Missing our Matriarch, Poem on Grief

We can’t avoid the saddest part of our humanity and though we know we’ll have to deal with it, as my husband’s Aunt Pauline said, “It never gets easier.”

I haven’t posted in awhile because Cecile Gruer, my 86 year-old mother-in-law and matriarch of our family, passed away last week. There’s so much to say about her decline, measures that were taken to try to restore her health, and the month she spent under hospice care. The last time she celebrated a happy occasion with the family was her granddaughter’s wedding in September 2021. Even then, she wasn’t truly herself.

There’s much more to say about Cecile, who as a young girl in Poland, ran with her parents and siblings from the Nazi’s during WWII. She spent years in Siberia, freezing and starving. After the war ended, she was a teenager in an Austrian displaced persons camp. Her immediate family eventually moved to America, first to St. Louis and then to New York. She met Morris, another Holocaust survivor, in Brooklyn, NY and they married and built a home and family. So much to say…

The outpouring of sympathy from family and friends illustrates the importance of community. It may sound cliche, but it’s crucial to support each other when a life starts and when it ends.

Hubby and I are exhausted from the many months of Cecile’s decline, reeling from witnessing her personality change, saddened by her loss of communication, and grieving her passing. A tribute post will have to wait. Though Cecile didn’t die young, Jon Pineda’s poem on grief strikes a chord.

My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up the Task was published in The New York Times Magazine January 16, 2022 with commentary by Victoria Chang. She said, “I first read this poem on Twitter, and even though it’s a simple poem about grief, it stayed with me. I’m fascinated by the way that it discloses so much in its title, showing how a title can get important information out of the way so that the poem can breathe on its own. Yet the reader doesn’t know what the ‘task’ is until the third stanza. The poem is an example of how abundant emotions can be conveyed by stripping language down to the bone.”

My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up the Task

A basket of apples brown in our kitchen,

their warm scent is the scent of ripening,

and my sister, entering the room quietly,

takes a seat at the table, takes up the task

of peeling slowly away the blemished skins,

even half-rotten ones are salvaged carefully.

She makes sure to carve out the mealy flesh.

For this, I am grateful. I explain, this elegy

would love to save everything. She smiles at me,

and before long, the empty bowl she uses fills,

domed with thin slices she brushes into

the mouth of a steaming pot on the stove.

What can I do? I ask finally. Nothing,

she says, let me finish this one thing alone.

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Thanksgiving Side Dish, Sweet Potatoes With Marshmallows

Image source: Home Made Interest
Image source: All Recipes

Thanksgiving is around the corner and that means recipes, recipes, recipes! My Sweet Potatoes With Marshmallows casserole is a family favorite, and the actual index card with the recipe is special to me because it was written by my Grandmother Ruth. It’s stained and yellowing and I keep it in a sandwich bag but, come to think of it, I should laminate it! For Thanksgiving, we prepare no less than three Sweet Potato With Marshmallow casseroles and, at the end of dinner and divvying “some to take home,” there might be about three quarters of one baking dish left over!

Happy holidays, hon!

Sweet Potato Casserole

Ingredients

  • 2 lb can sweet potatoes (light or no syrup preferred), drained
  • 1 (8 or 15 oz) can crushed pineapple, drained (either size works, depending on desired sweetness) 
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (can lower sugar quantities if desired)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 bag mini marshmallows (can use less or more of bag as desired)
  • nonstick spray or margarine or butter for greasing

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 9 x 11 glass baking with non-stick spray, margarine or butter.
  2. With hand mixer, beat potatoes well. Add crushed pineapple to potatoes and mix.
  3. Separate egg and beat egg white until stiff. Set aside.
  4. Add yolk to potatoes/pineapple mixture and beat.
  5. Add brown and granulated sugars to mixture and beat.
  6. Fold egg whites into mixture.
  7. Pour mixture into greased baking dish. Dot the top with about half of the mini marshmallows.
  8. Bake for approx, 25 minutes and then dot the remaining marshmallows on top. Bake for about 15 more minutes. Remove from oven when marshmallows are lightly browned. Tip: Pay attention to marshmallows. They will puff in oven before settling. Add second half of marshmallows when first half is only slightly browned.)
  9. Total bake time is approx. 40 minutes.

Yield:  8

Prep Tip:  A day or two before the holiday, prepare casserole (steps 2-7) but do not top with marshmallows, and refrigerate. On Thanksgiving, remove prepared dish from fridge about an hour before baking. Bake following instructions to dot casserole with half of the marshmallows, bake partway, add remaining marshmallows, and finish baking.

Recipe in my Grandmother Ruth’s handwriting.

Birthday Girl-Repost

My mom and third granddaughter.
My mom and third granddaughter.

Today would have been my mom’s 76th birthday. I’m re-posting this, along with an introspective quote, in her memory. 

“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts….We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.”

― Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces

Birthday Girl

My mom and third granddaughter.
My mom and third granddaughter.

Today is my mom’s 75th birthday. What a milestone.