Sunday, August 9, 2015

Raspberry Cobbler

Today is my mother-in-law's Memorial Service and I have the honor of officiating. It looks to be a lovely ceremony, filled with remembrance by those who knew her best. Both my daughters couldn't attend (it's in Michigan), but each sent a piece to be read. So proud of both of them, not only for how much they cared for their grandma, but for how eloquently they can express it. Neither saw each other's pieces ahead of time, but they both spoke of similar things—like Doublemint gum! But they parted company on the dessert—one remembered raspberry cobbler, the other strawberry shortcake.

Here is the one from my daughter Kerala, soon to be followed by Talia's.

"It’s hard to know where to start when it comes to remembering, and properly capturing, Grandma Pam. She was the doting grandmother in many of the so-called “conventional” ways, constantly spoiling me with praise, chewing gum, and raspberry cobbler. The praise, of course, was always appreciated, but the gum and cobbler even more so. You have to understand, I grew up in a household where an after-dinner treat consisted of a one whole wheat Carr’s biscuit and where all chewing gum was universally banned within a five-mile radius. I looked forward to the weeks we spent visiting my grandparents in Michigan all year, salivating every time I thought about a decadent bite of homemade cobbler with ice cream, or a forbidden stick of pale green Doublemint.

Of course, my summer weeks with Grandma weren’t all about food. We had our special activities, too, including identifying and pressing wildflowers, making art out of smoothed beach glass, taking long leisurely walks on the beach, and of course, searching for that all-elusive Lake Michigan Petoskey stone. Grandma taught me about the virtues of patience, of finding beauty in life’s details.

My Grandma was doting and sweet, yes, but in so many ways she also defied convention. After all, not all 13-year-olds can say they’ve visited remote Masaai villages in the Serenghetti with their grandmas, can they? That’s because not all grandmas offer to take their grandchildren anywhere in the world they want to go, and then don’t even flinch when their grandchild chooses not London or Barcelona, but Kenya, of all places. Even under the pressing weight of the African desert heat and the constant buzz of flies, my grandma’s rose lipstick remained perfectly applied.  

And while many Grandmas take pride in their grandchildren’s accomplishments, not all of them become their de-facto literary agents, sending their poetry out to numerous children’s magazines and granting me the privilege of boasting that I was a published poet at age 10.

When it came to my poetry, I knew that my Grandma’s pride was genuine, because she wasn’t one to dole out praise gratuitously. Later, when I got my first novel published at age 21, she told me that she “didn’t particularly care for it.” Yes, my Grandma was nothing if not blunt, even if her bluntness took a while to register, draped as it was in her proper vocabulary and slightly Southern drawl. Years earlier, after attempting a new cropped hairstyle that I wasn’t quite sure about, everyone else assured me that they “liked it,” in a tone of voice that was just a little too upbeat. My Grandma, meanwhile, took one look and definitively announced that “short hair didn’t suit me.”

Even these memories are fond in retrospect. But the if there’s one thing I will miss the most, it’s sitting on the deck with Grandma and counting down to the sunset. She, with her white wine glass in hand; me, with my can of Squirt (soda being another luxury I was never allowed at home), watching the dramatic hues of red, orange, and pink bleed across the sky and the sun cast its golden shadow on the lake as it made its leisurely descent. When I was 10, those Lake Michigan sunsets inspired me to write a poem that opened with: “Who will walk with me/ on the path to the golden sunset?” I know my Grandma liked that poem because she hooked an entire rug depicting a golden sunset, with those opening lines etched in her elegant cursive along the top and bottom.

In a way, all our lives are a countdown to a sunset, of sorts. My Grandma walked her own golden path, finding beauty at every turn, even when the going got tough. We can only hope she’s now found her own sunset, and that it’s every bit as beautiful as the beauty she never failed to find in a single Petoskey stone, a bouquet of Queen Anne’s Lace, or a steaming raspberry cobbler. We miss you, Grandma, we love you, and we’re here, waving from the shore."

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