But each of them lost mothers, too. And both were about my age when it happened. And somehow, some way, they both moved forward with very productive, inspiring lives. That's their legacy. That, and their recipes.
My one grandmother, Eva, was an amazing cook; home-making, a very out-dated word and concept, was a BIG part of her life. Donna Reed had nothing on her. June Cleaver? Forget it! She had given me many of her recipes through the years, things like a cheese kugel that had been brought from Ukraine in the early 1900's by her mother--a recipe that has been in our family for at least 150 years. The recipe is ridiculous--no 21st century health-conscious individual would make it, let alone eat it. I make it about twice a year because the ingredients include things like tubs of sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, a pound of butter, half a dozen eggs, a pound or so of egg noodles...and let's not forget the pile of sugar.... :) It's incredibly rich, not just literally, but metaphorically, too.
When I eat that recipe, I'm eating history. There's a lot of dairy products in the recipe because the village where my Ukrainian family derived from had a dairy farm. Makes sense, doesn't it? This dairy farm was at the root of a great-uncle's candy shop known for divine chocolate and smooth caramels--more dairy-based products. Everytime I take a bite of what could arguably be called a quiche, I'm tasting the very same flavors savored by family members whose names I don't even know--their faces echoed in the features of myself and of course, my grandmother. But my grandmother, Eva, gave me other recipes handed down through the generations. Social rules of engagement permeate my memory...my grandmother was a political strategist, a talent handed down to her from her mother, who came to the United States at the tender age of 16...on her own. Every cheesy bite of kugel reminds me of the sacrifices made, and when I feel like I'm failing in life, all I need to do is make that recipe to remember that everything I've accomplished was something my great-grandmother, even my grandmother, only dreamed of as distant maybes--as those fleeting thoughts we all have: "This will be worth it because one day...." I'm that one day. And so are you. Recipes can connect us with our past, help illuminate our future and ground us in our present. My other grandmother, Mary or "Ma" as I called her, left me very different recipes though....
Ma was a tough Irish lady; her father's family came through Nova Scotia into Maine and ultimately, settled in Boston. Her mother's family came directly into Boston from Ireland. Ma was not exactly a cook but a big part of that was financial--she had to hold down multiple jobs to support her family of four. When do you cook when you work 21 hours a day??? You don't. We do have family recipes like Irish soda bread, but I have no memory of Ma cooking. Christmas turkey was sliced deli meat. Brown bread from a can was one of her favorite sides. Honestly, outside of black coffee, head cheese, and peanut butter cups, I'm not sure what Ma actually ate. She slept in a chair--except in the last few years at the nursing home. It was a habit she formed because she'd come home after her long shifts and just collapse in a living room chair. By the time she woke up, it was time for work again. She had a very hard life so cooking and baking was not at the top of her to-do list. And understandably so. No, Ma's recipes had more to do with ferocity in love and life: "Always carry an umbrella (or a big stick...)." "You don't have to wear pink to be a girl; blue is nice, too." "Walk...everywhere." "Be active in local and state politics to earn your rights as a citizen." "Generosity is from the heart, not from your pocket." "Family first"...and a few other nuggets about men I won't share...she wasn't very fond of them (no offense to my male readers--I'm sure she'd love you...). Every single one of her "recipes" for success in life keep Ma with me each day. Ma believed in meditation; a Catholic, she prayed the Rosary every day. I keep one of her rosaries near me. It reminds me to take time to meditate, find my center...part of which, is Ma.
Sitting here now, the same place both of my grandmothers once occupied, I wonder what "recipes" I'll leave to future generations. I'm (hopefully) a long way from the end, only on the edge of 40, but it is good to be still for a moment and consider my legacy. My legacy is not mine own--it is intertwined with generations upon generations, keeping us all connected through space and time. A young woman a hundred years from now will be writing with her mind via an implant that enhances brain function. She'll only know my face through any remaining pictures that manage to survive whatever the future may bring. I guarantee, without being psychic, that this woman will sit and eat artery-clogging kugel after meditating. She'll be writing about the strong connections she feels to her past, our present. She'll talk about how she hopes to continue the chain of connectors long into her future and into the future of generations she has yet to know. And maybe, just maybe, she'll carry an umbrella, even when it's not raining.... ;)
What will your legacy to the future be? It's a great question to answer. If you have anything you'd like to share about your own connections to the past, let me know!
Until next time, dear readers...and may you connect with the past to ground your present and illuminate your future!