Updated: Dec 19, 2020
In 2015, my grandmother died at the age of 102 years. I wanted to write a memorial that would honor her in a personal way. I found it was easier to reflect on her life and her qualities by grounding them in activity we loved to do together in the summer during my visits as a child: making applesauce from scratch. So when you're faced with potential writer's block at writing something as daunting as a memorial or a toast at a wedding, or starting your own memoir, then reflect on past or current activity that helps you ground the thoughts, memories, and feelings.
Here's what I wrote for her memorial service:
A treasured tradition my grandmother Helen Orton and I had was making applesauce in the summer. She had a garden in a community field in the town of Mascot, Tennessee. There were some apple trees there. In June when I visited, the apples were tiny hard knots. They were too tart right off the tree, certainly only fit for cooking that early.
But my Nana knew how to turn tiny knots into a thing of incredible sweet perfection. I loved that we would start with picking the apples and carry them every step of the way to a delicious treat. The satisfying sound of those dense apples dropping into a basket lined with newspaper. Feeling the sun on our faces. Going back up to the kitchen to halve the apples into a huge pot of water and a little lemon. The gentle simmering. Then there was the wondrous device called the ricer - Nana let me be in charge of that. It was like a huge conical mortar and pestle with holes so that the precious cooked apples would leave behind their tough little skins and seeds. She added just enough sugar. The applesauce's texture was fine and smooth – you would never know it had come from such hard little knots.
Nana's faith – her approach to life – was like making applesauce. She didn't take the easy route in life, like a jar of applesauce off the grocery store shelf. She could see the transformative powers in the routines in life, like prayer. She lived the steady path toward what she hoped was near perfection, one that she could share with those around her. She would start a project and see it to the end, easy or hard. She stayed active and in good health so she could contribute to the community around her. Her efforts to stay healthy made it possible for her great-grandsons to visit her home and experience the joy of making applesauce from scratch too.
Thank you, Nana, for showing us by your example the joys of home and garden – where life begins and flourishes. You will be in our hearts always.