Today, my grandma, Dorothy Jane, would have been eighty-four years old.
I decided to honour her birthday by baking her recipe for lemon meringue pie. "I jist git it off the cornstarch box," she told me many years ago, but I had the presence of mind at the time to copy it right then and there. I'm so glad I did. She was such a good cook, but we have only a handful of her recipes. Her habit of keeping those recipes filed in a mental recipe box meant that when she began to lose her memory, they went too.
The sunshine blazed out today in a blue sky here, on St George's Day. It's telling of my Anglicisation that one of the ways I remember Grandma's birthdate is that it is the same as this most English of unofficial holidays! A fresh cold breeze reminded me that I'm in still in Blake's "green and pleasant land" and not some milder climate.
Our grandparents' days, celebrated on their birthdays, are a chance for us to celebrate their lives and write down our memories of them. This is important for the kids, who barely remember them, but also for Dan and I. Today I remembered one of my phone conversations with my grandma in her final years. She was very confused at that point but she still knew who I was. In a moment of unusually wistful clarity she was able to express to me that she was proud of me for travelling out of the country of my birth, and being brave enough to do that. She had always wanted to do have adventures, but in her words, she was too afraid.
My memory of this conversation should probably be shaded with sadness for her, but it isn't. She had a full, busy life in Indiana. Her days were crowded with food preparation, farming tasks, friends and family, card games, watching her favourite TV shows, ladies' club meetings, thrift store shopping, and grandchildren.
Instead it just reminds me that every time I take a wobbly step of uncertainty towards some goal of mine that appears doomed to fail, I am choosing not to be afraid, and I know she would be proud of me.
Today my step was simply making lemon meringue pie for the first time, ever. In spite of all my baking and kitchen creations over the last twenty years, I've never made lemon meringue pie. The recipe's exorbitant amount of sugar nearly deterred me at first, but I soldiered on!
It was good. Six other people told me so. Maybe it was the sugar.
But best of all was just thinking about Grandma, and how glad she'd be to know I've followed in her footsteps and love baking for my family.
Celebrating a life isn't necessarily about having a prestigious funeral or an elaborate burial plot. It's about remembering and honouring that loved one in simple ways, and that's what we did for Grandma today.