First, my grandma is a great cook. She’s made several tons of comfort food throughout her life, feeding anyone who would eat. Even feeding me when I didn’t want or need to eat. It’s her way of showing people they’re loved. It can be a little frustrating, especially if you’re round like me, but it’s also really lovely. There’s nothing like a good bowl of homemade clam chowder with real cream and butter and a freshly baked loaf of bread to make you feel like someone cares. Even though she’s good at making just about anything, my grandma is actually famous for her dill pickles. I call them “poignant pickles” because they're a mixture of so many things.
She gives a jar to random strangers when she feels like it and of course always shares with her family. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, “I ate that entire quart jar of pickles in one sitting, they were excellent.” or “Can you get me some more of those pickles.” Our family attorney has even settled the bill in pickles... they have to be good right?
I’m not going to share the recipe here even though my grandma would say it wouldn’t make any difference. She says her pickles are special because of the water she uses. It’s well water from the place her and my grandpa built together in 1967. She still lives there and swears that the well water is full of the right combination of minerals which in turn affects the flavor and crispness of the pickles. She’s shared the recipe with others and they never have the same result, so she could be right about the water. However, I prefer to think my grandma’s secret ingredient is a little magic. She puts a lot of love into everything she makes and I think that's what makes the pickles so special.
My grandma is also a little quirky. Sometimes... a LOT quirky, okay? She’s scared to death that I will quit my job to be a full time artist because the job means security. But my grandma risked everything in the early 1960’s to start her own beauty salon. In fact, she had a successful business for 43 years and finally retired when she was 78 years old. She also encouraged my grandpa to take risks. Before video rental was the norm, she suggested they think about starting a video store. He declined. She also suggested he buy a truck and do water-hauling for outlying communities operating cisterns, this would have also been a very good business in our area. But, he declined. Here’s the paradox: my grandpa never took a risk but always encouraged me to do what made me happy no matter what it was, even art. My grandma always took risks and doesn’t want me to leave my steady paycheck. Now you know why I’m confused most of the time.
My grandma also uses quirky turns of phrase. Anytime we were considering adopting a new dog or cat, she would say we should check the “pond” not the pound. I’m honestly not sure where that came from, probably just pronunciation, but it makes me laugh every time I hear it. When we’d watch the news together about someone who committed a crime and was getting probation, she would refer to it as “prohibition”. “He’ll probably only get prohibition...”, she would say. Also not sure where that came from, but hilarious. It’s the little things that people do that make you love them.
And finally, my grandma loves the birds. She’s an honest to goodness “mother nature” figure even though she still wears bright pink lip stick and dyes her hair platinum blonde. She’s in her 80‘s now. Like me, she loves to plant things, to dig in the dirt and sit in the yard and watch the birds. This connection or similarity I have to her was something I didn’t fully appreciate until the last year or so. It’s because of her that I love these things as well. Don’t get me wrong, my grandma can be “scary hell on wheels” and stubborn as a goat, but she can also be gentle and kind and full of heart. I’ve watched her nurse kittens with eyedroppers and hold broken birds tenderly in her hands. She looks at flowers like she can actually see God in them. And she can grow nearly anything. And even though she fought with my grandpa over almost everything, she loved him with all her heart. And he loved her back.
Some time after he passed, we were talking about her “ladies”, her friends and customers from the beauty shop. She said a lot of them were on the look out for boyfriends at the senior center. First of all, they were all ages 70 and above and I thought this was adorable. In fact, I thought “maybe there’s hope for me yet!” But I wondered if she was trying to covertly ask permission to date maybe thinking it would offend her daughters or grandchildren. I told her that if she wanted to find a companion that it was her business and that no one should hold that against her. That I wouldn’t hold it against her. It was only natural and she deserved to be happy. She said something that I will never forget. “Why would I want a boyfriend? I had my love. That’s all I need.” Yes, grandma, it turns out, that’s something else I got from you.