Recently I posted a particular blog post in honor of my mother, who taught me how to cook with what remained in my cupboards at the end of the month. Upon reading it, she told me that she was flattered to be honored, but the honor shouldn’t be hers. It was her mother who taught her how to cook with little and be experimental.
My maternal grandmother was an amazing person. Born Feb 8, 1924, she had lived through a good many things, too. She had 3 sisters and 4 brothers (through the depression, I know!). Too bad Great-Grandma was insane… She chased my grandmother with a butcher knife, once. Which was a long and complicated story involving burned pudding, party-line phones (which was pretty much everyone in town), and a barn with a hayloft. She was sent to the Sanitorium afterward for about 6 months. The morphine given to her after the birth of my great-uncle Dale caused her to go insane…. She grew up in a hard environment but ended up a wonderfully resilient, loving, caring person.
She learned to cook with little and experiment during the Great Depression, when food was expensive and jobs were rare and she was caring for most of her siblings. Foods like hotdogs were about the cheapest meats and fruit was a luxury. You had to cook with what you could afford and/or what you could grow (depending on where you lived, it could very well be almost nothing). She worked really hard all the time, but I am guessing never complained much.
She also lived through World War II and joined the navy as a cook and ended up stationed in Camp Elliott (which was just outside of San Diego near Miramar, CA). There she met my grandfather, a Marine Corp man in a hot uniform who was coming through and made a pit stop at Camp Elliott. World War II was definitely another period of less – less food, less things you were accustomed to (like silk stockings and steel pots), less time to do everything. Including finding a good man and getting married.
The story, as I remember it, was that my grandmother and grandfather met and married within six weeks, both being definitely young. It didn’t really matter, though. He was shipped off shortly thereafter to jump out of airplanes as a paratrooper. (He was stationed in Ewajima and fought the Japanese, securing an Imperial Japanese flag! Score! But unfortunately he called Japanese people “Japs” and “Nips”.) They sent letters frequently back and forth, building a strong bond and a great love. I look at them, with all their imperfections and strong points, and envy that love, which spanned many a decade. During that long love, they had children and raised them very well… my mother being one of those kids.
My mother is the youngest of 5 kids, and the only girl to boot. Her closest sibling in age was Bill, 12 years older than my mom. From post-WWII till the very end, my grandmother cared for her 5 children, her 23 grandchildren, and her 2 great-grand children. Some of those children went into the military, some into hard manual labor, and my mother into medical.
This amazing woman was a stay-at-home-mom, not so unusual for the time. She was my mother’s best friend and the most gentle and caring woman I have ever known. Mom said grandma had a wild side, too, but I didn’t get to see much of it in her golden years. I guess it was when my mother was a kid. See, my grandmother was strong enough to run a farm in Hermiston, OR with kids in a wide range of ages in tow. She had enough sense of humor to stand in the window and cackle when a goat ate my mother’s panties and gave my mom the biggest wedgie of her four-year-old life by pulling up on those panties… oh, and mamma was still wearing them! Grandma laughed for a bit then came down to shoo the goat away and (probably still laughing) comfort my crying, terrified mother. I remember her laugh, but I doubt it was the same as when she cackled at my mother. She was severely asthmatic by the time I was born, and they gave her one year to live…. she survived till I was 16!
My grandfather died in 2004 due to cancer of the colon and died shortly after his 60th wedding anniversary August 29th. He never made it to the family reunion party because he was in the hospital with an infection. I remember seeing him the day he died, showing him a video of us dancing at the celebration. We started te 4 hours home and got the call less than an hour in…. he was gone. But he was really sick…. She was mad enough to tell the priest that my grandfather was in a loooot of trouble. My grandfather promised my grandmother he would always be there to take care of her and he went and gone first. This seemed to be the final blow for my grandmother, who did nothing in her life but love. She didn’t eat much and lost her anchor to life. Her family was doing well and thriving and her husband had gone before her. On October 29th, she slipped away as soon as she heard all of her family was on its way.
There are few women strong enough to survive so much, to go through so much joy and pain, to be told she was going to die in one year and be stubborn enough to go another sixteen and make all them fool doctors bite their tongues. Few women treat every single person with love and respect, even if they pissed them off.
She taught my mother well. She made my mother another extraordinary woman, filled with love and compassion and patience beyond most people’s. She taught my mother to be resourceful, to cook good food with little in the cupboard, to grow good food and close-knit families. She educated my mother on the way to cook for many people (always spaghetti at Grandma and Grandpa Bennett’s house), and make a room full of people feel individually special and loved. She gave my mother the tools to cope with the cruelties of the world and raise a good family, from handling every child, grandchild and great grandchild to putting up with all kinds of shit as those children grew. God only made so many women who were angels before they left this world and re-entered his arms, and my grandmother and mother are two of them.
For my Grandpa and Grandma Bennett, my Grandma Sandy and my Grandpa Jim (who were both also veterans), for my Kautsa and Grandpa Sobotta… for all my family and friends in every branch of the armed forces and those who aren’t… for those of you whom I haven’t met yet who may or may not have stumbled across this blog… This is for you. I have bared a part of my past and given loving tribute to a woman that I admire and love so much that even typing this I am sitting here with tears in my eyes. I will always love and miss that wonderful woman, as I will always remember my Grandma Sandy, who passed two years ago. I love all of those who have passed, and those who are here. I love those I know and those I don’t. I even love those who have yet to come… who are in the womb, who are a twinkle in their mom and dad’s eyes, who are still in the stars and will not be born for quite some time.
I love you.