After my grandfather died, my grandmother found herself in Orland Park, IL - 1000 miles from the farm where she grew up in eastern Tennessee, with two young children and a brand new real estate business that she and her now-deceased husband started together just a few months before. Maybe I’ve told you about this before. Her story is one of my favorite stories of all time.
Anyhow, her mother came to help. Zella was a stern woman with one eye. She wasn't much into hugging or praise, but Dad said she would make this apple cake, and have it warm when he got home from school, and it was "the nicest thing she ever did." Other times he says that cake was how she showed her love. I never met her, but I dig up the recipe for Granny's Apple Cake whenever I need to show someone my appreciation. It's handy that way. Never an unsatisfied customer.
Yesterday I baked and took this cake to an Easter brunch in The Netherlands where an 82-year-old Dutch sailor told me about his only trip to America. He was a young man working on a container ship, and when a malfunction with the ship landed him in Boston and required him to get to Galveston for his next assignment, he and three other sailors split a rental car and spent three months road tripping from the shore of Massachusetts to the coast of Texas. He said that most of the time they had no idea where they were, and that he was happy to hear I'm from "that side" of the country. He smiled mistily as he talked about that time in his life, and danced a little when he told me that he had discovered reggae music and Jamaican rum in Houston and that he liked them both "very much."
He made me think of my grandmother, as old people tend to do. I thought about the decades of stories he has inside of him, of the stories everyone has inside, of how every person has a vast universe inside of them, buzzing with so much light and joy and wisdom and history that we could learn and feel so much from if we would only slow down to take a peek. And then I ate some cake.