I’m in my kitchen this morning, bustling around, preparing food for an afternoon picnic to celebrate the August birthdays in our family. A granddaughter, a brother, a daughter-in-law and two nieces have dates circled on the calendar this month. And there is one more birthday to remember. My mother-in-law. Helen would have been eighty-eight years old today, had that blasted aneurysm not wrenched her from her beloved Gold Bar home and us over twenty years ago. My kids and I talk so often of how much she would have loved to meet and enjoy her great-grandchildren. She was the grandma who always had a full cookie jar and a pitcher of Kool Aid on a hot summer day. The tire swing, the barn, May Creek cutting through her pasture… So many wonderful memories! It’s no wonder she is on my mind on this warm August morning. I open my cookbook, and she is there, favorite recipes shared with me around her table in her cozy kitchen when I was just a young bride. Her mom’s hot cross buns, her own favorite yeast bread, not to mention Maple Bars… (Oh my yummm), so I find myself taking a break from my task to spend a little time with her.
She grew up in the tiny mountain town of Index, on the banks of the Skykomish River, the youngest of four kids. She loved her hometown so much, and I loved to listen to her stories of going to the Bush House and school picnics at Garland Hot Springs. Her mom, affectionately called, River Grandma, lived almost her entire life in the family home. On the Fourth of July everyone gathered there for potato salad and fried chicken, while we watched the best small town parade march along the street in front of her house.
Easter was celebrated at Helen’s Nugget Ranch. She prayed for sunny weather, planned for rain and expected her whole big extended family to join her for reunion, renewal and the welcoming of Spring. What a pot luck, smorgasbord feast was laid out, everyone contributing their favorite dishes and Helen arranging it on every level surface.
A woman’s kitchen will tell her life story if you take the time to listen; and no kitchen was more anxious to share than my mother-in-law’s. Coming in from the back porch, you were met with strong, black coffee perked on the stove and a cheery, “Hello there!” Sitting at the table she filled you with fresh cookies and news of the valley, and while the conversation buzzed, the kitchen quietly reminded us of family. Pictures of grandkids held on the fridge with ‘I love grandma’ magnates. A teenaged Doug in basketball action framed on the wall. The cookie jar Nancy hand painted for her mom on the counter, and of course pictures of Index pinned around the door jamb. Keeping these memories tucked in my heart, knowing I am adding my own that my kids and grands will one day cherish, brings a smile to my face. I celebrate the past and the lessons learned, and I feel sweet anticipation for the days to come. Today, no longer a young bride, but a grandma, (now older than Helen was when we lost her), I feel her presence with me. I thank her for the lovely visit as I get back to the job at hand, my contribution to the August birthday picnic. Oven fried chicken… coming up!
Peace. Love. Amen.