Do you have a taste or smell that brings a memory so clearly into your mind that you can see it, taste it, feel it, live it? I do. Every time I eat a black raspberry I literally taste my grandma’s pies. I taste the crust. I smell baking in her kitchen. I can see the details of what the kitchen looks like. And I get this overwhelming sense of home.
This has been a special week here in Potsdam. My grandma has been visiting us from Wisconsin. Its the first time she has come here to see where we live. Let me tell you a little bit about her (and me).
I was born in rural northern Wisconsin. My family are, now, 4th generation dairy farmers. We have farms in the family that have been in the family for over 100 years. I was 8 when we moved away from Wisconsin and began what was to be a larger move to CT. But those 8 years shaped me in many ways. And Grandma did too.
Dairy farming requires a special kind of commitment. The cows don’t care if it is Monday or Sunday. They don’t know December 23 from December 25. You work everyday. You work when you are sick. You work when it rains. You work when it is -20 or 110. You do what needs to be done. When we have a wedding in the family the ceremony and reception are planned around milking time.
I love the farm. And when I went back to visit after moving away I would still get up with my uncles to milk in the morning. Then some breakfast. Then “chores”. Clean the barn. Feed the cows. The reward was a ride in the tractor to spread manure. If you worked hard the uncles would give you a cheese stick (it is a dairy farm after all) and a pop (they got beer, I got that too when I was older ;)) When I was in graduate school we would go out to “the farm” every year for Thanksgiving. I would get up to help with chores even then. My uncles were mystified. Why would I get up early when I was on vacation to feed cows and clean shit out of the barn? I tried to tell them, but I don’t think they understood. It kept me grounded and reminded me that hard physical work is honorable and important. It made me feel like I was home. (They are very pragmatic. If you have a chance to sleep in, you take it. Hence the amazement.)
But this post is about Grandma.
During those trips to the farm my relationship with my grandma changed. I found myself cooking for her. Holy crap. Seriously? She was first asking me for advice on how to cook turkeys. Then I was cooking the turkeys. Then I was cooking the entire visit. Those times are very special. We spent time talking in the kitchen while cooking. We became adult friends.
Grandma is an amazing woman. It would be easy to say she is simple. She is at heart a farmer’s wife. She doesn’t travel a lot. She doesn’t own a computer (though I think I have her convinced that an e-reader would be a good idea for her.) She is a smidge conservative for my tastes. But she is a strong strong woman. About 15 years ago my Grandpa started to show signs of Alzheimer’s. Grandma took care of him. She took care of him as long as she could. I was there the day he went to the nursing home. It was the day after we buried my favorite aunt who died from cancer. It tore Grandma up. It tore us all up. Grandma felt like she failed. But she didn’t. She visited my grandfather everyday in the nursing home. When he passed she blossomed again. They would have been married 67 years this year. We still talk about the weekend that Cindy died and Grandpa went into the nursing home. Those memories now bring joy and sorrow.
Not convinced yet? Two years ago, at the young age of 88, she underwent open heart surgery to replace a valve.
This week she traveled out to visit us. She amazes me.
Grandma is getting older. She has her fair share of medical issues. She has slowed down a little bit. I am not sure when or if I will see her again, and that makes me sad.
I miss her. I wish I was closer to her so that I could visit her more often. I wish that I was closer so that I could help take care of her, and cook for her.
A lot of who I am today is because of her.
(PS. Enough deepness for one week. Today I am going to Lake Placid for a combo business/pleasure trip, luge related. I am taking my mountain bike. It is raining and muddy. I should have a wet, dirty, cold ride report Monday morning!)