Yesterday the darling-but-not-very-speedy-clerk at my local yarn shop took what seemed like hours winding five skeins of red worsted weight yarn. I spent the first few minutes tapping my foot and pacing, but then I settled into one of my favorite pastimes – full-throttle eavesdropping. It’s one of the benefits of being a middle-aged woman. People will talk about anything right in front of you, thinking either that your hearing must be going or that you have already heard it all anyway.
But as it turns out, my dear yarn winder was in a dither over what to wear in her hair at her upcoming wedding. On skein two, I learned that the colors were red and gold and that the attendants—several of whom were sitting there at the table leafing through bridal magazines—were to find cowboy boots tout de suite. But she wasn’t sure what to wear in her hair—fresh flowers, a tiara with a veil, a fancy clip? One of her friends and soon-to-be-bridesmaids broke in: “Do you have your grandmother’s veil?” Her response was swift and categorical: “I have nothing from my grandmother.”
That hit me like a punch in the gut. Oh sweet girl! Nothing? I mean I don’t have my grandmother’s veil either, but I do have her funeral hat. And her kitchen timer. And a soap dish shaped like a chicken. I have one of her mixing bowls, a box of doilies wrapped in tissue, and her recipe for pecan pie, though I am almost certain she got that recipe from the back of the corn syrup jar.
So I do have all those things—and I have a few treasures from my other grandmother as well—but I have other things, too. I have her outright love of electoral politics. In 1992, I scrounged together enough quarters and dimes to call her from a payphone in Dupont Circle the morning after Bill Clinton was elected. I had been out all night in the streets of DC with the other young idealists, and I just wanted to hear her voice. “Ah honey,” she crowed, “I haven’t slept that well since Roosevelt died.”
I have her crazy inability to make a decision. Just when I think I am close, I start to consider the benefits of the other side. We’re both Geminis. We’re meant to dither.
I can trace my handwriting directly from hers. Hers was tiny and immaculate, but her capitals were three or four times the size of her lower-case letters, and her Ws had a little curl at the top of the right hand bar. She handed that angular writing down to my mother, whose handwriting is slightly bigger but is still mostly composed of sharp corners. It has those epic uppercase letters though. That sensibility came straight down to me. I’ve allowed for a few more curves, but the capitals and the Ws are a testament to DNA.
I suspect my grandmother might have been a bit of a tough customer as a mother. She was lonely and mercurial and expected her daughters to fill the void. She had a stink-eye that was unparalleled in the Western Hemisphere, and she could turn a cold shoulder for days at a time. But that’s the blessing of grandparents. She never—ok, rarely—gave me the stink-eye, and there was always a pot of coffee on. She clipped out gossipy newspaper articles and bought my favorite candy bars for her freezer. She met one of my daughters before she moved on and just missed the other.
No, I didn’t wear my grandmother’s veil to my wedding either. But I treasure my chicken dish, and I still can’t make a decision to save my life. Seeing her handwriting on the back of photo can reduce me to tears, and I wish to good God I had had enough quarters to call her last Tuesday night after the mid-term elections. And this week, I am going to make her pecan pie recipe, and I hope you will, too.
Grandma Edna’s Pecan Pie
3 eggs (beaten)
1 cup sugar
1 cup white karo syrup
1 cup whole pecans
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ cup melted butter
Pour into an unbaked pie shell. Bake 325 degrees. 50 minutes.