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Soul Food

Casseroles and coffee cake

by Beth E Stanton

My grandmother Edna was a terrible cook. She never really stood a chance. My grandfather tolerated zero spices (or really any flavor, for that matter), so suppers were bland affairs of meat, potatoes and boiled-to-death veg. Somehow, it didn’t matter a bit. Her homely food, devoid of any semblance of sophistication, somehow made it all the more endearing, just like her.

She didn’t have an easy life. As a teen, she became surrogate mum to her baby sister when their mother died of Spanish Flu. She was a war bride, raising a newborn while my grandfather soldiered in Europe. She contracted scarlet fever, which left her blind in one eye, and was diagnosed of multiple sclerosis and cancer. Through hardship and tragedy, she remained lit up with a bright, generous, nurturing spirit.

Edna & John

I’m only blind in one eye

Happiness happened around her dining room table covered with plastic lace tablecloths. Sometimes, it was raucous gatherings of siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins for holidays or a party. Other times, it was intimate one-on-one tea. We’d drink black tea poured from a white china teapot with pink roses, chipped and stained from countless cups. If it were a lucky day, a wedge of cinnamon streusel sour cream coffee cake, either freshly baked or thawed from the freezer, would accompany tea. It was during one of these treasured times that I confided to her my impending engagement prior to the formal announcement. Unsurprised, she gave a sly, knowing smile and said, “Beth, I’m only blind in one eye.”

Edna, John & kids

Her four children lunched on mid-century American convenience fare such as Wonder Bread, Skippy peanut butter, Welch’s grape jelly, and Campbell’s tomato soup. Unconcerned with recipes or measuring, she’d whip up family favorites such as gooey macaroni and cheese with browned crunchy top, sweet-tart cinnamon apple pies, and vinegar bacon German string beans. Despite universal agreement in regards to her lack of gourmet prowess, we are unanimously devoted to these classics of our family culinary lexicon.

Mac & Cheese

Cancer came back in her 80’s and we knew she wouldn’t be with us long. For the first time in decades, the entire family gathered at the annual Memorial Day picnic that May. I’ve always thought that it’s too bad that wonderful memories of loved ones are shared at their funerals. It would be nice if people could hear them while they were on this side of the rose bushes!

The Last Supper 

I requested that each family member email me their favorite Edna memory and compiled them into a book. At the picnic, I presented each person with a copy. Organically, a circle formed and everyone read his or her memory aloud to my grandmother. Behind us, tables overflowed with summer family fare – Dharm’s deviled eggs, Chris’ famous coleslaw, my mom’s pineapple coconut walnut refrigerator cake, Norman’s brownies.

My grandmother was radiant. The entire family, gathered in her honor, sharing their stories, had launched her onto cloud nine. She jokingly called the party “The Last Supper.” It came my turn to read. I had written about casseroles and coffee cake, about fond family food memories that added such rich sweetness to my life.

As I began to speak, my throat tightened and my eyes blinded with tears. Weeping, I couldn’t read any further. My aunt continued where I had left off. My grandmother, standing beside me, put her arm tenderly around my waist. She was the one dying, yet she was comforting me.

“It’s going to be ok,” she whispered softly into my ear.

Beth Stanton

Guest writer: Beth E. Stanton majored in English because it involved the least amount of math. She finds it hilarious that now she is a private pilot and writes stories for aviation magazines about airplanes and technical stuff. Her non-fiction book proposal is almost complete. Beth lives in California with her man Dan and their semi-feral, ungrateful tuxedo cat. Originally from Connecticut, she is obsessed with meatballs and New York style pizza.

Where you find her: Email at bethestanton@gmail.com and on Instagram or Twitter @bethestanton

Soul Food September:

Throughout September, Soulhub is sharing personal stories from Guest Writers including Nutritionalist (Author of Gut Gastronomy, Broth & Amazing Edible Seeds) Vicki Edgson, Soul Food Live every Tuesday with Carey Davies-Munro, Q&A’s with nutritional specialists Sue Camp & Melinda McDougall, podcasts with Nicola Moore, and education about our relationship with food.

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