I remember my grandmothers in food. The grandmother I called Gram often had a cook in the kitchen. Holidays were huge affairs at her house, all the best silver, glassware, and china, all the best dishes, all their sons and their wives, and a cotillion of dressed-up grandchildren of all ages, making every effort to be mindful of manners.
These dinners began with cocktails and fresh pink shrimp in the living room. Children took note of candy filled bowls on high buffets and soda bottles for the taking in a walk-in ice box. The candy was not so easy to reach, but hang around long enough beneath the buffet and an uncle would go by and pass them down to you. Hard candies, they were always hard candies. We would have preferred them soft, or say, chocolate, but I suppose if you are going to leave it out like that…. which, of course, struck us as wondrous.
Cocktail hour was followed by the procession into a dining room that seemed to seat thirty, paneled in a deep dark mahogany that had once graced the boardroom of a bank. Between the crystal chandelier and enormous window of leaded glass, prism reflections bounced around the high ceilinged room when the sun was at that ‘certain slant of light.’
Young ones started at the children’s table situated near the window, and over the years, graduated to the long table—which meant that maybe an uncle would pour you a taste of champagne. Food never stopped coming. Grandpa had a buzzer by his feet at his end of the table to summon Susan, the cook, but we all knew that Gram had worked her tail off too. This was how she showed her love. ‘Never enough food for the family’ must have been her motto.
Dessert was multiple choice, as at a restaurant. I don’t know where the Southern influence came from, but there was always a pecan pie at Gram’s table—the richest thing imaginable—served with vanilla ice cream on top. And plates of her homemade cookies passed around with coffee and tea, to top off dessert.
My other grandmother, Nana, was as thin as a rail. One dinner at Gram’s would have lasted her all year. Nana had a funny relationship with food, starting every morning when she would mix assorted cereals to make the perfect combination. “A little bit of Kix, a little bit of corn flakes,” (the emphasis always on “little”), followed by the proclamation, “mmm, this is so good!” It didn’t take much to make Nana happy.
One grandmother couldn’t feed you enough. The other grandmother was watching your weight before you were, but both are remembered through food. While Gram’s silver candy dishes were perpetually polished and filled and on display, Nana, I discovered, kept small tins of confectionary sugar-coated hard candies squirreled away in her little pantry. (What was it about grandmothers and hard candies?). And she never said a word about it over the years as I would sneak in, open the tins, lick off all the sugar, and stick the hard candies back in there again. It didn’t take much to make me happy either.