Our family experienced a death a couple weeks ago. My Grandma Iona passed away. She was the last of a generation for me. When I was born I was lucky enough to have four grandparents and four great grandparents living. I lost one great grandmother before I was one and by the time I was 15 they had all passed away. I have lots of fond memories of my grandparents and great grandparents when I was a little girl. Its too bad that it often takes a death to take us back to those places of our childhood. I remember Great Grandpa Markwardt with his big thumb. He would play games with me as I sat on his lap, and he always gave us silver dollars for our birthday – one for each year. If it was your sibling’s birthday you got one silver dollar. I got my earlobes from Great Grandma Blakewell. They are substantial. She taught me to tat (loopy crochet-like lace) and helped me make a cathedral window quilt pillow top. I had a connection with her. I was a teenager when she passed away and it was a pivital experience for me. It’s her daughter that died last week. They were a lot alike in my mind. I wonder if they thought so.
When I got married, Grandma Iona gave me three gifts that meant the world to me. She knew how much family history meant to me and chose gifts no one else could have given me. One was my Great Grandma Blakewell’s rolling pin. It’s nothing special to look at. In fact it has two different handles on it. But knowing that my great grandma used it made it special to me; a connection to my past, my heritage. The second was a set of chair doilies that my Great Grandma Markwardt made. There is one for the headrest, and one for each arm of the chair. They are embroidered and have pink crocheting around the edge. I have never put them on my furniture – with three boys they wouldn’t really work – but they are a cherished heirloom. Knowing the work that went into them and picturing the same type of doily in her living room makes me feel connected. The third gift was her own recipe for Cream Pie.
Grandma’s Cream Pie has quite a following in our family. Its really a simple recipe, no fancy ingredients, just the kind of things you always have on hand. But it is such a treat! I don’t remember the first time I had it, I just remember it always being at family gatherings. And I remember there was never enough to go around. The grandkids and aunts & uncles would try to sneak out to the dessert table unnoticed to get first dibs. Sometimes the pie would even disappear only to be found under someone’s chair or in the bedroom. I used to wonder why she didn’t just make more, but looking back that was half the fun of the pie – the quest for your piece.
As our family gathered at my parents’ house for the funeral and all the traditions that surround that time, we of course had cream pie. I think my mom made four of them! And still one after another we kids all attempted to sneak more than our share. The next generation (my kids and my nieces and nephews) learned a thing or two that day. Like, you never leave your plate of pie unattended while you get a fork. Nor do you turn your attention in one direction if someone is sitting on the other side of you. It’s just not safe and you are quite likely to lose your pie. I have to think Grandma Iona would have been laughing if she were there. She shared that recipe with me and handed me a family tradition. Something I can and do share with my family.
There also comes a time in your life when you realize your grandparents are human and fallible. They have strengths and shortcomings like the rest of us. My grandma Iona didn’t mince words. You never had to wonder what she was thinking. She told it like she saw it and was very opinionated. Might sound familiar to those who know me. The last time we saw Grandma she said to Oldest Son, “Don’t take this wrong, but you used to be a nice looking gentleman, now you look like a teenager.” The world according to Grandma Iona. She was from the generation where children were to be seen and not heard. She didn’t have much time for nonsense and thought a lot of the things kids do today is nonsense. But she could also kill, pluck and dress a chicken, sew matching outfits for her granddaughters and cook a mean dressing at Thanksgiving. I’d like to think she gave me my ability to adapt, persevere, take the hand I’m dealt and deal with it. She gave me my tell-it-like-it-is nature and a bit of irreverence. I will miss her spunk.
And with her passing comes the end of a generation. My father is now the oldest in the family. And so I reluctantly enter a new season in my life.