“Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present and future. We make discoveries about ourselves.”
-Gail Lumet Buckley The Hornes: An American Family
The kitchen, swathed in sunlight, warm from the sunshine hitting the window and the oven heating the room, smelled like peanut butter and laughter. I stood on the metal stool, hovering over the table, so excited was I that I could hardly keep my footing. With all my effort I tried desperately to make the perfect criss-crosses on the little balls of peanut butter dough. Dip fork in flour. Press tines into the ball. Not too hard. You don’t want to go clear through. Repeat, moving your fork 90 degrees to create a checkerboard effect. Somehow, I never got the right amount of flour on my fork and the dough would stick, leaving me in the quandary of what to do. Should I eat the dough or try again? Then, she with her white hair, paisley polyester blouse and cotton apron, would turn her back to me and hurriedly, I’d scoop the dough on to my fingers and lick the evidence away. She’d turn back around with a glint in her eye and say, ‘Now, Brandy, you’re not eating the dough are you?’ Then she’d smile and scoop a spoonful of dough for each of us and declare that eating the dough was, indeed the best part of making cookies.
My great grandma Morris loved to cook. And bake. And garden. And pray. She loved to share her life with people around her. And I’m pretty sure I was her favorite of all her grandkids. At least, she made me believe I was.
Every time I went to her little white shingled home, she’d teach me something new. We spent countless hours in her kitchen, baking and experimenting with recipes. She taught me how to dry herbs and flowers in her cellar and we picked apricots and peaches from trees in her yard. She’d then use those fruits to make the best jams ever; tart and sweet, they tasted like summer. She would also let me take a bath in her clawfoot tub, the water up as high as it could go, thick with bubbles. I’d sit, chin-deep in there, pretending to be a famous actress or a queen who’s attendants were on the other side of the door, waiting to serve me. And there I would stay until the water grew too cold, or I had to go back to my grandma and grandpa’s house.
All this is to say, the time I spent with my great grandma helped to shape me into the woman I am today. And the time she spent with her grandparents shaped her. And so it goes.
For all the time I spent in her kitchen, you’d think I would be a great cook, or at least like to cook. But, no. Cooking with her was something special. On my own, it’s just a chore. What she did leave me was an example of a woman who exuded grace and beauty. She became a widow at the age of 40, having seen her two daughters marry and start families of their own, but was still raising her own 13 year old son. She lost her father the same year that her husband died. As her mother’s health failed, she cared for her, as well. She didn’t live an extraordinary life. In fact, her story is much like so many others but the lessons she learned, the joys and sorrows she experienced, she passed on to future generations. And I, likewise, am passing them on to my own daughter.
It’s important to look at where we came from, to know our history as much as we can. For some, this is a search that may never be fully realized, but it’s not just about the family we were born from. It’s about the family that spoke into our lives, helping us form our world views and how we understand and relate to one another. It’s about the people who poured into us what they had – both the good and the bad. It all shapes us.
I have loved digging in to my own family tree and learning what my ancestors experienced. From emigrating from Norway, to crossing the Oregon Trail, to surviving the Great Depression and fighting in several wars, I have a family story that may not be very uncommon, but the way they handled those times is the legacy they’ve left me and my children.
History is rich with stories. I wish I could hear them all. As I go on, I will continue to share my own family’s stories. If you have a family story you’d like to share and are willing to let me publish it, please e-mail me and let me know!
Let’s keep the legacy alive and celebrate our very rich heritage!