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  • Annmarie Throckmorton, M.A.

Bittersweet Orange Marmalade Memories.

Please pardon my crudity, “Crap, I have crepey skin.” There are fine lines on my neck and inside of my elbows. What would I expect at almost seventy? Am I looking too closely? Probably. Just like every other mortal soul who has ever lived, for all of my life I have felt that I was immortal, having not yet experienced the alternative, it seemed that this healthy little animal body would never die on me. In fact, I had so much vitality, so much sanguinity, that throughout my adulthood I donated my surplus, pints of blood to the American Red Cross on a fairly regular basis. Then in my sixties I passed out after giving blood, I tried one more time and passed out again. My long-time friend from junior high school told me bluntly, “You’re too old to give blood.” Hurtful but true. Now, at the site where I used to give blood to those in need, my skin is crepey. I am also crepey elsewhere. Eeew.

Odd fact: my paternal grandmother once cooked crêpes for us, when we three children were almost too young to realize how elegant they were, thin pancakes cooked in butter, neatly rolled into tasty tubes, and topped with a dollop of warm, bittersweet orange marmalade, very nice. But she persisted in calling them, “Craps, would you like some more craps?” Eeew. What was she thinking as she stood there in the kitchen, eating from her own plate, there alone by the stove?

I do not remember my paternal grandmother ever cooking anything else in her little apartment, except once when I visited as an adult, she prepared lunch for me: (canned but expensive) salmon and peas (canned but expensive) in a white sauce (perfect béchamel) that was surprisingly good, and I still make it for myself. Another time I visited her unexpectedly, late in the afternoon, and she gave me her early dinner of a single baked potato with butter and sour cream. That was a good old lady meal which I now often prepare for myself. Other than those three occasions, I do not remember her ever cooking. When we visited as a family, she would set out plates of nice bread, expensive cold cuts, creamed and pickled herring, gherkin pickles and assorted olives, and small cut-glass bowls of hard candy. I remember being surprised when I saw how holiday meals might be done in Currier and Ives paintings.

It is my recollection that my paternal grandmother did not usually complain or even discuss problems, she either solved them or suffered them silently. I very much admired that about her. However, on rare occasion she could be surprisingly candid. In exasperation at my mother’s screaming-meemies and other family-gathering spoiling behaviors, I once asked my grandmother why she had supported my father’s marriage to my mother, and why she always deferred to her. She looked far away and told me that with my father’s, and here she did not use the modern words of disabilities, dependencies, or Asperger’s, she simply pulled a sad, eloquent face that I understood, she had to accept the woman that he loved, and who was willing to marry him, or she would have had to take care of him for the rest of her life. And, in her words, she just could not do that. My mother often mused that my paternal grandmother and paternal great-grandmother had cosseted my father, they “would not let him lift a finger.” I always wondered if, when they hurried to care for him, they had duped her into thinking that he could do those things for himself. My mother thought that my father would not when often he could not. And to her credit, my mother accepted things about my father that few other women would have. My paternal grandmother was not so forgiving, with her focus and competence, she preferred to live on her own. When I was about eight years old, my paternal grandmother’s long-time boyfriend asked me to coax her to marry him, so I asked her if she would. She gave me the kind of sharp look that you give a child that is getting ahead of herself, then told me frankly that he was old and ill and poor, and she did not want to take care of him.

There is no way to look back into the mists of time and see the dynamics of those relationships with wiser eyes, I simply accept them as they were. I intend no disrespect.

Caption: Artistpiscis Bittersweet Orange, by Annmarie Throckmorton 2017.

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