Jeffersonville — Last week, my extended family was fortunate enough to share another Thanksgiving meal prepared (mostly) by our grandmother.
The cream corn was hers. The chicken and dumplings were hers as well. Other dishes — appetizers made by my cousin, a turkey deep-fried by my uncle, a dessert baked by me — were not from her kitchen, but were all inspired by my grandmother. I’m sure every member of my family would agree that she gets full credit for any food preparation savvy we have accumulated in our lifetimes.
Two months ago, I lost a grandmother who I will think of every time I pass a Catholic Church steeple or see an avocado-colored appliance. I wrote a column in her honor, praising the values she passed on. This Thanksgiving, it occurred to me that I waited too long to write that column. Of all the people I would have wanted to read it, she was at the top of the list.
You live, you learn.
The grandmother who made the cream corn for Thanksgiving this year — cream corn that tastes so good my daughter calls it “magical” — is 94 years old. She is the mother of six children, grandmother of 19 and great-grandmother of 15. She plays cards more nights than I cook dinner. She volunteers at our local hospital. And, right now, probably as I am writing this column, is sewing miniature aprons for her great granddaughters.
In my lifetime, she made both of my prom dresses and a wedding veil that was lined with beautiful, hand-sewn silk roses to match my dress. I still have the quilt she and her mother made for me when I graduated from high school. My daughter’s bed is covered with a quilt she put together not so long ago.
On Sunday afternoons, you will find a majority of my family around her kitchen table (and the smaller table in the sun room) savoring her fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy. Some Sundays we get lasagna. Other Sundays, it is roast beef. We always have dessert and every meal begins with her announcement, “God bless everyone.”
Whenever she says this blessing, I think, “… but, mostly you,”
My grandmother has survived many things in her life that I can’t begin — or want — to imagine. The death of my father, her firstborn son, is the most obvious hardship.
How do you survive the loss of a child?
My grandmother did. And, in doing so, taught me that life not only goes on when you want it to stop, but can eventually be happy again even after unbearable sadness.
This year, one of my many cousins was married at the same church where my grandmother attends 8 a.m. mass most every Sunday. The females in my family had gathered before the wedding to help the bride get ready in the final minutes before the ceremony. There was a moment when the bride’s sister was fixing her hair, the mother of the bride was taking pictures and my grandmother was watching and laughing in joy with all the buzzing going on around her.
Her smile lit me up like my own children’s laughter.
This woman, I thought. This woman who has lived nearly a century, and has experienced so much. The happiness that emanated from her that day made everything right for me.
In that one moment of joy, she gave me the knowledge that happiness is always available to us. It sounds simple enough, but is easy to forget amidst the details of these lives we are trying to assemble.
In her 94 years, my grandmother has experienced great loss; not just a son, but the loss that happens when you live a full life. In spite of it all, she has shown me what it means to be resilient. To be resourceful. To understand the true value of family and the importance of love.
Unfortunately, I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be the cook she is or be able to sew the masterpieces she has created. But the things she has given me are immeasurable.
Because of her, I know my roots are deep and bountiful.
Because of her, I know that whatever obstacles should come, there will be a time that I can laugh again.
Because of you, Grandma Teddy, I have much thanks to give.
Amy Gesenhues is a columnist for the News and Tribune in Jeffersonville, Ind. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org