I am donating to honor the memory of my grandmother, Alice Carroll. In the late 1940s, she transplanted her family — with herself, her son and two infant twins (one of them my mom) — from New Brunswick to Vancouver. She left behind her family and community, and their straight-laced Baptist disapproval, for the romance my grandfather offered — romance that quickly disappeared, along with her savings. She worked hard as a secretary and housekeeper and raised her kids alone.
Grammy helped to raise me too while my own single mom worked to go to school and start a career. It was largely her food that sustained me and our small family. She fed me after school every day and countless dinners in her small apartment around a little table that became rather horrifyingly unreliable when she put the leaf in to serve a holiday meal. The food was plain and hearty, hearkening back to the Dorchester home of her youth and the table set by her own mother for my great-grandfather, a blacksmith, and the boarders they took in — biscuits and baked beans, fruit preserves, ham and scalloped potatoes, casseroles, muffins and pie. Skating on the pond out back. Kitty the horse. The details of the food and home created a picture in my mind of a bygone Anne of Green Gables world.
Gram wasn’t one for food fads, and she could never be accused of jumping on the health food or gourmet food bandwagons. She was as renowned for her super-sweet tooth (maple syrup over ice cream, anyone?) as she was for derisively smacking herself on her belly and declaring that she needed to lose a few pounds. But clearly there was something sustaining in all that home cooking; she lived to just a few months shy of her 100th birthday.
It was only when I finally went back east for the first time with Gram in my late 30’s, walked through the graveyard of her childhood hometown and “met” all the people she grew up with — along with the surprisingly great number of surviving family and friends who greeted her warmly — that I finally saw her connection to that place and understood what she lost when she proudly stayed out west. But if she ever felt marooned on the rainy coast, she did her best to draw us together around her little survivors’ campfire, cooking us the meals that connected us to the warmth and nourishment that she brought to us from her people.
Kathryn Scharf is the Chief Operating Officer at Community Food Centres Canada.
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