Sometimes, I wish I were ten again. Not because I am far closer to thirty than I am to twenty. Not because I might just be starting to notice the first whisper of wrinkles around my eyes. Not because the economy is in the toilet, and I have to figure out my 403(b). But because when I was ten, I had a wonderfully uncomplicated relationship with my grandparents.
When I was ten, visiting them was the best thing we did all year. It meant fishing with Papa out on their sagging, splintering dock, or lying in the scratchy north Florida beach grass smelling the lake, the trees, and charcoal while praying not to be attacked by fire ants. It meant trawling the yard with Granny, collecting sticks and piling them into a yawning pit in preparation for a “weenie” roast. It meant playing on the beach until were we burnt to a crisp, and riding roller coasters at Miracle Strip until we were exhausted or nauseous—whichever came first. And, of course, it meant gorging ourselves on Papa’s ribs and lemon chicken, Granny’s sweet tea and chicken and dumplings, and all the coconut cake, cornbread, and fried fish we could eat.
When I was ten, the promise of ice cream after church kept me so occupied that I didn’t pay attention to what their preacher was saying. I didn’t know that they lived in a red state and we lived in a blue one. I didn’t know that I would come to stand against much of what they believe. There was so much bliss in that innocent ignorance.
When I was ten, Granny hadn’t been through four rounds of chemo and Papa wasn’t so unsteady on his feet. Back then they still lived in their cozy, yellow brick house nestled on a familiar dirt road, instead of a small apartment in an assisted living community. When I was ten, their cupboards were bursting at the hinges with every ingredient they might need to spoil our appetites and rot our teeth. Now their kitchenette mostly sits empty, save for a can of a soup, a jar of Skippy, and a sleeve of saltine crackers.
When I was ten, I didn’t have a hard time calling them, because back then they didn’t sound so weak and fragile. Visiting them didn’t leave me with an aching pain lodged somewhere in my chest. When I was ten, I wasn’t so consumed by feeling like a bad granddaughter, that I forgot I was the light of their lives. And I didn’t let our political and religious differences fool me into thinking their love was conditional.
When I was ten I idolized my grandparents, but at twenty-seven I don’t give them enough credit.
It is true that our beliefs, cultures, life experiences, values, and presidential favorites are polar opposites. But what is even more true is that our response to this reality has been equally opposite. Though I think I am on the left—and thus the right—side of the political spectrum, it’s taken me a while to realize that my response to them has been dead wrong.
From the moment I was old enough to know my own mind and form my own opinions, I have let these differences muddy the simple joy of being with them. I have questioned their affection instead of basking in an unconditional love that is stronger for having been tested. I believed that because I had trouble loving them with all their flaws, they must have the same problem.
I chose a different faith, a different life, a different path than the one they wanted for me. But their voices still brightened whenever I called, no matter how infrequently. And their milky eyes still lit up when I came to visit, no matter how begrudgingly. And they kept surprising me with their love and generosity, no matter how little I deserve it.
Last summer, Granny and Papa finally made the decision to sell their beloved home and move to a nice (albeit sterile and unfamiliar) apartment. In the midst of the painful process of emptying their house, shedding years of memories and keepsakes, I was surprised that they were still thinking about us. “Anything you want!” Granny insisted, as we sifted through their kitchen and bedrooms, “I mean it, girl, take anything!” They wanted us to save a few of their possessions—a small piece of them—to bring back to our own lives and homes. There were a couple small things I had my eye on, but I was willing to fight Maggy for their ice cream maker. (Luckily, I didn’t have to.) This machine is almost as old as I am and still works like a dream. It’s the kind of kitchen tool that compels you to lament, “They just don’t make them like this anymore!” It’s actually got Freon in it! No need for ice or frozen bowls…just pour in the ice cream base, press a button, and off it goes. It churns out the smoothest, creamiest ice cream I have ever had, and it never breaks, stops, or hiccups.
Every time I use it, I think of Granny and Papa. About how the constancy and consistency of this machine reminds me of two aging people who never quit loving me. Papa died this year, and I never had the chance to spoil him with a batch of my own homemade ice cream. He wasn’t eating at all during his final days, so we all just sat around his bedside sharing every food memory we had. It was beautiful and filling. And at some point during the last hours I was with him, I knelt next to his bed and whispered that I was so grateful for him. Grateful that he had taught me – with his life and his cooking – that food expresses love just about as well as words do. I told him this idea will always shape who I am and how I live, and he will always be a part of that. I don’t know if he heard me, but I like to think he did.
For Papa, it was never too late, too early, or too close to dinner to enjoy a little something sweet. So here’s a recipe for Fresh Raspberry Sorbet that will rock your world. It was made, of course, in their trusty ice cream maker.
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ¼ lb. fresh raspberries, rinsed
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- Bring the sugar and 2 cups of water to boil in a medium saucepan, stirring occasionally until dissolved. Reduce heat to low and simmer without stirring for 5-7 minutes until it becomes a thin syrup.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour the syrup into a small metal bowl and chill in the freezer for about 15 minutes.
- In a food processor or blender, purée 1 pound of the raspberries with the syrup until smooth. Strain the raspberry purée through a fine sieve into a bowl and discard the seeds. Stir lime juice into the raspberry purée and transfer to your ice cream freezer. (If you’re not ready to freeze it at this point, simply refrigerate the purée until you’re ready to freeze.) Freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions until almost set but still a little slushy.
- Add remaining raspberries and continue freezing in the ice cream maker for another 5-10 minutes. Transfer the sorbet to a plastic container and freeze until completely set, about an hour.