The first installment of our reader-written series about "eating at Grandma's house" comes from Katy Ekey, a software developer in Columbia, MD. She enjoys running and traveling, and recently added writing to her list of hobbies. We're glad she did.
To submit your own story on this Inviting Writing theme, please e-mail it to FoodandThink at gmail.com by November 15th at latest.
By Katy Ekey
I grew up in a modest brick rancher, across the street and one house over from my grandparents. As their only grandchild, they spoiled me rotten. It was glorious!
There were fresh donuts waiting when they got home from the grocery store on Sundays. In the warm summer months, I ate tomatoes right from their garden. They peeled them for me, and after adding a dash of salt I was certain I had never tasted anything so delicious.
It wasn't a bad setup for my parents either, since it meant having convenient and trusted babysitters. They would walk me over to Nanny and Poppop’s before their Saturday night dates. I got to eat dinner there and sleep over. What a treat for a little girl: Two devoted caretakers and playmates were mine for the whole evening. As an adult, I now understand how my parents must have treasured that time alone. They probably planned for it all week and counted down the moments until it arrived. But back then, I thought those evenings were purely for my enjoyment.
Poppop came to this country from what is now Slovakia when he was a teenager. Nanny spent her childhood in rural Pennsylvania. They both grew up in large families and lived through war and the Great Depression. Going through their belongings, now that both of them are gone, the mark of those experiences is obvious.
They had no financial hardships here, yet instead of buying notepads, they used junk mail and the blank corners of envelopes for scratch paper. Grocery lists were carefully calculated in advance. Coupons were cut. Poppop had a closet full of unworn sweaters because his old ones were "just fine," although not even a thrift store would take them now. They visited McDonald’s daily to share stories with other veterans and get the legendary “senior coffee” for only 50 cents. Nanny kept their record player and an antique sewing machine in mint condition. A working wringer still sits in their basement next to a modern washer and dryer. Empty jars line a few dusty shelves, because they never knew when they might have needed them.
For our Saturday night dinners together, Nanny cooked simple hamburgers for all of us. She topped them with ketchup from the "Extra Fancy" packets they had brought home from McDonald's, and I was always so proud that my grandmother could cook a hamburger that tasted just as good as the ones from restaurants.
Poppop would serve dessert, scooping out bowls of vanilla ice cream and smothering them with Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Afterward, we played Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune alongside the contestants on television. Bathtime followed, with bedtime not far behind.
Our evenings may not sound like much, but if I learned anything from Nanny and Poppop it's that you don't need much. Their yard and garden provided endless entertainment, and their 20-year old TV glowed long after the sun went down. I will always treasure the memory of those "McDonald's" hamburgers, that garden full of tomatoes, and the warmth of their home.