Under threat of failing in junior high due to horrific handwriting, necessity dictated I master typing. Pronto. Post-haste. Yesterday even.
Sitting on my grandfather’s red leather chair in the den and using his portable manual typewriter, I practiced. The standard typewriting manual got boring very fast, so I switched to typing recipes–mostly cakes and cookies.
The recipes used the same basic ingredients: flour, leavening, sweetener, binding (usually eggs), a bit of liquid, a smidgeon of flavoring, and sometimes a “little something extra” for the fun of it. Yet, from that came a seemingly infinite number of possibilities and variations.
Even though following recipes yielded consistent results, I usually didn’t bother. There was something about going recipe-less–with results running the gambit of fabulous to compost heap (and everything in-between)–that appealed to my sensibilities.
Finding myself with a free afternoon at my grandparents’ home, I did something totally out of character. I stayed in the kitchen and followed (with no variations), a recipe I’d typed. My grandfather meanwhile (totally in character) sat in the living room yelling at people on the phone.
My grandfather was yelled out by the time I presented him the results of my efforts, a sour cream coffee cake. He, being the ornery, obnoxious, loud, cantankerous, opinionated man he was, thanked me and then proceeded to yell at my grandmother because there must not be enough desserts in the house if I had to resort to baking. (There were plenty.)
I wanted my grandfather to eat the cake right then, but he was set in his ways. So, it wasn’t until after dinner, when he finally settled down with his cup of coffee filled to the brim (little black dot on the inside of his cup fully covered) before he finally cut himself an extremely generous portion of the cake and moved it to his plate.
My grandfather broke off a chunk in his left hand, grabbed his cup with his right, took a sip of coffee, and finally–hours after I gave it to him–took his first bite. The look of pleasure, appreciation, and joy he gave to this very confused, unhappy, and lost 13-year old is one I have never forgotten.
When I recently came across that crumbled, stained recipe card, it was as if grandfather’s presence was suddenly in the room with me. I felt myself enveloped in the embrace of his arms, smelling his uniquely Gramps smell, the combination of VO5 shampoo, Old Spice aftershave, and Palmolive soap. It was wonderful. As are the memories.
Every time I’ve made that sour cream coffee cake (and I’ve made it often), I remember the look on his face, and feel so loved. So very, very loved.
I’ve heard it said love never dies. That’s good because I was too self-absorbed when my Gramps was alive to tell him, with any regularity, how much I loved him. Yet now, remembering the day I learned to bake what quickly became his favorite cake fills me with so much love and joy, it cannot be contained. That love and joy just keeps bubbling out, making the world a sweeter place.
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