Thinking of Granny

When my cell phone rang while I was in the office and I saw the familiar area code and unfamiliar number I figured something was wrong. After answering it and hearing my mother's voice I was pretty sure that something was wrong. I was right. My grandmother has had another stroke. She's unconscious and they don't expect her to wake up this time. The family is gathering. I'm not on a plane or in an airport right now because they don't know how long she'll stay. It could be days, even a week. So I'm staying here, trying to be normal while on high alert and waiting for the phone to ring. Pretending that everything is normal.

I've looked into flights. I've looked into car rentals. Lee and I have already discussed that I'll be going home alone this time because we're already booked to go home at the end of the month and my work schedules are much more flexible than his. I was looking forward on this trip to visiting my grandmother at her nursing home. I've been told that since she had her strokes last year she's started swearing like a sailor. My grandmother never, ever swore and it was amusing to everyone. I'm glad that Lee got to meet her on my last trip home. (At the end of that visit she still tucked a $20 in my hand.) But all there is for me to do is sit here and pretend that every thing is normal. And so I think.

When I think of my grandmother I think of her in the kitchen of the house she lived in until I was in my early teens. It's been close to twenty years since she's really lived there but it's where I remember her, even though we briefly shared a bedroom when she moved in with us after my grandfather died. The kitchen was the first room in her house you walked into. It was large and really had three different areas. There was a sitting area by the bay window where she could watch people drive by. She knew almost everyone who did drive by, many who waved or honked at the house because they knew she and my grandfather would be there. There was the cooking area with both a regular stove and wood stove that helped heat the house in the winter. And there was the dining area with the large formica table where you could easily sit eight people, or 10-12 if people were willing to squish. You couldn't see the sitting area from the dining area.

I spent a lot of time in that kitchen as a kid. I'd often stay with my grandparents during the day during the summer. I particularly remember being there during pickle making season. My grandfather made dills, which really only he and I ate. Together they made mustard pickles and occasionally bread and butter pickles.

I remember her making biscuits. She kept hers in one of those tall Tupperware containers on the counter. There were biscuits at every meal. Sometimes she'd take leftover roast meat and chicken and make a pot pie out of it, topping it with biscuit dough. Her meals were simple and homey.

She was always feeding people. A number of family members worked at a local fish plant and she'd cook a full meal for their lunch - meat, potatoes, biscuits and pickles. Sometimes she'd even have pie. She could hear the foghorn that indicated the break work breaks from her house and when it went off at lunch she knew she had five minutes to get the food on the table. The table would be set and people would file in, eat in a rush and run back out to get back before the final foghorn. She'd be left with a mess of dishes to clean up.

During the right season I'd find leaf lettuce from her garden in a bowl of cold water in her refrigerator. It would be shaken and dried a bit before being put in a bowl with a pinch of sugar and a splash of white vinegar. I don't see lettuce like that here so it's been years since I've had it. She almost always used to send me home with some.

Almost every Saturday night my mom and step-father went there and played cards. We almost always ate dinner there, again my grandmother's simple but delicious meals. Almost every meal I had at grandparents contained one thing - sliced cucumbers in a bowl of icy cold white vinegar. I guess you could call them table pickles. I was always a bit of a cucumber fiend and could eat the whole bowl by myself if anyone would let me (they didn't).

I still do this sometimes. Lee doesn't really care for cucumbers this way but it's homey to me. Tonight when I sit down to a dinner of steak and asparagus I'll put a dish of cucumbers in vinegar on the table. Lee might not eat any, I've gotten used to eating the whole dish myself -- just like I always to do as a kid. I'll think of her in her kitchen and try to imagine her swearing like a sailor.