grandma sara

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My mom’s parents, Grandpa Chuck and Grandma Sara, used to throw really swell parties. And, even though I’ve heard this from multiple sources and have seen the photographic evidence, it’s hard for me to get it in my head. My grandfather died when I was really young, and, as I’ve mentioned before, my grandma began battling Alzheimer’s when I was in middle school, so I never knew any of them as fun-loving party folk. I mean, they were grandparents, you know?

It doesn’t really surprise me, though. They were both lovely, kind people who went out of their way to make sure the people around them were happy and comfortable, and isn’t that the mark of a great party host? At least, that’s what I try to do when we host a soiree. Until I get to that second bottle of wine, anyway, at which point everyone should probably start fending for him- or herself.

I don’t think Grandma Sara probably ever got to the second bottle of wine. A study in moderation, that woman, with the figure to prove it.

Anyway, even though I didn’t get to know them well as an adult, I definitely feel a connection to them, and the weirdest things will make set that connection abuzz. When I was in Michigan this fall, my aunt and uncle were talking about my Grandpa Chuck’s Bloody Mary recipe, and how it was wonderful and perfect and practically famous. I checked with my mom, and, sure enough, she had it! I couldn’t wait to get home and make it myself.

And then I forgot. Until this weekend, anyway, when we were planning a big tailgate and I decided now was the time to bring it out.

Oh, you guys. It might be the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had. Spicy where it should hit you with some spice, a little sweet and sour in all the right places … delish. Maybe too delish, as I didn’t want to share with many people and ended up having three all to myself.

To make things even better, after I made (and drank) it, my mom scanned in the actual recipe card that my Grandma Sara wrote out, and, do you get all emotional about handwriting? I do. I probably could identify the handwriting of almost anyone I’ve ever spent a lot of time with, and seeing her cursive on these old cards got me a little choked up. But mostly, I smiled, because what a great memory is this?

Anyway, recipe is (on the cards above, and) typed out below for your gastronomic pleasure. For the record, I only let it sit overnight and it was totally fine, but next time, I’ll totally plan ahead and let it sit a week. Also! I couldn’t find dill sauce (let alone the specific brand that Grandma underlined), so I just used juice from some garlicky dill pickles.

Grandpa Chuck’s Bloody Marys

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1/4 tsp celery salt

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp dill sauce (Milani, if you can find it)

1 oz. lime juice

46 oz can Campbell’s tomato juice

Vodka

Dill stick for garnish (or celery, like I did)

1/2 gallon jar

Mix all spices, then pour 1/2 the tomato juice and shake well. Then add rest of tomato juice and fill the rest with vodka. Let sit for a week.

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Several thousand miles above Georgia (or maybe it was Ohio, or possibly North Carolina), the idea of home hit me. I lived in the same house in Woodland, Michigan, until I went to college. When I was at Michigan State, just an hour away, home was obvious — it was the white farmhouse on a tree-canopied dirt road, across that road and up a steep hill from a lake, with a view of forest and fields and ponds and deer. It was where I had sleepovers and parties and watched movies and basketball with my parents. It was where my childhood dog was buried.

In about a month, I’ll have lived in Florida for 10 years, and my notion of home is a little hazier. My parents moved out of that house the same weekend I moved south, and, honestly, once they were no longer there, it was just a house. The small town in which I grew up, though I know every inch of the park and the school and the Dairy Queen (especially the Dairy Queen), well … it’s just some small town in Michigan there. A town where my dad used to have a store. I’ve been back a couple of times, but I feel like a visitor.

In a lot of ways, Florida feels like home, but it doesn’t feel like where I’m from. I’ve changed and grown in a lot of ways since I arrived, but my foundation was set before I ever paid a cent toward rent. Yes, I have history here now, but it’s not a history that really formed me.

This weekend, I was in Indiana, in a town called La Porte, for my Grandma Sara’s memorial (which was moving and beautiful, hard, but much-needed). What’s fascinating to me about La Porte is that, even though I’ve never lived there, it feels more like a home town than any other place on earth. My grandmother lived there until she came to live with us in Michigan in the ’80s, and we visited her often. I have family there — a big deal for someone who’s the only child of two onlies. There are businesses and plaques and gravestones marked with the names of people in my family tree.

