My grandmother Maggie was a multi-faceted woman. Growing up in rural Greece during the early 20th century meant that she had her work cut out for her. Being the oldest of seven siblings meant that she carried the additional burden of tending to them as well as the rest of her domestic duties. Some fifty years later when I was finally old enough to retain a vivid memory of her, it was her form that stuck first. A barrel-chested woman, teetering on spindly yet strong legs, she looked the part of someone who had spent her share of time in the fields, in the factories, and in the home behind a well-worn apron.
Making our twice-yearly pilgrimage to the holy land that was West Jordan, Utah, I used the barren landscape of central Nevada as a blank canvas for my daydreams. I would imagine Maggie’s house, its worn green chenille furniture, and the meal that was cooking on the stove. Sometimes it was memorable, but sometimes it was just odd. You see Maggie was the typical depression-era girl. A person who would hoard her money in a coffee tin and then spend an hour standing in line to collect her free 10 lb. block of processed cheese.
She was an enterprising cook. Someone who would attempt to make the best of stale bread and milk. When we would arrive from our 12-hour drive, we never knew what food would be waiting for us or where it would be. The spare bedroom with the sun-filled window facing the garden was the perfect spot to dry pasta. She always had it arranged in several areas throughout the room. Lengths of pinkie-wide egg noodles draped on backs of towel-covered chairs, nests of coiled noodles mounded on dented sheet pans, and pie tins of finely cut squares, Hilopites in Greek, awaiting a simmering broth on the stove.
Maggie’s food wasn’t fussy, just like her. It was practical and sturdy, yet it enveloped me in her strong arms and fed me with love. I can feel her hugging me now.