When I was a kid, I didn’t really look forward to Thanksgiving. Sure, I loved having a break from school (who doesn’t), but Thanksgiving meant spending time with extended family, and I never liked being among a lot of people. My mom’s family was always very religious, and my grandparents were quite old-fashioned. We were not allowed to watch most of the cool stuff on TV when visiting, which didn’t usually matter on Thanksgiving anyway since my dad and an uncle or two wanted to watch football. My brothers and I got along fine with our cousins, we just didn’t really have anything in common with most of them. We were the Freed kids—the rough, outdoorsy gamer kids who sometimes fought with each other. We took after our dad’s family, the Freeds. That was just who we were. Years later I worked retail, which meant you didn’t get to enjoy the holidays and worked all the time. Only one thing really made Thanksgiving worth all of the forced socialization: Grandma’s dinner.
I only ever had one grandma my entire life. My dad’s mother, for whom I am named, passed away years before I was born, and so there was only one grandma. My grandma was Mennonite. Her family had converted from the Amish (Yoders and Zooks) a few generations back. I would call her more of a progressive Mennonite—she didn’t like to wear dresses, preferring to always wear “slacks.” She definitely was a quilter and made many over her lifetime. This is a skill I realized later that I also possess, though I am not as patient as she was and will only machine quilt rather than hand quilting. Grandma could crochet and knit, which, again, I have also learned, but I can only make basic things like scarves and blankets.
Anyone who has ever spent time with a Mennonite family knows that family dinners are important, especially during the holidays. Also, Mennonites are quite known for good food and delicious cookies. Grandma’s cookies were absolutely unbeatable. Her sugar cookies were amazing, and she always kept some in the freezer for whenever her grandchildren would visit. My mom and aunts tried to make those same cookies, but they just never turned out like grandma’s. I don’t know what grandma did differently to make hers so much better. I remember one year she suddenly had a new sugary snack: pecan praline bars. I absolutely fell in love with them upon the very first bite. Grandma had found the recipe on a Hershey container and shared it with me. I often made these at Christmas and always saved some to take to grandma after she and grandpa had to move into a retirement home and didn’t have a kitchen.
As great as the desserts were, grandma’s dinner was always amazing. The Christmas ham was so juicy and delicious, with perfect gravy to match. She always made a real ham, not those spiral hams that basically taste like someone threw ham pieces into a blender and hit puree. At Thanksgiving we would have her wonderful turkey, excellent gravy, creamy mashed potatoes, and her marvelous dinner rolls. Sometimes we would have graham cracker pudding for dessert, a dessert that grandma always like to remind me that I did not want to try when I was a kid because it looked gross. She brought that up so many times that it ruined the pudding for me, but I never told her.
Grandma’s dinner rolls are something I can never forget. She made them from scratch and always had real butter, not margarine. We only ever had margarine at home and I wondered for years why grandma’s tasted better. As I got older, I learned the difference and realized I just prefer butter. Grandma told me once that she could only make the rolls on certain days when the weather was just right or else they would not rise properly. I never did learn more about how to make them, and years later she started to buy rolls instead as her age made it difficult to make them. After she moved into the retirement home, she never made the rolls again, making them something special to my childhood and my relationship with my grandma. She knew I loved those rolls the most and would send some along home if I could not visit on holidays.
My grandma and I were never close due to our differences in religion and life in general, but we had a special relationship built mostly on food. She knew I could bake, though I was not willing to spend as much time in the kitchen as she did. I was never meant to be a homemaker or a baker—I was always too tech savvy and liked to spend time outdoors. Grandma appreciated my garden as well, and I would show her pictures of my hydrangeas whenever I visited. I didn’t take an interest in quilting or yarn crafts until after she passed, and perhaps that is how it was meant to be. After years of working for local wineries, I took a job in a fabric and craft store, which grandma definitely appreciated. Unfortunately, by the time I was made store manager there, her health was already failing and she passed not long after. I joked with others that I was channeling grandma when I was planning my first quilt, to which a friend commented that she doubted grandma used Excel to figure it out. No, I’m sure she would never, but I’m a tech geek, so it’s what I do. Grandma probably wouldn’t have picked out Star Wars fabric either.
Grandma will always live on in the memories of her delicious food and the newly found skills I have in sewing and yarn crafts. Nothing will ever top grandma’s dinner rolls, and every Thanksgiving I am reminded of those delicious meals at grandma’s house.