I have a confession. I am not a good cook. I don’t even bake well. There is an incident that happened the first time I tried to cook vegetable soup that is legendary in my family. Even though I do not feel I am remotely good at cooking it, my favorite memories surround food.
For instance there was the time in fourth grade that each student was asked to choose a country to study. After studying that country for weeks we were asked to fix a dish native to that country. During the course of that project is the first time I remember realizing that my mother’s childhood was lived in a different world. She was an army brat, and she hated it. I had lived in the same house since very early childhood, and I hated that. Even though I had not been diagnosed ADD at the time I had been struggling with symptoms even at that age.
My chosen country was Mexico. I lived in rural Kentucky under the assumption that I had no ties to Mexico whatsoever. Once I went home and told my mother of the project I needed to complete she immediately told me I needed to call my grandmother.
Army Wife – Army Life
My grandmother was an army wife in the 1950’s. This is the earliest memory I have of knowing what that era was and the beginning of a lifelong love of it. My grandfather was a ‘lifer’ in the Army which means that he was able to retire from the Army at around 40, relatively young age, though it didn’t seem like it in my child’s mind. When he retired he came back to his hometown in Kentucky to finish raising his family. Being from Kansas I am sure my grandmother found Kentucky weather and traditions quite different.
At one point in my grandfather’s military career he was stationed in Arizona. From my understanding the military kept him busy elsewhere most of the time they were stationed there. So naturally my grandmother forged friendships with the women on base. They welcomed her immediately because they were in the same position as she – young mothers and wives trying to balance the duties of motherhood with a concern for their husbands safety. They each did the best they could until their husbands returned. One of those women whose name I have long forgotten gave my grandmother a recipe for her families authentic Mexican corn bread.
That cornbread 30 years later got me an A on my mid term tests. I didn’t like cooking even then, but I love my grandmother. Sixty years from the time my young grandmother was given the recipe by another young military wife, I can still remember the light in my grandmothers eyes as she talked about that time in her life. In all my awkward glory I watched her mix up a test batch as I listened intently to her story.
Looking back what my grandmother didn’t say as she looked out the kitchen window speaks so much louder. More eager to hear the story than cook at the time I simply listened to her tell of those early years in her marriage. I didn’t hear those things she didn’t say.
I now hear the fear of a wife whose husband is in the military but not able to be home every night. I hear the struggle that comes with trying to make ends meet with small children underfoot. I hear the sound of disappointment at not becoming the beautician she had dreamed of being. I hear the pride of coming out of each struggle on the other side. I hear the wonder of a farm girl from Kansas learning that she would be asked to live in Japan. I hear the hope those women brought in the form of welcome wagon gifts. I hear humanity in the form of Mexican Cornbread.That was the first time in my life I realized cooking isn't about food. Click To Tweet
That was the first time I experienced the fact that cooking isn’t about food. Cooking is about love, experience, and most of all relationships.
I had forgotten that in the years that so swiftly pass. I experienced it again recently when I went to my best friends house so our girls, who are also best friends could make Christmas cookies together.
At some point throughout the day I heard my friend tell the older girls not to mess with her because she was a grandmother four times over and she had magic powers.
That is when it hit me.
A wave of love and nostalgia so strong I lost my self for a moment. I was back at my grandmothers farmhouse watching her stir real corn into cornbread and talk about the sweet Mexican woman who had brought her a pan to welcome her to the new military base she would call home for such a very short time.
Maybe it is because I am getting older. Or maybe it is because I am in a season of my life where I am realizing the unique value of every human being again. It does not really matter the reason, all that matters is that after all this time I have finally realized that cooking is not about the food.
So for that reason I think it is time for me to find a love and not just a need for cooking.