Whenever I make Maggie something to eat, no matter what it is, she looks up at me and asks, "mama, is there love in this?" She thinks love is an actual ingredient because I always say, "I made this with love so you better like it." I feel it best to threaten your kids into liking all you make and so far so good. My kids think I'm a fantastic cook and regularly praise me. The best is when they praise me in front of other people - double points for that one. And when they say nothing, I stew. Wouldn't it be nice if I were humble enough to not care if they complimented and thanked me, if I was merely cooking to serve them and in turn God. But I'm not that humble and not nearly that mature, plus, the last time I checked I wasn't God so I don't need to be perfect. I'm not afraid to admit that I enjoy, relish, thrive on compliments when I make dinner or lunch or anything else edible.
Greg chalks this up to my being my Nana's granddaughter. When my Nana cooked she poured her entire heart and soul into it and she expected something in return. A kiss, a hug, a compliment, anything letting her know that you appreciated her efforts. I was just telling my kids the other day that every time she made anything she did it as though Jesus and Mary were coming to join her. There was love in my Nana's cooking and you could taste it.
She came to stay with us for a couple of weeks when we lived in North Carolina and Jane was a baby. Greg invited a friend over for dinner and my Nana made pork chops and homemade bread and various other things. Greg's friend ate like a pig but said nothing. I remember sweating a little as the night wore on and he continued to make no mention of how delicious everything was. I wanted to kick him under the table,but I didn't know him too well so he wouldn't have understood my glances and nods toward my Nana. I could see the look of disgust on her face, as though this person had been raised by wolves and now she was being forced to share a meal with him.
As soon as he left my Nana stood up and said under her breath, "don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out." I shook my head at her and told her there was no accounting for some people. For the next ten years, every single time I saw her she would bring up Greg's mannerless friend. Greg is still amused by this. Whenever someone gets up from my table without saying anything, I give a look and Greg says, "easy Nana!" And we laugh and I thank God that there is some small part of her that she passed along to me.
For as long as I can remember, my Nana was cooking for me and my siblings and anyone and everyone who she came into contact with. It gave her joy and happiness and a sense of purpose and until I grew up and had a family of my own I didn't fully understand it. Now I do and I'm grateful I was able to share so many good meals with her. She lived a few doors down from us and from the time I was a baby until the time I went away to college she ate dinner with us practically every night. She and my mom would talk each morning so they could start planing the menu for that night's meal.
It wasn't just the food at the dinner table that would make me happy. It was the conversation, the laughter, the yelling and heated discussions, the one hour that would settle into three hours. At some point my Nana would get up and start doing the dishes and my mother would say, "Ma, stop it, we'll do them later." My Nana would insist on continuing and then my mother would flare her nostrils at us, which meant, "get off your ass and help her." And we did, because we were obedient children who also happened to be mildly afraid of my mom's flared nostrils.
My Nana passed away yesterday afternoon at the age of 101. She was with three of her five children. A priest came in at some point before she passed and my mother told me my Nana made the sign of the cross and said a Hail Mary. Fitting, considering every time I went to see her she was sitting in her chair saying her rosary. She never needed to say much about religion or faith or the gospel, mostly because she spent her entire life actually living it. I know I'm blessed beyond measure to have witnessed and shared in it.
Tomorrow me and my kids head to New York for the week, to go and celebrate her life. I can't wait. There will be time spent around the table. Food and conversation and laughter and yelling will be plenty and in those moments I will feel her most.