My beloved grandmother passed away last week. She was 90 years old and had been suffering. She’d had a massive stroke more than five years ago that left her a different person than the one I remember telling me stories in the kitchen, while she prepared dinner. My grandmother and I were extremely close. We spent so much time together when I was growing up, and later as an adult too we spoke everyday and visited regularly.
When we were together, she would go into her storytelling mode and tell me all about her life as the eldest child in an impoverished family during the Great Depression, when they all lived in one dank room they rented. She recalled her time during the Second World War in London, England where she drove a truck (!) in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She lived through the bombings, particularly memorable was the Battle for Britain and the Blitzkrieg on London. She stayed behind in the city as a teenaged WAAF driver when all her younger siblings were evacuated to the countryside by the government. And then, after she met my grandfather who was an American scientist who had volunteered with the Royal Canadian Air Force, she braved a journey by ship across an Atlantic Ocean teeming with torpedo-ready German U-boats and then took a train across Canada to Vancouver–she who had never been out of London before the war!
I loved hearing her stories. I used to tell my grandmother she should write a book but her answer always was, “No, Sarah, you should write a book.”
I haven’t written my grandmother’s book. Maybe I will one day if I can convince other people her life is as fascinating as I find it to be! I’ve written about food instead. But when I was writing Consumed, I realized I hadn’t strayed too far from my grandmother’s stories.
It was after my grandmother had her stroke when I realized that all her stories had to do with food in some way. There were the soft skinned green grapes her father would splurge and buy her when she was sick as a child; they couldn’t afford such luxury during those hard years. My great-grandmother had worked in a kitchen of a big house in London and could make candy floss by hand! When the war began, she used to keep chickens in the backyard and they’d had to eat the old rooster, which distressed the children. And when she married my grandfather during the war, they met a man who kept bees on a roof near Kew Gardens and she recalled the taste of citrus in the honey, from the orange trees growing in the botanical garden. Then once she arrived in North America: the pervasive smell of hotdogs on the cross-Canada train ride and then the shocking abundance of food in her in-laws’ home in San Francisco, after years of wartime rations.
I miss my grandmother. I miss her stories and the scaly alligator skin on her legs, her long fingers, and the way she said “jolly good,” whenever she ate something she found to be delicious. I hope her stories live on, in their own way, in what I write.