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Remembering Grandma

My paternal grandmother lived in tidewater (southeastern) Virginia, several hours away, so it’s not like we grew up going over to her house every week. The visits we did have were always fun and there are several things that still immediately bring her to mind. Granddaddy passed away when I was little but we had my grandmother until about 10 years ago, and I miss her. I want to give her a hug and kiss the top of her head (she was a little lady), to hear her genteel accent and sing-songy, “Ooo-oo” when I walked in the kitchen in the morning.

  • Roses. Any time I smell a rose, even at Costco or in a hotel lobby, I am transported back to Grandma’s rose garden that bore what must have been dozens of plants in all different colors. She would cut and arrange them on the dining room table whenever they were blooming. Her Christmas arrangement would contain boxwood, the smell of which also reminds me of her.
  • Squishy white sandwich bread. White bread toasted in a shiny, chrome toaster with real butter was a luxury my parents allowed only at Grandma’s. Most of our visits to her house were in the summertime when aunts and uncles and the ten cousins would gather at Grandma’s house. We’d spend a day at Virginia Beach, and in preparation the night before we’d line an entire counter with slices of white bread and make PB & J sandwiches in assembly-line fashion. Each variation went back into a separate bread bag: type of jelly, type of peanut butter, raisins or no raisins… By the time we had lunch at the beach the next day the bread would be soaked through (and never better).
  • Chinese checkers. We played countless hours of this with Grandma.
  • Little glass bottles of soda, especially orange soda. This isn’t something I see very often now, but I took a glucose test last week and had to drink exactly that. And of course it made me think of Grandma.
  • Coconut cake. I was always impressed that she would have cake on hand *just* for our visit, but I later found out she made them for bridge club or something and the leftovers were what we got. Come to think of it, the cake was wrapped in waxed paper and stored in the freezer, but it was always good and coconut cake still reminds me of Grandma.
  • The smell of a paper mill. Strange, but true. The mill in West Point, VA was close enough to give Urbanna a unique smell on certain days. On other days we got the seashore smell that comes with a tidal area.
  • Scuppernong grapes. Grandma had a grape arbor with this variety, located next to the rose garden. Even though we rarely visited in the fall, the taste of one of these grapes brings me back to childhood. This variety is not common, but Steve and I happened on some at a farm stand in NC when they were ripe. Half of the ones we got went to Mom and Dad and the other half I baked into a pie. (Halve grapes to de-seed, add 1/2 c. sugar, 1 T. lemon juice, 1 t. cinnamon, and 1/2 c. golden raisins, line pie plate with premade pie dough, fill with grapes, top with crumb crust, bake at 375 for 25 minutes. I made up this recipe because the ones I found online were too much work. See The Lazy post above; this recipe would be in the book The Lazy Cook.)
  • Blue crabs. During our summer visits we’d sit all the cousins and aunts and uncles at long tables on the screen porch overlooking the water. Steamed crabs would be piled high on red checkered paper tablecloths. We’d pick crabs for what felt like hours, somehow managing to get full, then we’d roll up the tablecloths with all the shells to throw away. Then the kids would slide down the hill toboggan-style on cardboard boxes and my cousins were known for putting on skits.
  • Three-part dinner rolls. These were served at Thanksgiving, buttery deliciousness (at the opposite end of the spectrum from oyster stuffing). I remember watching them be made: roll 1″ balls of dough and put three in each cup of a muffin tin. Always heard at the end of the meal: “There’s always room for one more roll.” My aunt made copies of Grandma’s recipe collection, but I have yet to figure out which of the “Hot Roll” recipes was The One. (Update: Thanks for the help, Karen! I’ll let you know if they turn out.)

I know it doesn’t take much to make me cry (a trait that may have actually come from her as my dad and aunt are the same way), but when Steve and I were driving near Urbanna on our trip to the beach I was overcome with how much she meant to me and how many memories are associated with her. And my face is streaked again now just thinking about it (so don’t get me started on Grandpa in Oklahoma). It makes me appreciate that I did grow up knowing my grandparents, even though neither set lived nearby, and even though I can no longer hear them chirp on about something funny. I am hopeful that our kid(s) (and our siblings’ kids and our cousins’ kids) will be able to create this kind of memories with their grandparents, regardless of how far away they are.