Saturday, December 5, 2009

Domestic goddesses

My Grandma Froerer was a tiny little lady as was, for that matter my Granny Renken. At least that's how I remember it; I think I passed both ladies in height when I was about ten. But whenever I make frosting, I think of her with admiration. In deference to her memory, and because it tastes really good, I make a mean caramel frosting, using brown sugar and oleo, cooking and boiling by the clock, then beating in the powdered sugar. Its really a wonderful thing over applesauce cake, or oatmeal cake, or spice cake.
 My grandma frosted yellow cakes and oatmeal cookies. And, she made that caramel frosting by hand with no aid or abetting by mechanical means. Grandma cooked her frosting in a quart or a half or two quart pan, then wrapped a dish towel around the pan and beat and counted and beat and counted til the frosting was golden and smooth. I can only swear that we were duly appreciative...we would carefully peel the frosting layer off our cake and lay it on the side of our plate, eat our cake, then eke out the luscious treat in little tiny forkfuls as slowly as we could. We never left our cake unattended, knowing that one slip would mean someone else at the table scraping our frosting onto their plate.
Grandma was a domestic goddess in other respects. Each year she sewed us flannel nighties for Christmas with ruffles, buttons, and little bows. Each year we looked forward to our new Easter dresses, made for little girls who lived 400 miles away. For the school year, there were jumpers, for play, corduroy pants and cotton shorts, all sent in boxes wrapped in brown paper.

My mother also sewed for her daughters; after Grandma's eyes and hands failed her, my mother carried on, sewing my prom dresses and finally, as her mother had done for her, a wedding dress. The ritual of going to a fabric store and fingering the cotton blends and florals, rifling through the pattern files, or pawing through the remnant counter still feels like home.

 I don't sew, I'm afraid, but my daughter does, so I occasionally come along to ooh and aah over the potentially lovely outfits and fabrics. My sole efforts with needles are pedestrian attempts at mending. While pregnant with Lee, I did embroider a number of felt Christmas ornaments and even made Lee's first Christmas stocking. That was later recycled into Ben's stocking; two years ago, Lee, Ann, and I went into embroidery warp speed and made stockings for Gabe, Abbie, Lizzie, and Kenzie at my house, and then Kenzie and Ben again as wedding gifts. I understood the camaraderie of sewing that our ancestors enjoyed at quilting bees as we shared progress and strove toward our deadline. How pleasant it is to pull the socks from the cedar chest and know they are home grown.

 I look forward to seeing Lizzie and Abbie is some of the pretty Easter dresses their mamas wore and their great grandma sewed for them. Each spring we'd take a picture of the new dresses and send down record of her handiwork. This Christmas, Lizzie and Abbie will be resplendent in dresses and pinafores made by their great Grandma Millie for two other little girls, their cousins Alissa and Bella. Lizzie and Abbie were so excited, preening and posing when presented with their new dresses.

Grandma Millie carries on the home made tradition in her kitchen too. Her mother's angel food cake recipe, complete with notations, is hand written in her copy of the of the "old" St. John's cookbook. With Grandma gone, Millie now bakes angel food cakes from scratch for everyone's birthday. Whatever time of year, no matter how busy she is, a lovely glazed tender angel food cake will appear in the birthday person's home, presented on the pink flowered cake plate. Almost compensates for having a birthday.

Grandma crocheted afghans; I loved the progression of the rainbow colored yarn. She tried to teach me, but I proved proficient at nothing more than making long chains. Granny crocheted rag rugs which captivated me. I collected lots of rags and even completed a rug. But it was as wavy as the Pacific ocean and would have tripped all comers if I had put it on the floor. When I was in college, Granny took my sad project and unraveled it, recrocheting it for me, adding the stitches in their proper places so it laid flat.

We modern ladies have no problem keeping busy; we have lots of calls on our time, both in and out of the home. My children would have suffered if I'd been in charge of all their apparel. Home cooking was sometimes sporadic. But I am happy to have tangible evidence of the talents and skills of the ladies who preceded me as wives and moms. Whenever I stir up a cream cheese coffeecake, or a Mrs. Peter's coffeecake, or work up some gooey rolls by hand, I pay homage to that tradition.

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