My grandmother passed yesterday. She was 96 and still sharp as a tack. I was blessed to see her one last time just the weekend before, & the only thing I could think of was grilled cheese & tomato soup.
See, as a kid in grade school, I always walked to my grandmother’s house at lunch break for the sole purpose of eating her grilled cheese & tomato soup.
I lived for the stuff. It didn’t matter the time of year; it didn’t matter that I ate it nearly every day. There’s nothing quite like discovering the creature comforts of life as a child, the blanket of security which often you take into adulthood, whether you admit it or not. Me, I had my grilled cheese & tomato soup.
Believe me when I tell you, my grandmother made a mean grilled cheese & tomato soup. If the soup had been from Campbell’s & the cheese from Kraft, the heck I knew. It wouldn’t have made a difference. Eating something, anything, an Italian grandmother makes for you is akin to a religious experience. You knew it , too, even if you were just a kid. There’s magic to the food. My grandmother could make an ordinary house salad taste like it came from a garden of gods. Sunday dinners (which always started around two in the afternoon, hey, that’s Italian for you) became a weekly mouthwatering assault on the senses. Ordinary food turned into something special… only the rarest of grandmothers could quite figure it out. Isn’t it funny… of all the things gleaned from youth, food is often near the top.
My grandmother had a good life. I mean, 96, come on… but she’d been without my grandfather since 1985. That’s a long time to miss someone. I wondered often what that must’ve been like for her. I never asked her about it, though; I never had the heart. But I knew there had to be a part of her, especially in her later years, that longed for him. Then again, maybe he stayed closer than we knew all the while.
On the last day I got to see my grandmother, something special occurred. She got to see her great-granddaughter a final time as well. It was difficult for me, more so than I thought. Seeing my grandmother’s face brighten the way it did the moment she saw my daughter… it was very profound. Some moments just transcend time and scope of meaning – here I stood before one glorious life gradually dimming, while I held another burning brightly in my arms.
My grandmother sat slumped in her chair, but I could tell her spirit was simply beaming as she ooo‘d & aaah‘d over Athena. During those few minutes, I somehow became a little boy again, waiting at the dining room table while my grandmother stirred a steaming pot of soup & cut a plate full of crispy bread with oozy cheese. I recognized the moment, & told my grandmother to listen carefully for Athena had something to say. And my daughter, as best as she could, told her, “I… uuuv….ooo.”
I have many good memories about my grandmother, & not just about food. As sad as I am to know she’s passed, I’m happy as well. She’s with my grandfather again. She’s with her siblings and family and friends gone before. But there’s something else, too. I’d like to think that her great-granddaughter speaking tenderly “I… uuuv… ooo” became a bit of a spiritual comfort blanket, if you will, some good old-fashioned grilled cheese and tomato soup for her soul to take with her on her journey.
Rest well, grandma.