lipstick on. My hair brushed. All of the kids’ detritus shoved away in closets. At the carefully chosen time, she would walk out her front door and cross the lawn—pausing for a few deep breaths with her hand on the jacaranda tree—and then around to the other side of the house to my front door.
          I would call her when things went awry.
          I could hear the phone ringing downstairs and then I could feel her warmth slowly shifting out of bed and towards the phone.
          The soup is too thin, grandma. What do I do? (Add a cooked and mashed potato.) The braised meat isn’t softening up. (More time? Some acid?)
          I would call her to be my recipe guinea pig.
          Grandma, can I bring you a little something I’ve been working on?
          As long as it’s not caramel.
          It’s not caramel. I promise.
          Just leave it outside. Thank you.
          I would cover it in plastic wrap, walk it down the stairs, and leave it on the bench outside her front door.
          I would call her just to make sure she was still alive.
          She would get the first cookie, the warmest piece of pie, a corner of the croquembouche debacle, a smear of the ridiculous cheeseball, the first and last attempt at homemade bread, a slice of every single gingerbread I ever made.
          All I wanted to do was feed her. And in return I would get the blunt-ass truth via a phone call. Too sweet. A bit ugly. Absolutely delicious. Fine, fine, fine. Maybe don’t cook it quite so long next time?
          After she died, I went through her kitchen and found dozens of ramekins, plates, silverware from my own kitchen. I can see her, eating the treats in bed. She glides through her apartment, scraping the remains, rinsing the dishes. Then she tucks them away as her own.
My recipe for Gingerbread with Cream Cheese Frosting can be found in my Food52 column.

23 comments:

  1. So beautiful...has me missing my own grandmother and made me cry. Thank you.

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  2. heart warming, a little heart breaking too. Thank you--what a voice you have.

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  3. what a sweet reminiscence - I'm so glad you had those times together - a precious gift

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  4. what a lovely tribute to your relationship with your grandmother. thanks for sharing her.

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  5. This is hauntingly beautiful. I wish I had a voice like yours to express the impact my grandmother (and mother, and aunts) had on me and my baking... Thank you for sharing this.

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  6. i read this with my gma in mind. thank you for sharing.

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  7. Love, love your writing. Finely tuned balance of knuckle-duster real and heart-felt emotion served with a slice of excellent cake. Merci.

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  8. I'm always glad to see a new post, but they rarely make me cry. Perhaps its being pregnant with this took-me-two-years-to-make first baby, perhaps its the brownies cooling for my grandmother's 88th birthday. Whatever it is, thank you.

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  9. Your writing feeds my soul. Thank you. I miss my grandma, she cooked delicious meals... She lived with us and I loved her so much. Wish she would have taught me how to cook though ;)

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  10. your words always make me cry. i'm so glad i decided to procrastinate what i'm doing over here to read this.

    what a sweet friendship you had with her!! xxoo

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  11. What a beautiful gift you gave to each other.

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  12. Good to know about soya chaap. That's very new to me :) Online Food Order

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  13. thank you for sharing. I love your recipe

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  14. What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. For me, cooking is more about family than anything else. The connections we make over a recipe, the memories that are seared into our minds via scent. It's why I love cooking.

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  15. What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. For me, cooking is more about family than anything else. The connections we make over a recipe, the memories that are seared into our minds via scent. It's why I love cooking.

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  16. Love this recipe. Thanks for sharing!

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  17. Phyllis, I miss you....i'm rereading your old posts because you're so freaking awesome. Come back soon please!

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  18. PHYLLLLLISSSSS I FUCKING CAN'T. This slayed me. My heart. You get it. It's about the potatoes with Mamaw's sweet vinegared Italian peppers in the cast iron skillet, and playing rummy and crying over the latest heartbreak and then suddenly they're gone. Love this mama.

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  19. This blog is looking repository of food and found here every kind of food. it looks beautiful and superb in taste.share more recipe with better information resturent menu order

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