Updated: Nov 2
About this story: Mémère's Kitchen was originally published in a series by Whistler Press following the unique and beautiful connection of children and their grandmothers or elder women in their lives. Mémère is the Acadian name for ‘Grandmother’.
One afternoon, I saw my Mémère standing at the window in her kitchen. From the warmth of her little house, she stood staring out into the yard, her eyes steady, her arms crossed tightly over her chest. Her gaze was unwavering and thoughtful. At five years old, I was too short to look out the window, but I watched her there, with her ironed slacks and floral apron.
“What are you looking at?” I asked her.
“Oh, nothing,” she replied as her eyes remained fixed on the ‘nothing’.
To know someone, as we know grandparents, is strange. We see a part of them, a fraction of the people they were at the age we are now. But those days, to me, she was many, many things.
Mémère was as patient as they come. A lifetime of waking, cooking, cleaning, and canning; then going to bed only to wake and do it all again. Married young, the three kids came fast. There were no extravagant outings to restaurants or vacations. There was lobster, fresh fish, and crab on special occasions but even then, it was a chore for her. She’d sit at the table, picking the tiny bones or scooping the meat from the hard, red shells.
Mémère was the stern-faced head chef of a tiny, cramped kitchen. Her feet planted firmly on the linoleum flooring, she would cut and wash the vegetables from the garden. Every September, the countertop would be lined with a hundred empty mason jars, waiting to be filled with beets, turnips, pickles, and salted fish. When the jars were stuffed, into the boiling water they went. Sealed and ready, they made their way to the cellar beneath the kitchen; a cold and damp room I never dared to enter unless my Mémère demanded I fetch a jar from the inventory supply. Some jars would stay, while some would go to friends and neighbours. Everyone would be excited to get their annual delivery.
Mémère was the keeper of Christmas - with her endless dishes of mashed carrots, homemade stuffing, steaming gravy, and juicy turkey. There was no rhyme or reason to our holiday dinners – just plates of food and a chair made out of whatever you could find to sit on. There were no place settings and cloth napkins like you see in movies. There was just food, and love, and a little whiskey.
As my Mémère left her post at the window that day, I was still curious to know what was so interesting outside. Hiking up the pant legs of my overalls, I pushed a white plastic step-stool underneath the window. Climbing up, I looked outside.
What did I see? I saw the grassy lawn, brown in places where our footsteps frequented. I saw an old shed with peeling paint belonging to the neighbours - cousins of ours, of course. I saw the raspberry bush, where I would risk scraped hands and bee stings for the sweetest fruit at the centre. I saw her little red car in the driveway, patches of rust spreading from the wheels.
“There’s nothing out there!” I called to her.
Her hands busy with the jars now, her calloused fingers working the air-tight lids, she didn’t reply.
Added note: I wrote this story a few months before I purchased my grandparent's old house and spent the summer updating the place of so many memories, hoping for new stories in that kitchen of cans and Christmas. See the RENO blog posts here.