I’ve lost some relatives within the last year or two, due to advanced age and illness, and as a result, I’ve been reflecting on family and those things that you just can’t get back with the death of a loved one.
What things am I talking about? Well, there are the obvious answers–conversations, a warm embrace, holidays. But, when I think about what stands out, I find myself often coming back to food.
Before you think, “Is she crazy?”, let me explain. My great aunt Mary was an incredible cook. She and her daughter could make a Christmas Eve dinner that would dazzle anyone–there would be homemade pies, potato salad, oyster dressing, the traditional meats like ham or turkey, cranberry sauce, bread and rolls. And all of it was from scratch.
Now that she is gone, I might have the recipe for her potato salad, but it never quite tastes the same because I didn’t stand beside her to learn her tricks and secrets. I helped her and her daughter Connie to make bread, but I was too young and foolish to really take it in. I have the recipe for their sugar cookies, but I don’t know the ins and outs that made her cookies better than everyone else’s who tried the recipe.
Connie is now gravely sick, too, and I wonder whether her melts-in-your-mouth egg bread will leave with her. My grandmother (Nanny) is still living, but her health isn’t what it was when she was younger. She makes the BEST pie crust you will ever taste, and she makes it from memory. Now that I live across the state, it’s not so easy to shadow her while she makes her pies.
I think of my parents, who are both incredibly talented. My father does woodcarving, my mother does tole painting, and both are avid photographers. My father is an expert when it comes to construction–he can build furniture, repair what is broken in a home, reconstruct a room, even build houses and additions to them. My mother is a champion bargain huntress. I am the reigning princess of clearance sales and thrift shops, and she is the queen. I am learning photography, but I don’t possess the same skills and talents that they have for wood crafts. I don’t have my father’s building skills. I have learned to try to make the most of what I spend from my mother (I need to work harder on that, though.) That will be their legacy, much like Aunt Mary’s is her cooking.
When I step back and look at what I will remember, many of them herald back to what most people would refer to as traditional skills–those relating to self-sufficiency and homesteading–what is more symbolic of self-sufficiency than making homemade bread or building a dresser?
And in realizing what I am valuing in my elders as we all grow older, I find that I want my legacy to my children to be an appreciation for these skills–skills I am only now learning (and often failing) at acquiring. I want my children to be able to follow my example and learn these arts from an early age. I want them to see that it is okay to try and fail, to be a bit intimidated, to learn and grow and value hard work. I want my legacy to be self-sufficiency, and I want my little ones to have an example to follow now so it becomes habit for them, and that they won’t someday say when I am gone, “Remember when Mom made such and such? I wish she had taught me how.” I want self-sufficiency to be part of their cherished memories.
(Helping Mommy peel apples to make and can applesauce.)
I’m still learning and stumbling. I want to learn to make homemade bread. It’s a challenge, and the few times I have tried, even with help, I’ve ended up with little better than bricks. But, in order to ease into it, I’m leaning how to use our bread machine. And while the results aren’t pretty, every step along the way is part of the growing legacy I will leave to my children.
(It ain’t pretty, but it’s a start.)