My grandmother is on the right.
This was taken on her London trip in 1950.
I’ve got the house to myself for a few days, with a ton of work to get through and an empty fridge. Last night, by the time I’d finished, I was too tired to go to the grocery store. That left me with some brussel sprouts from my garden, an onion, some fresh herbs, and some chick peas. Not exactly scintillating ingredients, but I managed to get a pretty satisfying roasted dish out of them.
As I was making quick work of chopping the onion, I was thinking about how onions always make me think of my long-deceased grandmother. Having lived through the Depression and both World Wars, she was a loving but tough woman– German through and through. On the rare times we stayed overnight at her house, she’d march us off to bed with no talking and lights promptly out–but then she’d put little presents under our pillows for us to discover upon waking.
When I was 5 years old, I vividly remember her– at age 60 — getting on my bike and taking it for a spin. I was gobsmacked that someone “that old” could do something like that. She was an adventurer with a raucous sense of humor, who traveled the world in her later years.
And she was a terrible cook.
At least that’s what I remember. She used to put onions in everything! In particular, her “homemade” spaghetti sauce comes to mind. She’d heat up a can of tomato soup, throw in a boatload of chopped onions, and add a pinch of salt for good measure. That’s how, in my formative years, I came to hate onions.
But now, as someone who likes to fancy myself a decent cook, I’ve reconsidered their value and have come to heavily rely on them to help lend great flavor to many dishes. So as I was standing there alone in my kitchen chopping onions–without my husband or daughter’s talk and laughter filling up the house–I thought about the four decades she lived alone with infrequent company, and I wished that I had known better. I wished that I had visited her more. I wished that I had taken more time to store up her stories. Right about now, I might even be able to convince myself that sitting down to some of her homemade spaghetti sauce would be a treat.