Grandma, Fireworks, Tapioca and Pies
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
When I was little (and up until the time I moved to Texas and started high school), my grandparents' apartment was the place to be for any holiday. We celebrated Dad's birthday in February. May was a big month -- multiple anniversaries and Mother's Day, and then we gathered to pick buckets of peonies for placing on family graves on Memorial Day. We had a big picnic on July 4th -- which was perfect because the town's fireworks display happened just a couple blocks away. And we celebrated the double birthday in November - grandpa and I shared the same birthday!
At every one of these gatherings, I remember grandma in the kitchen. She was always making something. I'm sure her meals were wonderful, but the deserts are what stand out in my mind. She made birthday cakes - not fancy ones, but really good homemade cakes -- as requested by the honoree. For the July 4th picnic, she must have made a half dozen pies - something for everyone, and usually 2 of each -- coconut meringue, cherry, lemon meringue, and probably some other fruit pie (I had eyes only for the coconut!). And then there was the tapioca pudding - she made the fluffy tapioca with the meringue stirred in lighten the texture. The best part about tapioca is that no holiday was needed - it was an "any day" type of treat.
Aside from sharing my birthday with grandpa, I think my fondest memories are of those July 4th picnics. Hanging out with the extended family - everyone from Omaha, Lincoln, and surrounding small towns came in for the day. We'd play games, talk, and explore the park - waiting for the fireworks to begin. I can't tell you what our main meal might have been - for me, it was all about the fireworks. Apparently my fascination with the fireworks began early - dad loves to tell the story about how a 3 or 4 year-old me ran into the apartment one year yelling, "Grandma! Grandma! There are FLOWERS in the sky!" Hee! I'm equally sure that my fascination with pies and tapioca began early, too.
It's funny how many of the foods we enjoy carry strong memories. I think of my grandparents when I sit under the stars and watch a fireworks show, but I also think of them when I make tapioca or buy a slice of coconut meringue pie. I'm learning to not equate the good memories of my family with eating those foods. I don't want to completely separate the two, but I have worked hard to learn that tapioca is not the same as a hug from grandma (I can access the memory alone when I need that hug.) And I don't have to eat something to appreciate how lucky I was to grow up surrounded by family.
My grandma died today -- I think she was 88. She had 4 kids, 11 grandkids, and I can't begin to guess how many great-grandkids -- but I know there's at least a couple great-greats in there.
I like to think that grandpa has been waiting for her in heaven - he's scoped out a little table with comfy chairs and a good view of their family. About now they should be sitting down to a cup of coffee and a game of Scrabble . . . and a hearty slice of coconut meringue pie.