Before I was born, my oldest brother coined the name and term of endearment for my fraternal grandmother. We all called her Mome’ (pronounced Mom-AY) and that is the only name by which I ever knew her; although, her “real” name was Hermione. I miss Mome’. I miss what I knew of her…and perhaps more so, I miss what I will never know of her.
Mome’s fingers were slightly crooked. I, young, realized that age had slowly crept into her, and would me too someday. I longed to somehow connect with her in a meaningful way. I wanted to devour each day…before it was too late. My grandmother, Mome’, was robust with a single exhale sort of laugh – one giant exhaled laugh larger than life… and then she contained it just as suddenly. I wonder if she consciously or subconsciously tried to place her emotions into a canning jar like the pickled cucumbers or homemade preserves she made. I also wonder if her fingers would have become more gnarled if this stern matriarchal oak could have weathered the passing of more years.
Her aged, slightly crooked fingers held the tart, green apple in one hand. The other hand held the paring knife. I watched in silence - enamored at her deftness in slicing apples without cutting her fingers or thumb. Thirteen, I was. I watched in awe as my grandmother, whom I saw only once a year, nimbly peeled and sliced the apples for our homemade apple pie. The soft apple pieces fell into a brown plastic bowl with a dent at the rim where it had slightly melted from contact with a hot pan. We were in my parent’s small and crowded kitchen and I was nervously scribbling down the recipe as my grandmother talked matter-of-factly, which I now attribute to her German roots and not-so-fairy-tale sort of life, rather than her feelings about me.
Mome’ was an incredible cook - the kind that never measured anything. It’s as if she somehow just felt it in her very bones or in some sort of tingling upon her skin, about what dash of this to add, or what dollop of that. Amazed, I watched her fingers as she shoveled a few spoonfuls of sugar and cinnamon into the brown bowl. She then smiled slightly at me, knowing metaphorically that I was not at all comfortable wearing an apron. Still clueless about estimating cooking measurements, I would ask, “Was that one teaspoonful or one Tablespoon, would you say?” Without making me feel silly, she gave me estimates and I scribbled them down with a pencil on some notebook paper pulled from one of our junk drawers in the kitchen. I needed exact amounts to appease my anxiety about “getting it right” one day down the road when I wanted to recreate this perfect apple pie that was being handed down via Mome’ from her previous generation - my Great Grandmother Marshall, whom I barely knew. I remember feeling an urgency to get this recipe precisely down on paper just in case I’d be blessed to have some children and some things to hand down some day.
Somehow, as the only daughter in my family, I very early felt a deep sense of responsibility in carrying on traditions, recipes and stories of our ancestry. After all, grubbing up one’s roots can lead to self-awareness and serenity about whom you are and why you might be that way. The good, the bad, the influences, traditions, recipes and even the fights in the poorly lit kitchen with the dirty baseboards are all ingredients mixed deep within our beings to make us uniquely who we are.
Mome died about 7 1/2 years ago. Each Thanksgiving, as I gingerly unfold that piece of notebook paper worn with time and splattered with butter and sugar crystals, I smile knowing I’m about to be inundated with the smells and vivid memories of that simple yet special moment we shared together. Each Thanksgiving when I make Mome’s and Great Grandmother Marshall’s Apple Pie, I am grateful for the traditions, memories, and traits that have been handed down to me. Each Thanksgiving when I create the Apple Pie, I experience something on the verge of spiritual as my hands begin to look more aged and my fingers begin to gnarl slightly. I smile as I nimbly slice apples, throw in dashes of this and that, and whirl across the kitchen in my funky, polka dot apron! I then serve my family slices of warm Apple Pie laced with tradition and memories, as we give thanks and remember...
(Perhaps our Creator is a great chef and baker too. Maybe He is a balance between a meat and potatoes type Executive Chef, with a gourmet flair and reputation! I can picture God in His kitchen whirling around wearing a funky apron and making a bit of a mess getting his hands all into the art and beauty that inspires Creation…one meal and one life at a time! Perhaps our recipe of existence goes something like this: One egg mixed with a squirt of X or Y. A dash of potential and stubbornness mixed with a dollop of compassion and humility. Add a sprinkle of sadness with a heaping handful of joyous moments, forgiveness and grace. Incorporate ingredients thoroughly and let sit to contemplate. Place in heat and glory so it rises with love and hope. Handle with care. Goes well paired with one who can bring out it’s own unique flavor. Let simmer for years. Must be cherished, as it will disappear quickly!)