Pancakes and Pie

It’s a sunny Sunday in Dawson, the first day of a new month.

I am standing by the window at our kitchen counter eating a beetroot sandwich (toasted Calabrese bread, cheddar cheese, pickled beets, cucumber, tomato, and baby dill pickles with a sprinkle of ground pepper), watching two ravens play tag and thinking about my Grandma Grant, who died in late January at the age of 95.

When my twin sister and I were still in single digits age-wise, we’d spend several weekends a year at Grandma’s house in Aylmer, a small farming community in Southwestern Ontario.

Sundays we would wake in the big canopy bed in my Aunt Catharine’s old room to the smell of bacon. Pancake day!

Grandma made the batter from scratch (as she made every meal) and cooked them on an ancient electric griddle.

They arrived at the table in the shape of turtles and were served with lots of butter and real maple syrup—a yummy treat for kids being raised on Shredded Wheat.

Despite the kid-friendly breakfasts, at that age I confess I was terrified of my Grandma. She was a no-nonsense woman with a quick mind and razor tongue, who brooked no misbehaviour from children.

Misbehaviour included not shovelling the driveway without being asked, and proving unworthy Scrabble opponents as she kicked our combined young asses with unrepentant seven-letter laydowns.

Some of my younger cousins, now in their early 20s, were still scared of my Grandma when she was well into her 90s. I am lucky she was only 49 when my sister and I were born.

It’s a rare thing to get to have a 20-plus-year “adult” relationship with a grandparent. Predeceased by her two brothers by decades, Grandma didn’t expect to see the year 2000, let alone her 95th birthday.

Her passion for table manners was second only to her passion for grammar, a manifestation of her deep-seated love of language, which is something I’m delighted to have inherited. She also made me laugh. A lot.

Grandma followed politics and sports with equal devotion, and read the local paper every day. She loved doing the word puzzle Jumble.

Her town grew around her, and it upset Grandma when she no longer knew every family in Aylmer and the surrounding county. (That didn’t stop her from having strong opinions about everyone!)

Though it saddened Grandma to outlive all of her contemporaries, she was also a competitive woman and took pride in her longevity.

She was an accomplished athlete who skipped an eight-ender in curling and scored a hole-in-one in golf. She didn’t retire her golf clubs until about 15 years ago, and rumour has it she quite enjoyed her club’s 19th hole, as well.

Grandma lived independently at home (my Grandpa Grant died before I was born) until a week before she died. She stopped driving in her late 80s and was dependent first on a cane and eventually a walker.

That didn’t stop her from effectively using a tennis racket to take out a small brown bat that made the mistake of invading her kitchen a few years ago.

When I think of my Grandma, I always picture her in her kitchen, the heart of her beloved home. She was a dedicated cook whose baked beans are legendary.

Most memorable to me (besides pancake Sundays) are her apple pies. Especially in the fall, when the Ontario apples are fresh from the tree. Her pie crust did melt in your mouth—I gather the secret is not just the lard.

Grandma taught me to favour a slice of aged cheddar on top, rather than ice cream. It’s difficult to convey the experience of a piece of pie in words, just as it’s impossible to capture a life in a magazine column.

By the time I asked Grandma to show me how to make pie, she was 88 and wouldn’t do it. Not because she didn’t still make pie —she did. But at that age Grandma couldn’t roll out a crust as fast as she could in her 20s, and refused to demonstrate what she considered her diminished capacity.

That both cracked me up and disappointed me, but given my pitiful culinary track record (as discussed in previous columns), it’s probably just as well.

I miss my Grandma.

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