When I was in the fourth grade, my mother went back to work and my grandmother, Nannie, took on the after-school duties. Growing up, I was lucky to have two amazing grandmothers living close by. One taught me how to make taffy and can fresh jam in her warm, homey kitchen. My other grandmother wasn’t known for her cooking skills, but she loved to take me shopping and she could throw a cocktail party together in a flash. Nannie was the party grandmother, so I was naturally concerned when I found out that she would be in charge of our after-school snacks.
I remember the first time the big yellow bus stopped in front of her beautifully maintained, peaceful home. My two sisters, my brother, and I careened across her manicured lawn, dumped armloads of books, jackets, band instruments, and used lunchboxes onto her entryway floor, then made a mad dash for the kitchen (via the formal dining room). We didn’t even make it past the china cabinet before the look on Nannie’s face stopped us dead in our tracks. We realized immediately that our after-school routine was about to change dramatically.
At home, we would bust through the door and attack the refrigerator like a pack of wild dogs. As an older member of the pack, I thought it was about time someone tried to tame us, but I didn’t have much hope that it would work. Calmly and quietly, Nannie told us that we would find snacks on the kitchen table after we hung our jackets and organized our belongings into tidy piles. I don’t know if it was shock value or sheer hunger, but I watched in amazement as my little brother and sister fell into line and did exactly as she asked.
Upon entering the kitchen, we saw Nannie had approached our time together with the same philosophy and two rules that she applied to anything involving cooking or entertaining, “Why spend all day in the kitchen, when you could be playing bridge with friends? Rule #1: Keep it simple. Rule #2: Presentation is everything.” The table was set with grown-up plates and glasses, artfully arranged platters of cut vegetables with dip, cheese and crackers, a bowl of mixed nuts, and a carafe of apple juice. With soft jazz playing in the background, we sat politely and chattered happily.
I thought the novelty would soon wear off and we’d be back to our uncivilized ways but, day after day, Nannie kept us intrigued and in line. My little brother discovered a fondness for mango during her Orange Party, when she served sliced peaches, apricots, and mangoes, cheddar cheese cubes with fancy toothpicks, and Tang. The Tea Party persuaded my sister to eat cucumber sandwiches (even though she thought she hated cucumbers) because they looked so dainty on Nannie’s pretty china. We all loved the Pie Party most of all. Many grandmothers would’ve made pies from scratch, but Nannie had her own way of doing things. She thinly sliced apples, dusted them with cinnamon and sugar, folded them into wonton wrappers, and popped them into the oven. The warm little triangles were perfect for tiny fingers and a fun treat on chilly autumn days.
About the Authors: Rondi Hillstrom Davis and Janell Sewall Oakes are the co-authors of the award-winning book Together: Creating Family Traditions. To check out their website that's jam packed with family ideas, visit TogetherParenting.com