My grandmother, Lord have mercy on her soul, as she would say, the one who had "ears like an elephant" never had a problem speaking her mind. I'm sure by the time she sailed from her home in Ireland to America, she had told more than one person her opinion. She was a woman of great faith, unafraid to tell any pastor if he was wrong, devoted to her family and her church. Any unsuspecting visitor was sure to be doused in holy water right in the eye by Grammy, if they weren't fast enough. "Bless yourself, bless yourself. Don't forget to bless yourself," she'd always say. Everyone blessed themselves; even friends who weren't Catholic quickly learned to bless themselves.
Grammy loved to bake and she was excellent at it. She came to America with a job cooking for a wealthy family. I have fond memories of visiting my grandparents and having baking lessons with her. And it truly was a lesson. She'd have the kitchen in their tiny apartment all set up with a list of what we were baking that day. She was the teacher, instructing me that time was critical in baking so the baker must get all her supplies in one trip and not forget a single ingredient. She told me that back at her cooking school in Ireland, students who forgot anything in their one trip had to stand the entire class with their fingertips resting on the table and were not allowed to participate. She said she forgot once and never did again. I used to stand sometimes and see what it would be like to endure that punishment.
Her other piece of advice, which I still call upon today is "You have to know your oven." Of course you do. Even as I grew up, moving from apartment to apartment with friends, she'd always remind me that the oven was my friend, if I took the time. Just the other day my husband burned a pizza and I just replied, "You didn't know your oven."
Many years ago she told me about her nephew back in Ireland. She was so proud of him. A chef, he was classically trained in France and had not one, but two restaurants back in Ireland. As a surprise, I located this distant cousin and called him at his restaurant. I knew he had published a couple of cookbooks and that my grandmother would love them. He was kind, but short to me on the phone; not the reception I was expecting from a long-lost relative from the Old Sod. But, he sent me the books for her and I presented them on Christmas. She was thrilled to have them and I shared that this cousin didn't seem all that enthusiastic about us when I had spoken to him.
"Oh, of course not," she replied in her lilting brogue, "my brother sent him to an orphanage after his wife died but kept his older brother."
"What???!!" I exclaimed, "you never told me that!"
"That's how it was done back then, dear child. It was so hard."
"So, he hates us and I called and asked him to ship three books for free to America. I also told my boss to eat at his restaurant and mention us. It's like taunting him."
"Oh, I'm sure he's over it by now."
And the room erupted in laughter because this was our Grammy, telling it like it was even if the timing was a bit off.
When Grammy met my now-husband for the first time, she loved him. I was surprised because she was always a tough judge. Perhaps though she had softened since her daughter, my mother, had died and she was always worried about me. And I was still single, at 30 years old. Coach and Grammy hit it off.
When we were leaving, she looked at Coach sincerely and said, "You are a good man; you have honest eyes."
It was just about the sweetest thing I had ever heard. I was so touched that she approved. Coach thanked her.
But she wasn't done......
"And I can tell that you have a deep appreciation for food. And that's wonderful because Alison is so thin, I worry about her. But now that she's with you, I know she will never go hungry."
And we all smiled, and chuckled, and hugged and kissed and Coach and I left....and when we got in the car, Coach said, "Your grandmother just called me fat."
"No, no," I replied, "She never said that. She said you have excellent taste, both in food and women. You should embrace that. It's the Irish....you gotta love the Irish," I said with wink and a smile. "We're a lucky people. You are blessed. Bless yourself."