Katie Did and Katie Does
#Resound11: Ordinary Extraordinary
Categories: #Resound11

Prompt 16 – Ordinary Extraordinary: Have you ever heard the expression “God is in the details?” Or, perhaps, “the devil is in the details?” When you think about it, it is the details that make up our lives: little, seemingly insignificant details, choices, and moments that make up our life, make up our story. Sometimes the most ordinary, mundane things can turn into extraordinary moments. What was one of your most extraordinary ordinary moments this year?

I may have interpreted this prompt a little differently than others. I think I had to re-read it or look at it on a different day to realize what my extraordinary ordinary moment of 2011 was. I re-read “God is in the details,” which is something I never hear. Maybe it’s just me or the company I keep, but I always hear “Devil” in place of “God” in the phrase. But when I saw the word “God” in this prompt the second time I looked at it, a thought immediately occurred to me. And this sudden inspiration is what I’m going with.

My grandmother–my father’s mother–has been gone now for nearly seven years. I can’t believe that, even as I’m typing it. I am the youngest child, of youngest children, of youngest children. I come from an older family, and, as a result, have experienced death in the family since I was about three years old. My grandma (Gram, as we all called her) was the grandparent I felt closest to and who I thought would be with me for a long, long time. I lost her sooner than I thought I would, just a few months shy of my 26th birthday. That may not sound too young to some, but to me–who had lost two of my grandparents when I was in elementary school and my mom’s dad when I was 19–25 years old was too young to lose someone I thought I had at least another 5-10 years with, if not more. I was also living in DC at the time, and had been away from home since leaving for college. Because of that, I didn’t feel as prepared as maybe the rest of my family for dealing with her death, and, so, I just didn’t. Maybe because the idea of her not being there was too painful of an idea. I had too much to experience in life not to have my grandmother be there for it.

I loved my grandmother. She was born in 1919 of Polish immigrants, and was the oldest of five children. This meant she was born of an age–and within a culture–that was rather oppressive, particularly to women. And by oppressive, I mean that she was unable to speak her mind, unlike the way I pride myself on doing. In many ways, we were opposite in personality, except we did have one thing in common: we both loved to laugh. And that, we did together often. I grew up in Hamburg, a suburb 20-25 minutes outside of Buffalo, and I would consider my weekends away with her to be weekend respites. Not to say I needed a get-away from my own household, but what waited for me on Hertel Avenue was a woman who I felt unapologetically myself with. There were no pretenses between us – I was free to be me, no holds barred, and there was no judgment. Every time I walked though her house, what currently was happening in my life seemed to disappear. I was with her, and our time together was our own and no one else’s. What I was doing at school, or who my friends were, or if I was annoyed with my parents – none of that was ever mentioned because it simply didn’t matter. Not to say that if I wanted to talk she wouldn’t listen. Quite the contrary – she listened to every word I muttered, laughed at every joke I told, let me bake or cook anything I had a hankering for, let me play any game I wanted (and there were countless to choose from), and, without fail, bought me a new toy during each visit, be it a Barbie doll, a coloring book or something else my eye fancied. It sounds like I had it made, and I did. You may think, “Sure, what kid wouldn’t enjoy being the center of attention and doing whatever it is they wanted?” But that’s not what it was, and thinking of it in that way cheapens the genuine relationship we had. It wasn’t a simple case of a grandmother spoiling her granddaughter. We really liked being together. We did things together. We went places. I met her friends, and saw where she grocery shopped, where she got her hair done, where she went to church. My grandparents taught me how to play pool, bowl and golf. They brought me into Canada from time to time, giving me my first dose of any sort of international culture. I got to experience city life, which, to a girl growing up in middle class (white) suburban America, was invaluable for shaping how I saw the world. And being a blue-blooded city dweller having visited 25 countries and counting, I’d say the impact was a lasting one.

Every year for our birthdays, including my parents, siblings, aunt, uncle, and cousins, Gram made us a cake from scratch of her own recipe. Usually chocolate, but sometimes half vanilla and half chocolate, occasionally made with fresh strawberries for those of us with summer birthdays, but always topped with this coconut flavored buttercream frosting. It was delicious, and every now and then, she and I would make it during one of our weekends together just for kicks. And by kicks, I mean because I wanted to and she obliged. After she died in 2005, I asked my parents if they found the recipe for that buttercream frosting when they went through her things. They didn’t have it, and neither did anyone else in the family. I was rather saddened by this, as there wasn’t much from my grandmother that I was able to keep after she died. I had to rely on my foggy memory as a 10-year old in her kitchen making frosting to recall the ingredients or the process. All I could remember was crisco, butter and coconut extract. Sadly, it was a lost cause.

Over the years, I’ve tried different recipes that I’ve thought would come close, and each one failed me. Until one day just before Thanksgiving, I tried a vanilla cupcake with coconut buttercream frosting from local cupcakery and my favorite place in Buffalo,  Zillycakes.  This cupcake is not a regular item on Zilly’s menu, and I had it only because I ordered Dan a cupcake tower for his welcome home party. I chose the cupcakes based on some of Dan’s favorite flavors, and coconut was selected based on his love of Malibu rum and Piña Coladas. We had leftover cupcakes for days after his party. One afternoon, I tried one of the coconut buttercream cupcakes that were left over from this party. Immediately, thoughts of my grandmother surrounded me. This was it. This frosting had the exact flavor and exact texture of my grandmother’s frosting.

You see, this isn’t just about the frosting. It’s about re-establishing a connection to my grandmother and to those cherished moments I spent with her growing up that I thought I had lost. I know that holding on to “things,” material or otherwise, is not the healthiest way to honor or remember someone. But it’s an undeniable truth about us as human beings that the things that appeal to our senses–taste, touch, sound, sight, and smells–are held in a special regard when they evoke strong memories, be it positive or negative. Yes, this is just frosting. Would I remember my grandmother just as well without it? Of course. But a moment that was supposed to be about a simple afternoon treat, turned into something a whole lot more–the tingly feeling that my grandmother was right by my side again. That day, God was in the details.

Thank you, Zilly, for paying close attention to the details – they do, indeed, matter. And thank you for giving me your recipe. It was one of the greatest gifts I was given this year. Thanks to you, I’ll now be able to make my grandmother’s birthday cake for my kids one day.

4 Comments to “#Resound11: Ordinary Extraordinary”

  1. Dad says:

    Wonderful article about my mom, your gram. Thanks for allowing us a glimpse into the world you hold dear. When did we ever annoy you?

  2. Rita Krawczyk says:

    You always touch my heart with your writing. You did it again.

  3. Sara says:

    Very sweet reflection on your relationship. Your grandmother sounds like a very special person.

    • Katie says:

      Thank you very much. I tried to capture someone–and something–that was very dear, which can be hard to do with simple words. Thank you again!

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