I've started a few blogs lately and haven't been able to finish them. They were more like babbles than well written essays.
I usually write about my kids on their birthdays. Yesterday, my son turned 14. He's awesome. While we were out to dinner we saw a 2-3 year old completely out of control, eating sugar packets while drinking a soda. So I thought maybe I could write a blog about parenting basics- including don't let your toddler eat sugar packets. You know-- that deep insightful stuff.
Last weekend, I celebrated 20 years in financial services by hosting an appreciation event with my clients. It was nice. Looking back over 2 decades, it still makes me laugh at the blatant sexism I faced. And how completely naive I was to think we had passed that some time in the 80s. But interestingly, in 2016, so much is still the same, it's shocking. I always think of Ginger Rogers commenting how she did everything Fred Astaire did, backwards and in heels, but he was the star. Granted things are better, but 20 years better? Not even close. You think stockbroker, you think man. I started a blog on feminism but I don't really have an answer so it seemed like I was bitching. Like an angry, bitter woman. Sigh. That wasn't going to help.
Marriage. That's been interesting as my husband and I approach our 15th and found ourselves completely retooling everything this summer. But that's personal and I chose to not blog about it. Although as my good friend Bill said "That's the shit people need to hear." Maybe one day. Not today.
And my garden. I lost myself intentionally in my garden this year. It had a rough start but found it's soul and I've been busy pickling and canning and getting ready for the fall. There were so many analogies to what was going on in my life to my garden. So many. But it's all pretty raw and I couldn't write about it. Plus, in the southwest, our gardening season isn't done. Maybe when I'm pulling everything out, I'll be able to write about it.
With all these ideas floating in my head, it was interesting that what came to mind tonight, so clearly was my grandmother Viola.
I've written about her once or twice in the past.
She was my grandma on the Italian side. Only she wasn't this big, squishy, lovable woman who smelled of garlic. She was northern Italian. "We aren't all sloppy like that" she would say. We had nothing in common but we had everything in common. In fact, she told me once that the reason we probably didn't get along well is because we were so much alike.
She was the queen of the backhanded compliment -- "You'll age well because you'll look prettier as you get older. You don't have any looks to lose like the other girls and compared to them, you'll be pretty." I like to think she was saying I had a classic look. Or when she told me I was a good mother-- and she meant it. I know this because it was followed by "I'll be honest, I didn't really expect it. I'm surprised." I laughed and said "Me, too."
She warmed up to me in my 20s as I learned to sew. She was a fantastic seamstress. She made so many quilts, clothes, aprons for us over the years. I made her a pillow- two actually. The first one was a disaster but she took a nap on it every day. So I made the second one. She said it was too nice and she didn't want to ruin it. I told her the first one was awful and she didn't have to pretend to like it. She told me "Lori- in all my years of making things for people, you're the first person to ever sew anything for me." (Now to all my aunts' and cousins' credit- because they are all super nice and not at all selfish and awful as this implies and I'm pretty sure they HAD made her things-- my grandmother could be a bit.. um.. critical. I never really cared about what she said, or maybe I was so stupid that it didn't matter, and I gave her my awful, poorly made & designed pillow. ) For the next 10 years, she took her afternoon nap on it.
But the best, most genuine compliment she gave me was one my marinara sauce. She loved it. She wasn't faking it. During her last year, my dad was staying with her during the day. She was my mom's mom and never really liked my dad much. And since I'm like my dad... well... Anyhow, as my dad kept her company, they became quite good friends. To both their surprise. And with my dad spending time with her, because I called my dad every day and he was at her house, I got to talk with her. The year before she and I had started chatting about once a month or so when I had my son. Usually about cooking or gardening or what he was doing (she adored him which was not her norm). She not only was a good cook, she had had an AMAZING garden growing up, so we talked about my tomatoes. It was during one of those calls I told her I had found this fantastic marinara sauce. When I went to visit her- for what we both knew would be our last visit-- she asked me to make the marinara sauce for her. I was surprised- I had forgotten we had talked about it. The recipe was 2000 miles away. I called home thinking there was no way I could explain to my husband where it was. But he found it. He could hear in my voice how important it was.
And around her table, for that last time, I knew I had her respect. Most definitely. She devoured it and told me she liked it better than her own.
Tomorrow my son is having a birthday party with some friends. Every year I make him a chocolate cake (my recipe, not my grandmother's-- okay, honestly, it's the chocolate cake recipe on the Hershey cocoa can) but with my grandmother's crazy good fudge icing. If you like chocolate, this is to die for.
Even though I've made the frosting 100+ times, I still get out the cookbook my grandmother hand wrote for me. Her notes in the margins. Poems she liked intermingled.
And she was there with me. In that stand offish way that was her. In her "My job is to train you, not to coddle you" manner that she had but somehow she still was fun- like how she used to freeze snow every year so we could have snowball fight on her birthday in July. She always tried something new and never seemed to quit learning. She appreciated that I sent her Christmas cookies that WEREN'T her recipes. She would call and ask me about the cookies I had made. She loved my brown sugar pecan sliced cookies.
After spending the last month canning- I had made my clients pickles from the cucumbers in my garden and had canned my marinara sauce for the fall- and cleaning up my garden throughout the week for the fall/cool weather garden- it was grandma that was woven through my entire last year. Our conversations on parenting, on how she had wished she had had the opportunities I had for school, on what a pain in the ass marriage can be but you stick with it, on my garden...
This whole past year which was at times overwhelming and exhausting with so many little things being thrown at me that I actually broke down this summer in tears in the parking lot at my office--all that-- and yet in the midst of the self pity quagmire, I pulled myself together, stood up, brushed myself off and turned it all around. All of it.
And there she had been the whole time. Ingrained somehow in my soul. Cheering me on. Well, not cheering but the voice in my ear essentially telling me to suck it up and put on my big girl pants- life isn't what's in the brochures, but it certainly doesn't suck unless you let it. There's was nothing in my life that wasn't fixable and what an amazing blessing that is. My grandmother wasn't a fan of the pity party.
So when I pulled out the cookbook to double check the recipe, I could see her smile -- the smile she gave me at the table when we shared that last meal. That "You did it. Not bad." No hug, of course, because that would be sloppy. Like the southern Italians. But I could feel her genuine, rare approval.
And everything that I am seemed to come together as the cake baked and I made the frosting. My heritage, my life woven into the core of who I am.
My children, my business, my marriage and my garden are thriving now. They needed time. They needed work. I needed to reevaluate priorities.
And it will be perpetual. And it will not be easy. And there will be obstacles and hurdles.
But I will be fine.
Because I am Viola's granddaughter.