Update: My grandmother passed away peacefully January 25, 2018 at 1 p.m. surrounded by her immediate family, including myself.
The last 23 years in December, I rounded up my baking supplies of flour, sugar, brown sugar, powered sugar and butter and other ingredients, dusted off my baking recipes books, including my binder full of magazine and newspaper cutouts of random recipes, pulled out my Kitchen Aid mixer and heat up the oven. For four days, three hours each day, I created delicious concoctions to be decorated, placed in individual liners and put into tins, gift boxes, trays and bags and give them as gifts to friends, family and co workers.
This tradition started with my grand mother in 1994. Before the tradition inadvertently began, I was in college as a lost 20 year old with no direction in life. I hit a tough spot with my parents and a serious boyfriend at that time. My grandmother suggested that I stay with her for a few weeks to get away from it all. She said she would love the company. My grandmother was widowed, living alone in an large old farmhouse. That few weeks turned into one year, then three years, to eight years and ended up staying 13 years!
It wasn’t just the baking that started this tradition. Those years that I stayed with my grandmother formed an unpredictable yet incredible bond between us. We worked so well with each other with little direction. Towards the end of the 13 years of our adventures together, I spent more time with her than my friends!
Our garden: Every spring, summer and fall, we had our usual process of planting, fertilizing, weeding, tilling and winterizing our garden. After we tended the garden, we catered to our lilies, hostas, hydrangeas, holly hawks and daisies around our home. After we spent hours in the sun hovering over our growing handiwork, we celebrated with an ice cold sun tea on the L shaped porch, relaxing on the antique metal rocking chairs, complimenting our lush landscaping and gardening abilities and how we should be in the “Better Homes & Garden” magazine. Before I moved in with my grandmother, I did not have an ounce of a green thumb in my body.
Doctors’ appointments: My grandmother would write her appointments on this calendar in the kitchen. I would look at it and I start worrying about her driving so I offer to drive her to her appointments. Then it led to me working my schedule around her appointments so I would have the day off or work a different shift to accommodate her. Eventually, we started running errands afterwards, gradually adding lunch dates after them. I had become her primary caretaker and decision maker as well. Before moving in with my grandmother, I was impatient and thought only of myself.
Friends: My grandmother had a lot of friends. She was known within the community; from church, social clubs such as Friendship Circle and Club 47 and also at the hospital, where she volunteered. She would connect with a quick phone call, prepare meals for the shut ins (even cookies) and visit when they were lonely. I got to be part of those conversations when they say, “When I was your age….” I learned a lot about the value of friendships. Some of her friends had their stories on the repeat button. Like the time Sally was walking down her steps to catch her ride that was waiting in her driveway and her way-to-big underwear slipped off down to her ankles and three ladies in the car saw what was happening and they sat there frozen because they were laughing so hard. Poor Sally was trying to be graceful about it. Instead, she kicked them off and they flew into her flower beds and she headed into the car and acted like nothing happened. Yep, that granny went to the club with no underwear on. Or the time that cat lover Diane accidentally shut the trunk of her car on her cat so when she was driving, the cat’s tail was sticking out the back of the car. Cars behind her were honking at her and she kept flipping them off. Don’t worry, the cat survived, even the tail. Before I moved in with my grandmother, I thought old people were boring and quiet.
In 2007, I got married. My husband and I bought a house five miles from my grandmother. The hardest moment was leaving my grandmother to be alone again. Even though I wasn’t living with her, our traditions kept going.
The toughest time was when my husband, who was in the military , got orders to Fort Hood. Even though I was excited about moving out of a small town, I panicked that I wasn’t going to be able to see her at all. I spent my last night in town at her home instead of my house. That was in 2012
Fast forward 5 years later, my grandmother is 93 years old and doing well, now living in a nursing home. My older sister has taken over her care. My grandmother and I chat over the phone or by Skype and we bring up memories of what we did together and we talk about other people; who died, has cancer, sick with a flu or if they haven’t had a bowel movement in a week. There’s always a story about each person that we interacted with.
These traditions are more defined since my daughter is now a part of it and she has formed her own bond with her great grandma.
Traditions create who you are without realizing it; you mold into a better person more each year, just like baking and gardening.