On an ordinary Monday afternoon in March, my extended family gathered in a hospital waiting room. We had all been taking turns sitting at my Grandma’s bedside. We were holding her hand, telling her how much we loved her and sharing all kinds of wonderful family memories. We lost my kind Grandfather over a decade before; she was the matriarch of the family. Grandma was the head of the table. My grandparents had built a loving, warm home for their three children, six grandchildren, and four (so far) great-grandchildren. We were a lucky and loved family. We were not a perfect one by any means - we had our fallouts, fights, name calling, all the typical family fun. But, when push came to shove, we were and still are a family that shows up. Everyone showed up that day, the day that we lost my Grandma.
My husband asked for ways he could help, so I had asked him to order dinner that night. This wasn’t our usual family meal. We came from a long line of cooks. When we celebrated, we cooked. When we came together for Shabbat dinner, we cooked. When we needed to have serious family discussion, we cooked. So ordering in wasn’t part of the plan. But, when you spend your days in the hospital, dinner doesn’t happen on it’s own. So carry out it was.
Just as everyone had showed up in that hospital waiting room, everyone also showed up that night at my house for dinner. It’s what we do. We grieved, we cried, we ate. My husband, our two kids and I hosted carry out that night for my parents, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins. We passed dishes of rice and meat and salads. We tasted, we shared storied, we laughed and of course we cried.
My Grandma did a lot of cooking in her life, but in her later years, she really was only baking. I think reading her recipes, following familiar instructions step by step, brought her comfort and familiarity. It was a comfortable way for her to show her love. There were her regular go-to recipes; black forest chocolate cake was my husband’s favorite, pie was my sister’s favorite. Old Hungarian family recipes such as diosh, a butter pastry roll filled with apricot jam and walnuts was everyone’s favorite.
One of my Grandma’s favorites was a cake that had come to be known as “sunshine” cake. That night at dinner, as everyone was passing trays and telling stories, I suddenly remembered, that a small piece of sunshine cake was wrapped tightly in tin foil and stored in my freezer. I dug it out and let it warm slightly (we all preferred the chilled version). I cut the cake up into small bite size pieces and there were enough bites for all fourteen of us to taste and remember. We were all quiet as everyone took his or her piece. You could see the memories wash over each of us, as we tasted the sweet flavors of memories and love. I think that small piece of cake brought everyone some peace that night. I believe it was my Grandma’s last way of sending us all a hug and telling us in her own way that everything was alright. She was still with us and she loved us all. We tasted, we remembered and we all felt it.
It’s been over a year since my Grandma passed away. But I keep my freezer stocked. I often find myself pulling out recipe cards that belonged to her. They are hand-written recipes with frayed edges, water stains and notes that she made on each card. Some recipes are hard to understand. Sometimes she wrote silly directions on them, words that only she knew what they meant. Instead of getting frustrated by that though, I find myself connecting to her more, asking more questions and trying to understand her process. Sometimes I bake her recipes just so I can see the finished product come out of the oven, smelling delicious and filling my house with warm memories. I look at the cake or cookies and it makes me remember her version. I remember back to occasions that she served those desserts. It transports me to happy times and feeling her love.
Sometimes, I find myself looking at old pictures and they make me cry. They bring a tinge of sadness because I can’t see her or hug her anymore. Somehow, when I bake her tall, dense, not overly sweet marble cake, it makes me feel her and her love wrapped around me. I’ve never cried over marble cake. I just use my senses and I only feel her love. It always tastes sweet.