Nobody knows me there, so it’s not like I go into a restaurant and am called by name, but there’s a strange sense of belonging, nonetheless. I know a lot of it has to do with who I see when I’m there — aunts and uncles and cousins who aren’t actually aunts or uncles or cousins (more like seconds or greats or twice-removeds). It’s because I go to the same house I visited on special occasions as a child, and because we talk about people like my grandfather, who I didn’t get a chance to know very well before he died.

What makes a place home? I think for me it’s partly the people, partly the memories, partly the actual location, and partly some sort of connection I can’t begin to understand. But it’s good to have, that much I know.

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The death of John Hughes brought with it a flood of memories for millions. Who among us didn’t try to do the lipstick trick? (Turns out it doesn’t work so well when your cleavage consists of a training bra stuffed with toilet paper.) And it’s hard to find someone my age (or five to 10 years older or younger) who doesn’t have an important adolescent memory closely tied to one of his movies.

While some of those memories are sure to be happy, some are certain to recall pain. But at least we have them. Not everyone does.

kris&garndma

Grandma Sara and me at my high school graduation open house, 1998.

When I was in sixth grade, I remember getting so annoyed with my Grandma Sara for asking me whether I had homework multiple times on the way home from school. “God,” I thought, “why doesn’t she just listen and pay attention?”

A few years later, after she’d been officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but was still well enough to live on her own, I remember being frustrated that she’d forgotten to make the pie for Thanksgiving. She made the best pies, and when I’d asked her whether they were done (as a helpful reminder — I wasn’t a completely terrible child), she assured me they were. People with Alzheimer’s sometimes tell you what you want to hear, not even realizing that they’re lying.

The following month, I tried to get out of going to her apartment because OH MY GOD, if I had to hear that poinsettia story ONE MORE TIME I would definitely die (in the way that teenagers often die). Yes, Grandma, I know they used to be all tall and spindly and kind of ugly, and you’re right! Now they’re so lush and full and beautiful! It is amazing.

I would give anything — ANYTHING — to hear that story from her one more time. Or any story, for that matter.

Grandma Sara has been in a nursing home for the past eight years and has dealt with Alzheimer’s for close to 18. She can no longer put together a sentence or tell us what she’s thinking. At 90 years old, her physical condition remains mostly good, but mentally … she’s mostly gone. On rare occasions, she’ll light up for a second when she sees one of us. Whether she recognizes us or is just happy to see a smiling face, it’s impossible to tell. She hasn’t responded in a way that makes sense to anything I’ve said in years. Mostly, she just tries to be polite to these people who come and sit with her. Sometimes she laughs, sometimes she’s weepy. We never know why — we’re just thrilled when we visit on a good day.

This is a woman who used to put on lipstick to get the mail. She had her family convinced she liked the wings of the chicken best because she knew everybody else liked the other parts better. One time I asked her if she’d ever sworn in her whole life, and she responded, “Don’t tell anyone, but I might’ve said, ‘Oh, hell,’ once or twice.”

She made the best cookies and pies, as well as the most beautiful formal gowns for my mom’s high school dances, and she took care of me after school for years (always making sure I had a snack). I taught her to shoot baskets, but never took the time to let her teach me how to sew.

Yuki has raised a lot of money in past years. She's not too keen on the UF mascots, though.

Yuki has raised a lot of money in past years. She's not too keen on the UF mascots, though.

On October 24, I’ll be walking in the Gainesville Alzheimer’s Memory Walk in her honor. I’m looking for people to walk with me — if you want to raise money, great. If you just want to show support, that’s great too. I’m also taking donations — you’ll see a small button over to the right if you want to donate online, or you can contact me if you’d rather do it in another way. Or, if you just want to share a story about how Alzheimer’s has touched your life, I’d love to hear that, too.

**Ed: I forgot to mention that anyone who lives in the area and wants to donate or become a part of Team Go for Grandma is TOTALLY invited to a par-tay at the Seymour residence following the walk. There will be food and booze — what more do you want?

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