We lost my grandmother this past year to Alzheimer’s. That’s not exactly true. We lost her many years ago to Alzheimer’s, this past year we were finally forced to let her go. Anyone who has dealt with this horrific disease knows without my explanation what a heart-wrenching and long good-bye a family experiences. Our story is similar to so many that I’ve heard and read over the past few years but that does nothing to ease the pain of what we all have shared. There’s a quote that comes to mind that says something about shared love being multiplied and shared sorrow being divided. I’m not so certain that applies in the case of Alzheimer’s.
The number of things I miss about my Nanny increases with each passing day. She was my constant, my biggest fan, and my first exposure to unconditional love. She was yellow grits in the morning, fried bologna sandwiches at lunch, and rice & gravy at supper time. She was a pitcher full of sweet tea in the fridge and a cookie jar that never emptied. She was a pack of Juicy Fruit gum in her pocketbook to keep us quiet during church. She was mud pies and baby dolls. She was an envelope in my college mailbox full of one dollar bills taped together accordion style and a note saying, “Be my sweet girl.” She was red bows at Christmas and homemade birthday cakes with little pink flowers. She was soft and warm and she smelled like Ivory soap.
I grew up in her kitchen. Wearing her bib apron, faded and worn, I followed direction and basked in her attention. For Sunday dinner, my jobs were specific and never really varied much no matter how old I was. Fill the tea glasses with ice. Butter the brown-n-serve rolls. Fix the deviled eggs and stuff the pears with creamed cheese. I can recite that menu in my sleep: fried chicken, rice & gravy, butterbeans with okra, sliced tomatoes in season, corn on the cob, brown-n-serve rolls, deviled eggs, and pears with creamed cheese. Occasionally the butterbeans were replaced with green beans or field peas but the main menu items stayed the same on Sundays. Dessert would vary depending on who was in attendance. If my uncle was home from college, we could count on banana pudding and lemon meringue pie. On these occasions my job also included crushing Nilla wafers for the pie crust and lining the pudding dish with cookies.
In 1991, Nanny decided to write down a few of her recipes for me in a spiral bound notebook. I don’t recall the reasoning for this if any was ever given and around 2005 when I started to notice her memory fading, I started asking her to write down all of the things we had cooked together. I cherish these notebooks and pull them out when I need to feel close to her. The funny thing is, that trying to cook from her notes is next to impossible and I end up laughing at her when I get to the end of a recipe and see a note that says, “add a little milk to the filling”. It’s at this point that I talk out loud to her and ask, “Really Nanny?” I guess I should have paid closer attention when she was here, then maybe I would know what “a little milk” is. Or maybe it’s best this way, some things will never be the same. No matter how many times I try to figure out the correct measurement of “a little,” there is a part of me that hopes I never get it right.