It’s during the holidays that you miss the most the people you love who have passed away.
Christmas always makes me think of my grandma Noni, who was probably the best cook I’ve ever known. She would make mountains of cookies and keep them in tins in the basement. She’d hand roll and shape hundreds of tortellini and spinach-filled tortellachi by herself, keeping them in big freezer bags until they were ready to be turned into soup or topped with creamy tomato sauce. She taught me to make bread (and pizza and pasta fritta, which is basically just bread dough that’s been stretched and rolled out and fried) and never, ever said no when it came to cooking with me.
When I was very little and my mom went back to work as a teacher, my grandmother would watch me during the day. We’d watch Sesame Street and Mister Rogers, and then Julia Child and The Frugal Gourmet, on PBS. We’d walk to my grandfather’s accounting office a few blocks away and I’d play with the typewriter and the copier while she helped him with tax-season paperwork.
During Christmas she always had two trees – a giant one, by the front window, impeccably decorated with angels and flowers, and a smaller one, in the corner next to the piano, with ice cream cones and wooden trains, especially for us girls. We were the only grandchildren, but we had so many relatives nearby – cousins from both sides of the family, and aunts and uncles – that we were never lonely. In fact, the house (where we’d go every year at Christmas, even after we moved back to California) had an open-door policy and was always busy. My grandmother always had incredible food to share with whoever decided to stop by.
She’s been gone for 17 years, now, and I still wish she was here. She would have loved my husband. She would have loved to be around to see my future kids. She would have been proud to watch us grow up. I would love to be able to call her up right now and ask her for all of her recipes (they’re somewhere in my grandfather’s house, but I couldn’t find them this past summer, so my sister and I are recreating most of them for a gift for my mother – don’t tell!). She’d be able to tell me all about family history too, and dig out photos. She kept everything – this summer when we were looking for the recipes we found every birthday and Christmas card that had ever been given to her). She had a beautiful singing voice and would be preparing right now for her Christmas Eve solo at church.
I dug these photos out this morning, of her reading to me. I miss you Noni!