Finding the balance between looking back, living today and moving forward develops along with the wisdom of age.
Pulling into the driveway of the simple little house on Lincoln Street, I could see her through the window just north of the familiar concrete porch. The rose trellis on the south side of the porch was scarred by the cycle of seasons visited upon it over decades of time. Above the remains of a once beautiful flower bed, I could see the dark image of a woman sitting in her favorite chair, alone in a house that was once such a magical place. The magic had died inside of me, not the house.
Grandma Maggie’s house never stopped being a place of wonder and love. I can understand that now.
I’m not sure when I lost the appreciation for this special place and took for granted the woman living within its walls. I suppose at the normal time. We grow up and spread our wings, distancing ourselves from those who taught us to live. Finding my own identity and traveling along my own path, much the same way as Grandma Maggie had done years before me.
Maggie was a confident and capable no-nonsense kind of woman. The third of five children, her life wasn’t always easy. She grew up in the 1920s and 30’s knowing hard times and hard work. Money was made for the family by picking cotton during hot summer days in Oklahoma cotton fields. She was accustomed to making her own clothes and growing her own food. Canning, pickling and preserving homegrown fruits and vegetables was a means of survival.
Grandma Maggie was calm and collected, stoic and resilient. She was the personification of sensible. Her home was always neat and tidy with a minimal amount of décor. Furnishings placed along the perimeter of the room were simple and constant. Small armchairs flanked the front door that looked eastward into the quiet neighborhood. The console TV on the south wall evolved over the years from the small black and white TV we gathered around to watch the astronauts walk on the moon, to a larger color TV perfect for enjoying the annual Rose Bowl Parade. A big old record player stood in the corner, a couch on the west wall, and a buffet on the north next to the door to the kitchen/dining room. Grandma’s favorite chair was next to the buffet. Knickknacks were few. The walls were not lined with photos and artwork, just a smattering of items here and there.
As a skinny, red-headed, freckle-faced little girl in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I spent a lot of time at Grandma Maggie’s house. The wooden door was rarely closed, inviting sunshine to enter through the glass storm door into a place where ordinary, everyday adventures would unfold.
Fantastic imaginary scenarios did not live inside her home. Dragons were not slain, princesses were not crowned, villains were not captured. The few store-bought toys stored in the front coat closet were not the go-to activities. Instead, we might find ourselves tending to the garden, snapping green beans, picking flowers for a vase or sewing a set of pillows for my Barbie dolls.
Fun at Grandma Maggie’s house was practical, like her. She was real and genuine.
Grandma’s world was consistent, a solid rock safely perched above the swiftly flowing currents of life. Grandma Maggie taught me the art of contentment, the appreciation of happiness found in simplicity. The joy of ordinary treasures.
Bounding into her kitchen and seeing that old, beat-up metal bowl sitting on the counter would stop me in my tracks. Like a Pavlovian response in action, my eyes would light up and a beaming smile would spread from ear to ear. Grandma Maggie’s world was consistent. That dented, scratched and scarred metal bowl could only mean one thing.
Peach cobbler was about to happen!
Grandma Maggie’s peach cobbler was perfection in a bowl. She didn’t have a recipe on paper. The ability to prepare this delectable creation was all neatly tucked away in her head. She would bring the ingredients together with such ease. Independently simple ingredients that melded together in tasteful harmony. The little squares of pastry were flawless, golden brown and flaky on top and softly dense throughout the cobbler. The bubbling fruit filling a perfectly balanced blend of sweetness and spices. Whether eaten plain, with a pat of butter or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it didn’t matter. A truly amazing, mouthwatering delight, every single time!
Youthful ignorance blinded me to the importance of retrieving that recipe from Grandma Maggie’s mind and transcribing it to a piece of paper. By the time I saw clearly, it was too late. Grandma Maggie’s vision diminished first and then senility began to creep into her brain. The peach cobbler recipe was one of many signature dishes locked inside her mind, never to be recreated again. It took years for her mind to fade, but it felt like it disappeared in a flash. A moment alive in front of me, now gone forever.
I wasn’t paying attention. Opportunity was missed.
I searched for years for a peach cobbler recipe that would rival Grandma Maggie’s exquisite concoction. I tried peach cobbler at restaurants, friends’ houses and family get-togethers, determined to retrieve a memory lost to time and senility. A perseverance driven by regret, guilt and the desire to never forget one of my ordinary, everyday superheroes. None of the cobbler recipes contested the deliciousness of that remarkable childhood treat until the early 1990’s when I finally found a recipe that was very close.
A few tweaks of my own and I dare say, it’s almost a dead ringer for Grandma Maggie’s cobbler. I think she would be happy that I’ve resurrected one of my favorite memories of her, though it would be hard to tell for sure. She kept her emotions pretty close to the vest. A trait characteristic of her generation.
Since bringing this childhood memory back to life, a tradition has developed at our home. We host a Memorial Day family cookout with juicy burgers cooking on the grill and the house filled with the sweet aroma of freshly baked peach cobbler. Attendees are mostly from my husband’s family, not mine. People who never had the chance to know Grandma Maggie or her prowess in the kitchen. Though the significance of the peach cobbler is unknown to them, I am happily content with my personal connection to a kindred spirit.
The history behind my peach cobbler is perhaps only of interest to the little girl inside of me who looked up to her grandmother with such adoring admiration. I hope she knows that she had a profound impact on my little life in spite of the regrettable years when I allowed the magic to die inside my heart and soul.
Wisdom often arrives a little too late. Better late than never I suppose
Nowadays, I use a glass bowl for my cobbler baking. No one knows what happened to Grandma Maggie’s old beat-up metal bowl. It likely fell victim to the ravages of time as is the fate of too many childhood treasures.
Time marches on just as it’s supposed to. Generation after generation. Modern technology is keeping my peach cobbler recipe safely tucked away in a computer’s brain instead of in mine. Theoretically the former more reliable than the latter. Accessible from the cloud for future generations, should any decide to bring the memory back to life after my time fades. Wisdom will eventually make an appearance in their lives, too.
In the meantime, I like to think that Grandma Maggie is looking down from heaven and smiling every time she sees my big glass bowl sitting on the counter. My world is consistent, too. That big glass bowl could only mean one thing.
Peach cobbler is about to happen!