I have a vague memory of baking cookies with my grandmother. That was in 1952. Still, it is a genuine memory, one I wanted to recreate with my own granddaughter.
Over a batch of peanut butter cookie dough I discovered a lot about Lola – she is bright, inquisitive and insightful (I am sure I was none of those things when I was 5) – and I faced a few truths about myself.
I was looking for the measuring spoons, muttering under my breath about my declining organizational skills when her quiet, shy voice asked, “Grandma … are you old?”
Four little words strung together into a question I had been avoiding for years. I considered debating the definition of “old” with her, but five-year-olds just want the facts.
“Well, Lola, I am old. At least older than you,” I hastened to clarify. “But only by 60 years.”
What had her inquiring eyes noticed that distracted her from mixing sugar and egg together in the bowl in front of her and led her to ask that question? I stood a little straighter and reached up to fluff my hair. “I wasn’t always old, you know.”
I measured out some flour, letting her digest that bit of additional information. Surely she would ask me about my youth. I could tell her about learning to sail while I was a mother’s helper at Big Cedar Point. Or listening to the Beatles, hanging out at Yorkville coffee houses and living at Rochdale. Hiking the Bruce Trail, for heaven’s sake.
“I won’t ever know you when you were young.”
I dumped the flour into the bowl and mixed vigorously, realizing too late that the peanut butter should have gone in first. Lola was right. My youth is my shadow.
Grandchildren can be distracting. Often they make us face up to reality.
“Your skin isn’t smooth like mine.”
“No, it’s not.” I tightened my grip on the mixing spoon and beat harder.
She ran her hand along my arm. “It’s soft and wiggly,” she whispered, stroking my arm again.
“Well it’s been with me a long time. I think maybe it’s getting a bit tired. Like an old pair of blue jeans.”
Lola looked at me dubiously, a frown on her face. Then she smiled. “You’re trying to make me laugh, aren’t you grandma?”
I really didn’t want to have this conversation. I wasn’t ready for it. I’d succeeded in not having it with myself – why have it with Lola? Distraction seemed the best defence. I unscrewed the lid on the jar of peanut butter. After all, wasn’t that what this visit was about? Making cookies, making memories?
“Scoop the peanut butter into the bowl for grandma, hon.”
“It’s too hard. Can you help me?”
Ah, this was better. My grip on the spoon relaxed.
“Of course I can. That’s what grandmas do. We help our grandchildren in so many ways. We are strong and wise. And we are young for our age!” Grace under fire, that’s me!
I looked at the top of her head as she bent over the bowl flicking a finger into the batter and helping herself to a taste of peanut butter. So much like her dad. I wanted to reach over and hug and kiss her just for being sweet and beautiful.
She looked at me with her blue, blue eyes. “Grandma, what are those lines on your face?”
The moment had passed. We were back to The Inquisition. Had she seen me in the bathroom, fingers pressed lightly on my cheekbones, lifting my sagging skin gently toward my forehead?
“Well, pumpkin, they are called wrinkles.” (And I earned every one of them; I muttered to myself the well-worn rebuke.)
“Do they hurt?”
Should I tell her about the sorrow lines or that most are laughter lines? Maybe not, I decided. Some things should be left to later, or never. I wondered if I should try to explain that as each wrinkle appeared it was like the ticking hands on a clock, counting off time that’s slipping away. Would she understand how time slips away?
“I had a booboo on my knee once. It hurt. But then I got Bunny to kiss it for me and it didn’t hurt any more. Do you want to borrow Bunny, grandma? He could kiss your wrinkles for you.”
“Perhaps later. Let’s finish making the peanut butter cookies, sweetie.”
Maybe that’s all aging is, a little booboo. Not important enough to dwell on for long; kisses will make it hurt less.
When the cookies had cooled we took them out to the back patio. Sitting on my garden swing, we enjoyed the warm, sweet treat we had made together. It would be a perfect memory. I leaned over and kissed her cheek. She kissed me back and smiled.
“Are you going to die, grandma?”
“Some day, but not for a very long time. I want to bake cookies with you again.”
“I’m glad. I like baking with you.”
We sat and swung together a bit longer, quietly. My heart was full of love and I knew Lola’s was too.
Grandchildren ask important questions. Brave grandmas answer them. We learn from each other. We sustain each other.
Patricia Montgomery lives in Newmarket, Ont.