When my grandmother was still alive I would take these long, blank trips out to visit her in small-town Wisconsin. The whole time she always seemed to be preparing for the next thing– laying her clothes out for tomorrow night’s dinner. Getting the oranges ready for juicing on Tuesday. She jumped up a lot. She was always busy.
My grandmother had two daughters. My mother took after her, my aunt did not. Now there is me, and everyone feels scattered to the winds, or gone entirely. It’s not that people don’t tell you, when you are young, that things will be hard. They do. They are saying it all day, every day. They are shouting it all the time. But the young are powerfully deaf. We didn’t hear it. Now I sit alone in my apartment in New York, miles away from everyone. I hear it acutely. But so what? What does it matter now?
One thing I did when I would go to see my grandmother was leaf through everything. Everything. Something about her ancient-smelling home, with all its yellow papered books and authentic toys of the 1950s, set me to snooping. I would have tossed myself down the laundry shoot if I had had enough gumption. It was not for lack of curiosity or even, gingerly, a momentary one-time try.
My grandmother, like all grandmothers whether they want to admit it or not, whether they squirrel it away or hide it in plain sight or just show it proud because it’s great, yes, all grandmothers are recipe writers. Think of how nuanced a good recipe can be. Even just filling the ice tray has its ways and means. The preparation of a meal? It is the work of Nobel prize winners. Or it should be. Rightfully is. When in her home, I languished long and many hours over her recipe box. Herein lay the secrets to domestic complicity, happiness, moods moderated and overseen by buttercream, lashings of dijon.
Recently I came across my grandmother’s recipe for “Crab Meat on Bun”. It’s a holy mess of fatty lipids and it would, probably, have been tough to get much of it down. But it was hers and it was America’s, too, at a time when the country at large was casting and molding its meats and mains, its headcheese, even, into great shapes and centerpieces. Julia Child built her career rebelling mightily against dishes just like Crab Meat on Bun and I’m glad for everything she ushered in. But there’s tradition in this mess, too.
I am nothing in the kitchen, no good at all and prone at dinnertime to simply secure the pretzels and an amount of “dip” to my side before trotting off to other diversions. Neither of my grandmothers would have recognized me in the kitchen, all my wasteful ways and slovenly dish-leaving. The selfhood becomes the point, one I am constantly goading my high school English students toward– “Just think! One day you’ll be an adult! You can leave all this behind! No more homework! No one can ever tell you to do the dishes– not one!”
Tonight I am enjoying another grazing of this and that from the upper shelves of the G.E. But I wish I had not left such things behind. A little bit, tonight, I wish there was someone here to tell me to do the dishes– just one! Just think! One day you’ll understand that you’ll never be an adult! That you can leave nothing behind!