I sat on the floor of my grandmother’s kitchen last weekend, surrounded by baking sheets, casserole dishes and serving ware that I had pulled from her cabinets.
I ran my finger across the ribboned edges of my grandmother’s glass oval serving bowl. I wondered: How many times have I seen that dish on her dining room table, usually filled with banana cashew salad? There was also a metal butter dish with glass insert, one that I had passed around the dinner table a thousand times before; some wooden salad tongs that my grandmother used to serve her favorite spinach salad with almonds, mandarin oranges and homemade vinaigrette.
As I sorted through the items, divvying them up between what should be packed away or donated, I tried to take a mental picture so that I might not forget.
The upper cabinets rattled as I opened their doors — measuring cups hung inside, as they always had. How many times had I heard that rattle as my grandmother hurried around her kitchen? Inside other cabinet doors were handwritten notes — measurement conversions, a recipe for a homemade cleaning solution, a list of addresses and phone numbers; the tape holding up the notes had yellowed with time.
As I rummaged through the pantry, I pulled out all the food that was still good, throwing out what was expired. There were things I knew my grandmother would have on hand — she’s always loved green olives, and there were five cans of peanuts I knew she bought to make her chocolate-covered peanuts for Christmas.
I packed the glassware from the buffet, wrapping newspaper around engraved glass cordial glasses — cups that had been passed down from my great-grandmother to my grandmother, and now from her to me. By the time I finished, the ink from the newspaper had rubbed off on my palms, turning my fingers gray; ink had come off on my face, too, as I had been sneezing from all the dust. My back ached from standing on my feet much of the time, bending down to reach into bottom cabinets or standing up high to grasp items stored on high shelves.
After spending six hours packing up my grandmother’s kitchen and dining room, my entire body hurt. It was only after I had packed several boxes in my van and started the 2.5 hour trip home that I realized how much my heart hurt, too.
While we were growing up, we ate at my grandmother’s house every Monday night. We were often there on Sundays after church, too, and for every major holiday. Christmas morning meant brunch around my grandparent’s dining room table. We had to have brunch before any presents could be opened. Birthdays and graduations were all celebrated with a meal at her house. When my husband and I announced our engagement, it was at her dining room table. The last time I saw my grandfather alive outside of a hospital bed, we were sitting at that table to eat.
While my grandmother was a skilled cook, there was nothing I loved more than sitting at her table afterward and visiting.
I thought about these things on the way home, as my 6-year-old son slept in his booster seat in the backseat, and I cried. The floodgates opened, as I realized I would never again sit down at my grandmother’s table for one of her home cooked meals. I grieved for what that meant, and realized too how long it had been since she last cooked anyways.
My 86-year-old grandmother is still living, and I am so very thankful for that.
But, as time goes on, we are learning some of the cruel side effects of aging, too. While she is still here, mentally she’s starting to flicker, almost as if there is a light that’s starting to dim. It was time she moved somewhere she can have more help.
Change is hard.
In my dining room there now stands an antique pie cabinet, one that was in my great-grandmother’s kitchen almost a century ago, then at my grandmother’s home and now mine. And on my table sits the glass-ribboned serving bowl. I have no idea how to make banana cashew salad, and with three young kids, we don’t eat at the dining table often enough. But I want that to change. I want my kids to remember the kind of meals my grandmother used to serve.
It’s just up to me to learn how.
— Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Alabama. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.