One sunny morning about 15 years ago found me standing at my kitchen counter frosting a cake. It was three layers of chocolate and silky frosting was going on smoothly. What makes this cake different from the myriad I have made was that my mom was standing on the other side of the counter watching me. As I worked my spatula back and forth, she noted nonchalantly, “You’re just like your grandma.” My hand froze. “What?” This from a lady who hardly ever mentioned her mother, childhood, past…and oh how I wish she had! I had so many questions about my ancestors but those questions were always just met with a shrug.
Again, “What?” I had to contain myself from shaking her shoulders and pleading with her to open the floodgates of memory. How am I like her? I knew some ways from my memory alone. She could be quite mischievous and chuckled when she heard of something a little naughty, her eyes twinkling. She loved to listen to the baseball game while sitting in her sunny living room and she kept the police scanner on, always interested in what local law enforcement was encountering that day. I also clearly remembering her “peeling out” around the corner in her huge blue Buick. For a 70-something year old lady, she knew how to floor it – and she enjoyed it, too. Grandma loved music and having family over for coffee, always with a little sweet something served on the side.
This particular morning it came out that my grandmother was known for her cinnamon rolls and chocolate cake. Hold the phone. How did I learn of this some fifteen years after my grandmother passed away? Here I was, becoming known for my cinnamon rolls and chocolate cake, completely oblivious that I was echoing my grandmother so many miles & years away, so distant from knowing the real her, yet behaving like her through a simple recipe. I don’t know how I landed on those two items in particular to craft repeatedly, but I was somehow drawn to them. Mixing flour, butter and sugar is so relaxing, so natural…I feel very much like me when I’m at my counter making something sweet for someone I love. Knowing that so many decades ago, she was doing the same thing, is so gratifying.
I know lots of people have lost loved ones; I also know women my age who still have their grandmothers and parents. Losing them so long ago compounded by living away from my birth family for almost 30 years makes me a little more keen for moments like these, I guess. Even though I’m so much like my mom and grandma in copious ways, that experience made me a little different in that while I’m making or baking or serving that cake or those gooey rolls, I make sure I remember to tell a story of what those two were like… or me. I’ve raised my kids’ eyebrows with a few stories of my youth (like they can’t quite envision me as a spot welder), but I want to make sure they remember a few things about me and my ancestors from when we were younger. Hopefully, when many years have gone by and my kids enjoy a piece of my cake made by their own hands in memory of me, the stories they hold will be sweeter than the frosting on the cake.