When I was growing up, one of my favorite traditions was Sunday-morning breakfast with my maternal grandparents. They lived up the street from the church in our tiny river town and welcomed any mass-goers from our large extended family to their home after. We always had bacon, fried eggs, and toast — and on most occasions, there were powdered doughnuts and a loaf or two of homemade banana bread, too.
As soon as we walked in the door, Grandma got busy brewing a fresh pot of coffee, while Grandpa took charge at the stove, frying the bacon and eggs. My parents or an aunt or uncle were on toast duty, while the rest of us set the table before gathering around it in anticipation of the meal.
The sights, sounds, and smells of those cherished mornings are etched in my mind, and they washed over me recently when I went to pour my own morning coffee. As I caught sight of a certain ceramic mug in the cupboard, the memory of my grandma in her kitchen — coffee in hand, making sure we were all taken care of — brought tears to my eyes.
I could see her watching over those breakfasts, as well as countless family gatherings. No matter the event, there was always an abundance of food and we practically fell over each other in attempts to get a taste of our favorite dishes. There was my great-grandma’s Jell-O-fruit salad in a special bowl at Thanksgiving; oyster soup on Christmas Eve; my aunt’s creamy mashed potatoes at every major holiday; the veggie tray loaded with black olives, which disappeared faster than the cookies.
Grandma had those gatherings down to a fine art — or at least it appeared that way. She never seemed flustered; she had seemingly endless patience. She loved having her great big family together, even if we were loud and messy and ate her out of house and home.
Once her family had finally had their fill, Grandma would settle in her comfy chair in the living room, leaving the chaos in the kitchen for cleanup later. Her coffee mug on the table next to her, and usually a grandchild in her lap (and a few more at her feet), Grandma chimed in on the various conversations that were happening around that cozy, comfortable room.
Both of my grandparents have passed in recent years, and family get-togethers, while still so special, are not the same without them. As the holidays approach, I find myself, as many do this time of year, reminiscing and longing for the way things were . . . to see Grandma and Grandpa in that kitchen just one more time.
We can’t go back, but we can try to recreate some traditions that honor and connect us to what was. And that’s what I’m trying to do with a few of the memories that mean the most to me. I’m teaching my children how to make Grandma’s delicious banana bread, for instance — and her refrigerator pickles, too. (Do you have a cherished food moment, experience, or memory of your own? I’d love for you to share it with me on Instagram: @jamiemartinel.)
The coffee mug in the cupboard that I mentioned earlier was, of course, my grandma’s. Knowing her hands once held it helps me feel connected to her and the love we will always share. It’s on the table next to me now, as I write this letter.
For a collection of stories about favorite food memories from members of the Experience Life team and several of our contributors, see “Eating Joyfully”.