Thomas Wolfe famously said that "you can't go home again," and I caught myself singing Miranda Lambert's poignant, original country song of the same title as I loaded up into my Aunt Tidley's classic Jaguar and hit morning traffic on I-75 heading to the airport yesterday morning. I was leaving Atlanta, Georgia, the home of my birth, after spending the week there, heading to my new adopted home of Vermont.
My grandmother, Miriam, or "Granka" as we all called her growing up, is 97 and after taking a sudden turn for the worse around Christmas, refusing water or food and becoming quite weak, my parents decided to help buy me a plane ticket so that I could take advantage of the slow after-holiday business week, get away from the restaurant and say a proper goodbye to her.
Granka was the kind of Southern woman who led an incredibly full life but still made time for the family she loved. A prominent Atlanta business owner and public figure, mother of 4 children and grandmother to 13, she was married to her husband Jim, my Poppy, for 73 years until he passed last fall. Her life could fill a book, but as I sat on the little wooden stool by the hospital bed where she lay sleeping, holding her large, strong hands, the memories of her entertaining at her home, standing in the doorway frying okra and country fried steak in cast iron with a buffet of squash soufflé, eggplant casserole, dodger cornbread and Parker House rolls all laid out along the worn, yellow laminate counter, kept coming back to me. The sounds of oil popping in the skillet and the feeling of squeezing through the crowds of cousins, aunts, uncles and siblings at Sunday dinners, often times with napkins and silverware in hand, were fresh in my mind (my job as a child was often to figure out how to lay out and configure table settings for our large family in a way in which everyone would be happy with their seat--good preparation for my current job at DH). Granka would be wearing one of her aprons, the aprons she passed on to me, and her hands would be busy and her face full of joy.
Since opening Down Home Kitchen this Labor Day in Montpelier I've often been asked by customers what my background in the restaurant world is and why I decided to open a place doing what we are doing at 100 Main Street. And although there are a few ways to answer the question, the one that rings truest for me is that I feel compelled to share the warmth and love that I was so blessed to grow up with with others. Granka was so good at that. She never met a stranger, would literally give you the cashmere cardigan off her back (even if she had spent hours bargain hunting for it at the department stores) and had a sincere interest in human beings that carried her through conversation after conversation with the many folks she came into contact with in Atlanta and throughout her travels around the world.
I'm proud of so many people in my life, but today for my first blog post (!) ever I want to honor her and thank her for being such a powerful role model to me. I look forward to sharing her stories and many other stories with you through this little blog and hope that when you come in to eat with me at Down Home you will tell me a few of yours.
(This post was written in January, 2016. Granka passed away the following week. Although I couldn't make it to the funeral, I'm so grateful I got to see her, tell her I loved her and say goodbye.)