Reader Vera wants to know if my father’s mother cooked very much considering she grew up in a farm town. The answer is that she did, though she didn’t enjoy it. Or at least that’s what she told us all years later. Cooking just wasn’t one of those things my grandmother Margaret (nicknamed “Mudge” by college friends) every really got excited about. It was just another aspect of keeping a home and raising a family.
My father’s mother had something of a hard knock life. Her mother died when she was 2. Her father remarried when she was young to a woman who didn’t like my grandmother very much (the classic wicked stepmother), so she was passed around from relative to relative for most of her early life. She met my grandfather in college and eloped after their senior year. A few years later her father, who she still loved dearly, died.
By that time her family was growing, and she and my grandfather moved from place to place around the Midwest in search of gainful opportunity. My grandfather worked as an elevator operator at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, then moved the family up to Minneapolis where he was briefly employed by Northwest airlines. In time he took everyone back to west central Indiana so he could join his in-laws in the grain business. Things were going well until he contracted nephritis and died at the age of 39. My grandmother remarried in her 60′s but lost that husband — a wonderful man by the name of Milt — just a couple of years later.
For all those losses and disappointments, or perhaps because of them, she developed a character unlike any I’ve ever known, except possibly in The Buddha. She was elegant, soft-spoken, optimistic and exemplified the virtue I probably admired most: gratitude. Unfailingly interested in others, she was always glad to see you whenever you happened to stop by, and never complained when you didn’t. In fact she never complained about anything. She was an old person whose company you actually sought, for her counsel was always wise and never judgmental or hectoring. She was our matriarch, the general who never gave an order, but who everyone wanted to please.
All I remember of her cooking is applesauce, since it’s the one thing she liked to make. You can’t get very good applesauce in stores she’d often say, anyway not with enough cinnamon in it. She continued to make her special brand even after she moved into an assisted living facility. I can still taste it! But as for cooking and especially baking, she did only as much as was absolutely necessary. “I’ve cooked enough” she liked to say, and having raised two boys mostly alone in a small Indiana town, I believed her.