I grew up going to my great-grandmother’s house every other weekend. My dad lived with her, and as per the custody agreement, he got two weekends a month.
I didn’t know a lot of things about her, but what I have been able to piece together from memories suddenly makes all the sense in the world. Grandma Eula lived through the depression. She did things like freeze milk and potato chips. She put cardboard in her shoes. I still remember eating frozen homemade cookies because I was too impatient for them to defrost. Have you ever had frozen homemade banana bread? It is amazing. She had cupboards full of empty baby food jars. I never questioned her reason for saving them, I just used them to catch butterflies.
She had a fig tree in her backyard that she loved. She would make fig jam and eat figs plain. She would cover it with netting and fight off the birds. I thought, for the longest time, that they were her own special fruit. I had never seen them anywhere else, I assumed she was the only person who had them.
She would make things like chocolate pie and homemade macaroni and cheese and pan fried ham steaks. Because of her I know what okra is and that you can do more than just deep fry it. I never knew that she was from the south and that her family originated in Louisiana, but if I had, I that would have explained why her cooking was so different from my mom’s. And why it was so delicious. She would make gumbo on Christmas. Because I was little I refused to try it. Crawfish? That doesn’t sound appealing to an eight-year-old. I didn’t find out where she was from until I was much older.
I don’t know if it was her southerness, or her making it through the depression, but she was, as my dad described, a “food pusher.” At the dinner table it was her mission to get people to eat as much as possible. Are you sure you’ve had enough? Why don’t you have some more salad? Macaroni and cheese? Would you like another grilled cheese sandwich? You can’t be full. Have some more! I still think of her when I eat: macaroni and cheese, cream cheese, chocolate pie, and ham. Yep.
She was amazing. She knew that I hated anything but mayonnaise in my tuna sandwiches. It would take my dad years to get that through his head. I don’ like celery. Or relish. No, but seriously. No. Food was her way of showing love. It gave her nothing but happiness to see two well fed little girls. She knew that Jess hated ham and I loved it. She knew that Jess loved white rice and I was indifferent. I still remember her trying to get my dad to eat more. He has always been skinny, so I was on her side. Come on Dad, eat more chocolate pie! He would always eat a giant bowl of salad. I thought he was being healthy, but he covered it in her homemade ranch dressing…. For the longest time I thought buttermilk was just milk with melted butter in it.
Sadly, my dad moved out of her house when I was eleven and she was removed from my life from that point forward. I would see her, but the occasions would be few and far between. We drifted apart before I was old enough to ask the questions: What was the depression like? Tell me about your mother and father. What was life like growing up? I didn’t even know her maiden name until I was sixteen. I am still questioning whether or not her first name was Eula or Eulla. She had paintings she had done hung all around the house where she spelled it both ways. She died while I was in England the first time around so I didn’t get to attend the funeral. Due to my dad’s conscious removal of us from that side of his family, I probably will never know everything I should have about her.
But, I have inherited something I love. It brings me nothing but joy to feed people. I am a food pusher. Come on Rob! I baked cookies! Eat them! How about this?! Try this! You will love it! Are you sure you have had enough? Rob’s foreignness makes it even more fun. What do you mean you’ve never had funnel cake, cornbread, tortilla soup, corndogs, taquitos, sweet potatoes, etc.?!?! YOU MUST TRY THEM AND LOVE THEM!!! It is how I show love. He gets so excited when I pop into his office with a donut and a hot chocolate for him. I want to do it all the time. It also helps that Rob is super skinny so I don’t feel the least bit of guilt by feeding him all of his favorite things (mainly bacon).
So, here’s to you Grandma Eula and all you taught me. I wish I could have learned more.