Last night was odd. Good, but odd.
We had a late birthday dinner for me, because the reality was a) not all of us could get together on Tuesday for my birthday, and b) neither my sister nor I were really up to making much for dinner on Tuesday.
She made sauerbraten and spaetzle, with a gingersnap gravy. And Grandma Rose’s raisin spice cake. What you have to understand is that these things, and a few other recipes are some items that are essentially what my mom calls “soul food” (it’s not meant to be any slur against African-Americans, it’s “soul food” because not only does it nourish the body, but it nourishes the soul as well. And, if you think about it, that’s the meaning of why African-American food is often considered “soul food” because it is family food cooked with love, and memories of family and love).
And I found out why when my ex-wife made the spice cake it didn’t turn out anything like Grandma’s. Turns out, Grandma rarely if ever used real buttermilk. Whether it is because she lived through the Depression, or simply because she was a single mom through the 50s and 60s, she knew how to get around not buying real buttermilk.
Basically it comes down to 2 cups of milk and 2 tablespoons of vinegar – and you have to let it sit for a while to “cook.” Emeril at the Food Network has a buttermilk recipe similar to Grandma’s.
So, this time, the spice cake was exactly as I remembered it (even if we all put whipped cream on it – something we never really did).
And, we talked about random things – including my therapy sessions, my relationship with my parents (talking with my parents actually), and strangely enough, my brother Alvin’s funeral.
Maybe it was the food igniting memories.
But, as hard as I have struggled in many different ways – emotionally, physically and mentally – it really does all come down to this. No matter what, each of us in the family loves each and every one else in the family. And we’re fiercely loyal, and fiercely supportive of each other.
It’s THAT kind of thing, that bone-deep understanding that I am loved, that place that Maya Angelou said is: “where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” – that basic underlying subconscious knowledge that has always been at the core of my ability to survive.
My ex-husband would call me a mutant because there are so many things in my life that are just a basic understanding of human love and human motivation that were just a normal part of my childhood. The simple fact that I can look at someone I love, and STILL love them – but refuse to have anything to do with their behavior – was completely outside of his understanding of the world.
I’m strong and independent, because the women in my family were. Oh, yes, there are things about my mother’s personality that I consider to be weak, but the reality is she (like my grandmothers on both sides, and many of the other women on both sides of the family) has never quit or surrendered to life.
As I said above, Grandma (seen to the right) lost her husband to cancer in 1947, when my father was 5 years old. Having already lived through both world wars (she was born in 1910) and the Depression, as well as truly being a “Rosie the Riveter” in WWII (slinging airplane engines) , being a single mother was just ANOTHER thing to be. There was no quit in the woman. She got very bitter eventually, which is something I hope I won’t become (since I’m pretty much a twin of her in both looks and personality) but she never quit until the very last day of her life. Even in that last year, as my sister was getting married, she kept bulling right on through life. She was in a lot of pain due to lower GI issues that eventually lead to her death, but she kept on.
Grandma Maggie (seen above, with Grandpa Floyd – approximately 1956) was also a strong woman, although perhaps more on the codependent side than on a truly independent side. She had 9 kids, and an alcoholic husband. That’s not exactly a life for a wimp. She too survived the Depression, and they never did have all that much money.
Even with having a life pretty much suck in the traditional mainstream, my family has always somewhat had our own little “odd” niche. Religiously, they were fairly conservative. Rose grew up Dutch Reformed, which is a heavily Calvinistic sect of Christianity and thus quite conservative, and I grew up as a Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) member – also an extremely conservative sect. I’m not sure what Maggie and Floyd were.
But, for a conservative believer, my father ALSO is fairly politically liberal, compassionate (believing that one of God’s laws is to love your neighbor), and insisted his daughters have independence and the ability to stand on their own two feet without “needing” a man to stand for us. Not normal for such conservative sects. But, also not surprising when his female role model was his mother Rose.
What all of that means is that underneath it all, my family not only taught me love (and unconditional love at that), but resilience and endurance. Some people also call that stubbornness, but you do actually need resilience and endurance to live life in this world.
My ex-husband also considered me someone who never gives up, and who can seemingly work miracles to keep things going. Well, while I have the resilience to keep going, and constantly have Mom’s axiom in my head of “Can’t never could do nuthin’!” – the supposed ‘miracles’ come at a cost. That cost is sacrifice – another quality many of my female ancestresses had in common.
Thing is, sacrifice can really only go so far. Those holes that are dug in our psyches when we sacrifice ourselves for others have to be filled somehow. And many people fill those holes with bitterness. They want to give up, but can’t – whether because of pride or any of a number of other emotions.
And that’s when you get to the point that both me and my sister eventually came to.
Luckily, we’ve learned a bit. We learned that we can and should stand up and say, “enough” – and we realize we need to give ourselves those things we’ve been sacrificing.
It’s still hard, and still a challenge when all of our habits try to pull us in the other direction. But, we’re doing it.