If I plumb the fault lines of memory, tune into the timbre of remembered conversations, I can still hear Grandma P’s folksy Midwestern voice: “Well, sho’ enough!” she might say, or “Bless your heart,” or “Isn’t that jest the cutest thing?” She often made emphatic dinner-table pronouncements, most of which I’ve happily forgotten, but the one that sticks in my hard drive is “A good meal is sho’ly as much a work of art as a fine painting.”
Even at a young age, before ever studying art history, I recognized that as utter bull.
But the worst part about Grandma P wasn’t her country-girl aphorisms and treacly asides, it was the air of woundedness she carried at all times. She’d had a hard life, raising two boys after her husband died when they were teenagers, managing a farm until she finally gave that up to become a housemother in the girls’ dormitory at Colorado Women’s College. Though I know my dad and Uncle Rex sent her money, she never let us forget that she lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and seemed always hard up for “the little luxuries.” (When I was older, my mother told me about her visit the first Christmas of their married life, when my dad came home from a new job, flush with pride at his holiday bonus. “That should be mine,” she announced. “I’m the one that raised you!”)
But the constant reminders of her sorry plight never rankled as much as her attempts to ingratiate herself with my brother and me by making odious comparisons with our cousins—Sharen, Judy, and Jimmy. They were the “sweetest little angels.” They went to Bible school in the summer. They had the nicest manners you could imagine, “bless their hearts.” She had earmarked several pieces of crappy-looking furniture for them in her will (she showed us photos), but would save something for us, it was strongly intimated, if only we would show her the love and deference our cousins reserved for her.
No way. On top of all else, she sent lousy gifts. I was no great arbiter of style at seven or eight, but even then I knew a cheesy-looking patent-leather purse that probably came from Woolworth’s. One year, she sent my brother, then a teenager, two crisp dollar bills. Honing a nascent gift for sarcasm, he politely wrote to her: “Thank you, Grandma. I am using it for a down payment on a leather-bound Bible.”
My mother was the soul of patience with her, but I can recall the fleeting smile of triumph that crossed her face one summer, after my father had capsized a little sailboat with her on board. They returned to our rented cottage drenched to the bone, and I have never seen the phrase “madder than a wet hen” more vividly illustrated.
I tried to follow my mother’s example, allowing the inanities to go unremarked. But the last year of Grandma P’s life, when she was visiting after my parents had moved to Manhattan, I did finally lose it at the grocery store. We were in line at Gristede’s, a market probably very different from the ones she knew in Denver, and the customer ahead of us was buying foods foreign to her—I remember an avocado, a tin of smoked oysters, a jar of artichoke hearts.
“Look at that food!” she stage-whispered. “He must be Jewish!”
I reeled on her and said, “Granny, just please shut the hell up!”
I doubt she had the nerve to tell my mother, but I am sure she nursed that bit of insubordination to the grave. She left me nothing in her will.
Still a person isn’t all bad, as Grandma P might say, and every year during my childhood she sent us boxes of beautifully wrapped divinity fudge and crisp lacy oatmeal cookies. I would probably gag now on the fudge, dense with walnuts, glossy with corn syrup, so sweet your molars ached, but I’ve made a variation on those cookies for years since. They are also great dipped in a little melted chocolate. “Sho’ enough!”
½ cup butter
¾ cup white sugar
1 egg beaten
1 cup quick-cooking oats
3 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking powder
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or foil sprayed with nonstick spray.
- Melt butter in a microwave-safe bowl in a microwave. Add sugar and stir to combine. Add beaten egg and mix well. Stir in oats, flour, vanilla extract, salt, and baking powder.
- Drop half-teaspoonfuls of dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Leave about three inches between cookies because they spread out.
- Bake in the preheated oven until edges are golden brown, about 8 minutes. Let cool before removing cookies from parchment or foil.
Note 1: Be sure cookie “blobs” are about three inches apart. These spread and become amazingly thin.
Note 2: I tried both parchment and foil. Cookies are easier to remove from parchment, but foil offers a darker crisper texture.