An Heirloom Recipe, a Bit of Life & a 90th Birthday!
When mom asked me to be thinking about what recipes we should make for snacks at grandma’s 90th birthday celebration, I immediately knew “the one” — the recipe that made me think of grandma every time I tasted it. Without a pause, I spouted out the name and mom wholeheartedly agreed.
I remember what the light looked liked as it flooded into the dining room. In my mind’s eye, I remember looking at life from the height of a 5 year-old. I remember the feeling of my feet not being able to touch the floor as I sat up for lunch. I even remember wearing long sleeves. I remember mom telling me this recipe is my grandma’s and how that made me feel so fancy and special while I ate from my miniature melamine plate. Mostly though, I remember grandma and this simple little, dainty recipe.
It is a good thing we planned early – because the plague came knocking on our door and for 3 weeks, the 3 weeks leading up to the trip to Houston – to be exact, we had a herd of sick people. That bug lingered like none other – and Gracie’s virus turned into pneumonia ((BOO)). Thankfully, I was spared the misery – although halfway into week 2, I was trying to figure out how I could stay in bed all day! As the big day drew closer, I felt panic and prayed hard we wouldn’t miss celebrating 90 with my grandma.
Thanks to the Great Physician and His gift of modern medicine, the kiddos were back among the living and we headed south for the surprise party of a lifetime ((with a nebulizer & stockpile of albuterol in tow)).
It was a blessed and full week. I could have stayed in that place with those people forever.
I don’t know how it is in your neck of the woods – but in mine, celebrations = food. Lots and lots of very good food.
Mom had lists, menus and instructions & kept the kitchen running smoothly as she and her helpers worked hard to feed almost 30 family members who traveled from both coasts and many states in between. On that list, mom had many recipes reminiscent of special meals her mom prepared in years past: German Dinner, Ritz Cracker Oven-Fried Chicken, elaborate relish trays and a saucy sloppy joe just to name a few.
And buried somewhere among all go those all-star recipes was my little assignment and that heirloom 3-ingredient recipe.
The big day, October 14, arrived and I started work on my task and grandma watched while she told me the story of “the recipe”.
“Oh, Emily I think that is such a wonderful recipe! You know where I first saw this recipe? It was when I was in the hospital ((1969)) on New Year’s Day. I was on the floor with all of the wounded soldiers, recovering from my broken hip.”
SIDE NOTE – Grandma was 43 years old, living in Washington DC in the fall of 1968. As she was waiting for the bus to head home after work, she was mugged. Looking back, maybe if she had had a looser grip on her hand bag, maybe there wouldn’t have been a struggle and maybe she wouldn’t have violently crashed onto that frozen sidewalk – and maybe she wouldn’t have shattered her hip. But her hand & arm were firmly wrapped through and around the straps of her purse and as much as she would have loved to release that purse and it’s meager contents, her reflexes couldn’t respond fast enough. What followed was a 4 month hospital stay. Grandma spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s in the hospital while 3 of her 4 children were still living at home. Can you even imagine?
“My nurse that day was an Army – no, Air Force nurse, I can still see the patch on her nursing hat. She and the other nurses made their favorite treats and brought each patient a sampling to celebrate the new year. My nurse made these – and they were so delicious. When I finally made it home, I made them all of the time, when we needed something special.”
“I was probably the only female on that floor because so many wounded soldiers were coming back from the war and they took good care of me. As a matter of fact, a young orderly gentlemen, probably 18, was tasked with teaching me to walk up and down the stairs. He was all business and methodically instructing me on how to operate the crutches. Finally, I looked at him and said – “either you need to hold these crutches or you need to get something to hold up my pants – because I am about to show you things you’ll wish you didn’t see.” She went on to giggle as she held her fingers in the air, that safety pin was about this big ((4″)), I had never seen such! But it did the trick, my pants stayed up.”
What a wonderful time from beginning to end.
Oh my, was grandma surprised by all of the company & festivities! It was such a sweet blessing to watch her receive honor & love as one by one, her family unexpectedly arrived. I knew it would be good, I even expected great. But seeing it all in person, her expressions, her surprise, her deep, satisfied joy… those short days are burned into my heart. I will remember them forever.
I will remember what the light looked like as the sun sprinkled through the open spaces in the trees overhead. I will remember what it felt like to swallow hard through my tightened throat as my love for that lady caused my heart and tears to swell. I will remember how special I felt when she took me to a quiet corner and told me how much she loves me and how beautiful I am.
And I will always remember – until my remembering days are over, what it felt like to hear my grandma tell me the beauty she is referring to (being the blind lady she is) is my heart.
“I will remember this week for the rest of my life. Look at how big my family is, can you even believe it Shep? Just imagine how many people will be at your 90th birthday! I think our family will need our own island, in Heaven.”
- 1 pound of sliced ham, lunch meat style*
- 1 - 8 oz block of cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 can of whole asparagus spears, drained**
- Smear about 1 T of cream cheese over the surface of one side of each slice of ham. place one asparagus spear near one end of the ham. Tightly roll each ham slice around the spear of asparagus. Once all the ham slices are rolled as described, place them on a plate, cover and refrigerate for 4 hours.
- Prior to serving, cut each roll into approximate 1" slices & arrange on a serving platter.
- * ham slices work best if they are rectangular & not thin/shaved.
- **you can sub thinly sliced dill pickle spears for the asparagus.