Left to right: Grandma Carolyn and her sisters Pauline and Phyllis
Nobody did the holidays quite like my Grandma Carolyn. On Easter she’d make a coconut bunny cake and decorate her mobile home with rabbits, ducks and colored eggs. On Christmas she was the first to put a tree and stockings up. On Thanksgiving she brought out her best china dishes and cooked for two days straight. I can still smell the turkey and mashed potatoes, all of that wonderful food simmering to the soundtrack of my cousins pounding on the piano in her living room. Her home was small, and yet somehow our whole family managed to squeeze around her table for every major holiday. She worked so hard to give us those cozy, yummy memories. I took it all for granted when I was a little girl; I figured it’s just what grandmas do. Now, looking back, I realize that all of her efforts helped to shape who I am. She is why I connect so much with food, family, and holiday traditions. My Grandma Carolyn is one of the big reasons why I cook.
Carolyn was born and raised near Big Springs, Nebraska. She was the great grandchild of Swedish immigrants who moved to Nebraska in the late 1800’s. Carolyn was a farmer’s daughter; growing up she and her sisters were taught how to can cherries and make noodles from scratch. Perhaps it was Grandma’s simple farm upbringing that taught her to appreciate the importance of a family meal. She took care with every detail, from the carefully styled appetizer plate to the warm rolls fresh from the oven to the opalescent glass butter dish. We chattered and laughed and ate far too much, always asking for seconds and even sometimes thirds. Grandma Carolyn genuinely cared about our experience at the dinner table, and it showed. She must have known that these were the memories we’d long for when we got older, too busy, too bogged down with life. These were the memories we would cherish.
I wish I could have one more holiday with my Grandma Carolyn, one more chance to let her know how much she meant to me. She passed away a few years ago, far too soon. We had always thought she’d live to be over 100 like her mother, my great grandma. The universe had other plans, and we were left wondering how to heal our broken hearts. Losing a matriarch like my grandma leaves a gaping hole in the family structure. Who will host the Thanksgiving dinner? Who will bake the holiday cookies? Who will decorate the house with love and care? We must move on, energized by her spirit, creating new traditions inspired by the memories she gave to us.
Our holiday traditions are part of our identity. They keep us connected to our history from generation to generation. Each year we make new memories and traditions, new branches on our family tree of life. I cherish this cycle; it’s another reason why I cook, and why I share my food writing here. I want those memories for all of you, for your children and your families and your friends. Knowing that my recipes have somehow found their way into your homes, becoming a part of your own family traditions, stirs a peaceful joy deep inside of me.
This year, as the holidays approach, I am feeling grateful for so many things. Thank you all for welcoming me into your kitchens and making me a part of your holiday memories. You are why I cook.