Most people my age haven’t had the great, fortunate pleasure of growing up with their grandparents—all four grandparents, in my case—happy, healthy, and present for life’s celebrations. My grandparents have seen me through junior high volleyball and high school cheerleading, honor roll ceremonies and art openings. They were all there when I graduated high school and when I received my bachelor’s degree. With my grandparents, I’ve traveled to fishing holes in Wyoming, the mountains in Colorado, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. They stood next to me as we watched my brother board a bus for war, and they welcomed my husband in to the family last summer at my wedding. For all of these things, I am very fortunate.
But I have always known that with this great fortune comes a stark sadness, the inevitable end to lives well lived. Only last year at the age of 28, I attended my great-grandmother’s funeral—the first family funeral I have experienced. And it seems as though this year will likely hold the end for my maternal grandmother, Lois, who is currently losing a battle with brain cancer.
A strong-willed, farm-raised mother of three, my grandma spent the majority of her days using her hands. She taught school children, masterfully cross-stitched and quilted, and worked magic in the kitchen. I was lucky enough to spend summer after summer of my childhood following her lead, working methodically from her garden to her kitchen to her sewing room, watching her craft artful masterpieces out of both pastry dough and fabric. I could never have known it at the time, but my grandmother’s penchant for creating things resonated inside of me; she helped shape the future artist and amateur kitchen whiz I’ve grown to be.
Yet of all the things that my grandma created, nothing left a sweet, sticky-fingered mark on my memories quite like her cinnamon rolls. I can see her arms working fluidly back and forth and she rolled the cinnamon-dusted dough, and I can still smell the warm aroma of hot, gooey sweetness as they came out of the oven. Thus, when she was moved from her home to hospice care and we were faced with the sorrowful realization that she may not make it to see 2014, I asked for one thing—her recipes.
I wish I could say that this story ends with her cinnamon roll recipe, immortally pinned to the internet’s giant fridge of proud accomplishments. But unfortunately, when I received my grandmother’s stack of old cookbooks and a box full of her handwritten, treasured recipes, notes on the design of her cinnamon rolls were glaringly absent. She made them for every guest that came through her house, and she sent them home, frozen, with anyone who would oblige. Her recipe was written in her mind, and it seems all too cruel that the disease that will ultimately take her life also first took her memories.
My daughter is due this July, and she will never know her great-grandmother, and I will never know what golden bits of knowledge were lost as she faded. I may never be able to perfectly recreate the flaky, sweet rolls that she fed me for so many years, but it seems like a disservice to everything she taught me if I don’t try. So as my daughter grows and I tell her tales of her great-grandmother’s kitchen, she will know of her cinnamon rolls, and we will try, together, to craft them as delicately and expertly as she did.