The chorus of crickets, the flocking of birds, the lowered angle of the sun, the warm days and cooler nights: This is how my grandmother speaks to me now.
The busy mornings, the lazy afternoons, the many kindnesses and the boundless generosity of spirit - that describes her life and her character.
Annie left school to be a dress-maker, a fact that sometimes embarrassed my mother. Yet she was an avid reader, with a keen interest in politics and current events. The fact that she subscribed to every woman's domestic magazine on the market is surely one of the reasons I have always loved writing feature stories about home and food, because when I was visiting Annie, I gobbled up those magazines, absorbing everything from short stories to Faith Baldwin's column to recipes for Beef Stroganoff.
Annie read two newspapers every day, the Milwaukee Journal and our local daily. On Sundays, she read the Chicago Tribune and the Milwaukee Journal. It took all afternoon, from 1:45 p.m. when the lash dinner dish was dried and put away to about 5:30 p.m. when she set the table for supper. It should come as no surprise that I became a journalist.
While Annie's outlook on life contained fewer shades of gray than my own, she was accepting of the foibles of others, and rarely, if ever, passed judgment on anyone. I can't think of anyone she disliked, with the possible exception of the Republican Party in general.
Sadly as an adult, I've run across many women who are the antithesis of Annie: Shrill, grasping, envious of another's success, dishonest, capricious and calculating. I feel bad for their children and grandchildren.
Annie never held a job after she left her dressmaking position to marry my handsome Irish grandfather, other than poll worker and newspaper stringer (the society editor knew Annie had a finger on the pulse of Frenchtown). She was never a CEO, a board of directors president, or dean of a college. But she had more knowledge of human kindness in her little finger than any person who has ever touched my life.
It is no wonder why her grandchildren revere her memory, and why my mother, in the throes of Alzheimer's Disease, misses her most of all.
On days when the world seems to have gone crazy, I take comfort in my memories of the safety and security Grandma Annie provided for her family.
My husband and I have tried to create our own comforting rituals, including preparing humble meals together. One culinary ritual that we turn to in summer is chopped vegetables.
It all started many years ago when we began married life in a five-room apartment. We needed a kitchen strategy for hot days, as we had little cross ventilation (and I've never been fond of air conditioning). We'd poke around farm stands and markets for long-lasting vegetables like onions, peppers, cucumbers, broccoli and celery and have a chopping marathon when we returned home. Each vegetable was placed in a separate container in the refrigerator.
It was so hot last weekend that we opted for the chopped vegetable routine.
As usual, we made sure we had a variety of enhancements and condiments like sour cream, cream cheese, chevre, olives and tomatoes (which get mushy after a day or so) on hand, too. My husband grilled fried beef; my preference is stir-fried shrimp or chicken.
Over the next few days, the vegetables - and the protein source - were added to salads, wraps and stir fries. What remained after three days went into the freezer for use in a winter soup or stew.
Of this, Annie would surely approve.