When I was growing up, my grandmother would always bring one dish to Christmas and Thanksgiving. Grandmom made the best baked macaroni and cheese. It was a beautiful sight to behold. I honestly don’t remember or even know if she could cook anything else.
Just about every holiday or school break, my family would head to Philly to visit my mom’s family. My grandparents’ house was where we stayed. Although I now live in that same house, only every once in a while does it feel like my childhood. Usually it’s a smell that reminds me of those days.
When we were here, both of my grandparents had to parade us around town to visit the rest of the family — aunts, cousins, and random people we didn’t know. And they didn’t know us. Sometimes it was annoying, not gonna lie. But at each house, with few exceptions, there was always food.
They couldn’t help it. My mom may have grown up in Philly, but both sides of her family were from different parts of South Carolina. I remember, when I visited the small town where my grandfather was from, there was an older cousin who insisted that we eat. Even if we’d already eaten, we must eat whatever is being made. Food is a love language.
When I was growing up, my grandmother would always bring one dish to Christmas and Thanksgiving. Grandmom made the best baked macaroni and cheese. It was a beautiful sight to behold. I honestly don’t remember or even know if she could cook anything else. There wasn’t much of a fragrance, but you could always tell when that oven was on and she was working.
It was imperative that we each got our servings of Grandmom’s mac and cheese before it was all gone. Seriously, I could live without turkey, greens, or sweet potato pie. But if we knew Grandmom’s mac and cheese was there and we didn’t get any? Life … ruined!
My freshman year of college, the Friday after Sept. 11, I got a call. My mom’s voice was the most shaky I’d ever heard it. Grandmom had been out and about gathering supplies for her college web design class. Yup, my almost-80-year-old Grandmom was in college. While she was out, she collapsed, the ambulance came and she was later placed on life support.
This is just days after 9/11. I’ve been in college for less than a month. And now I’m flying to Philly from Tennessee to see Grandmom. My mom, my eldest brother, my cousin and aunt, and I were all in the ICU, gathered around her bed, sharing stories and coming to grips with the very real possibility that this was the end.
Then my cousin looked up and said, “Did anyone get the recipe?” We all knew exactly what recipe she was referring to.
I replay it in my mind in slow motion. You can see that everyone was thinking: “Are you seriously asking about a recipe right now?” Then you see on each of our faces the sheer horror that, no — no one has the recipe. No one said it out loud, but I’m pretty sure we were all like: “Please wake up. Wake up! Ten minutes is all we need. Come on, Grandmom, you have to wake up.” It was actually just silence.
Grandmom never woke up. She was taken off of life support, surrounded by her family, listening to music she had recorded a year prior. She was lively, creative, the center of attention — now gone, but not forgotten.
Since she died, everyone in the family has tried to recreate Grandmom’s mac and cheese. The first few Christmases were kind of like a sibling competition. Who could get it right? Nobody ever did. For a few years, mac and cheese just didn’t show up to the party at all.
Then one day I remembered that my middle brother and I had once sat and watched Grandmom create her masterpiece. I tried it. I couldn’t get it right, but it was close. My brother’s was closer. I think if we teamed up, we could bring honor to her name. When I was attempting to reproduce this delicacy, I felt like her spirit lived on.
It would be just like her to watch me and be like: “Nice try. But I told you I wasn’t going to give you the recipe.”
We may never get Grandmom’s macaroni and cheese again, but our memories of her and the legend of that dish will live on. My niece and nephew are now going to take up the macaroni challenge to bring promise and honor to our name.
Happy holidays, everyone! And please — for the love of all things good for your families — write down your recipes.