Every moment spent with someone we love is precious. But there are also those special and defining moments that stand out from the others. The places where these memories were forged later become sacred reminders and a reason to reflect on love and life.
One of those significant places is my grandma’s kitchen. Her kitchen table was once the hub that the family farm revolved around. It was what met you walking through the front door, and was the central space of the home where my mother and her siblings were raised.
In years past, there was a fierce-eyed matriarch (the perfect complement and companion to the strong-willed patriarch) pacing about her domain. Grandpa and the boys would come in for a break from their work and Grandma would be ready with a hot meal.
It was not an extravagant kitchen. The decor, updated last in the 1980s as I recall, was nothing like those glossy magazine showplaces; it was a functional workspace and guarded by an extraordinary woman…the cooking area virtually off-limits to everyone (including my mom) at one time.
Nevertheless, it was a welcoming and warm place. I remember many good meals, lively conversations, and happy moments around Grandma’s kitchen table.
Spaghetti with Mashed Potatoes
In recent years, I typically planned my visits with the intent to avoid mealtimes. I knew my grandma would never let me leave without at least offering me something to eat, and I wanted her to relax rather than worry about preparing food for me. But I would occasionally stop over before dinner because what bachelor can resist a home cooked meal?
It was one of those occasional times when I stopped in around dinnertime. Grandpa and I were talking at the table. Grandma offered to cook a meal and as soon as she got the answer she was looking for there was no stopping her. Promptly commenced sounds of steaming pots, frying ground beef and clanking spoons, and an aroma of smells that would soon lead to a hearty meal.
That evening, an old standby recipe was served: spaghetti along with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable. Spaghetti and mashed potatoes, strange as it might sound, is an absolutely wonderful amalgamation. Served with Coke, provided as a special treat for us grandchildren.
I know I had seconds and probably even a third portion, in an awareness that this was an experience that might not continue much longer. Perhaps my awareness was due to my consciousness of the frailty of life heightened by the suspicious lumps (swollen lymph nodes on her neck) she showed me that night.
It was, in fact, the last meal my grandma would ever serve me. After that, tests revealed the lymphoma, ushering in a new chapter of chemotherapy and a precipitous decline.
My Opportunity to Serve
Grandma quit cooking while being treated, and; despite eventually winning the battle against cancer, she never did return fully to her former strength. A mix of dementia and Parkinson’s disease began to erode her abilities. Her process memory faded away, making her once nearly-unconscious routines into an impossible task.
It was during this time that I stopped in one day to chat around the table. Before heading out the door, I jokingly made an offer to provide a meal and then quickly added with a smile, “it will need to be spaghetti; that is the only thing I’m good at making…”
“Nobody has brought us spaghetti,” they responded with pleading eyes.
To my surprise, none of the children (who took turns providing meals) had brought them spaghetti. So I decided immediately, then and there, to return the favor of that last spaghetti meal Grandma cooked for me.
A week or two later, I returned with a pack of spaghetti noodles, a pound of hamburger, a jar of chunky tomato sauce and determination to not fail at my mission. It is one thing to cook for yourself in your own kitchen, but quite another thing to cook in your grandma’s kitchen as your grandparents wait in expectation.
There were a few tense moments when Grandma attempted to help. But Grandpa intervened, assuring her that I could handle the task, and ushered her into the other room.
Given a half hour and some ingredients, including my prayers, the meal was ready to serve.
We again ate spaghetti together at Grandma’s kitchen table.
The Strength of My Grandparents
It seems many think of “strength” as the ability to impose one’s will. The brute force of a body builder lifting a heavy weight comes to mind. We might also envision a political movement that sweeps through and brings about dramatic change or at least garners a great amount of attention.
It is easy to believe that you’re strong when young and healthy. It is not easy to be strong when your body and mind decline. Nor is it easy to be strong for those watching the decline of a loved one to be strong. That requires strength of character.
I have great admiration for my grandparents and their strength of character. They worked day in and day out—with a commitment to love that has spanned over sixty years—they raised seven children together, and they did it all without much fanfare.
It has been difficult for me to see this incredible strength of my grandparents put to the test over the past few years. There is no way to prepare. No words of comfort or encouragement sufficient to take away the pall of inevitability. The strong woman we had known, was fading. There was nothing more to be done besides love her as best we could.
Grandma was provided with the best care possible by her loving husband and children. She had given them many years of dedicated service, and they returned the favor with meals, medical care and attending to her needs. Their resolve to repay her love to them mirrored the resolve she had shown in loving them.
Her strength became theirs.
A Loving Goodbye
Friday, three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit my grandparents again. Grandma had been bedfast for weeks and was increasingly unresponsive. But she was awake during my visit and still able to answer “yes” or “no” to my aunt’s questions.
She has not been able to recognize me over the past few months. I wondered what was on her mind as she stared at me. Maybe there was a vague memory of a familiar face?
I held her hand for a few moments hoping she could feel my love in the warmth of my touch and thought later how that hand that had touched and nurtured so many lives, including mine.
Her life was a life well-lived.
A couple of days later, I was again at Grandma’s house. This time she was surrounded by her children, with my grandpa at her side. The dreaded hour had arrived. I wept and prayed for God to take my precious grandma into his loving hands.
The anguished silence was broken when we sang a verse of an old hymn together:
God be with you till we meet again;
By His councils guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you;
God be with you till we meet again.
Till we meet, till we meet,
Till we meet at Jesus’ feet;
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.
As we sang, Grandma took her last breath and entered into eternity. The eighty years of her life remain written in the hearts of those gathered together at that moment as a clear testimony of Christian love.
Grandma’s kitchen was still full of love, but Grandma was now in a better place.
Mildred G. Moyer
Oct 8th, 1935 — March 19, 2017