Baby Boomers come in second.
This past week as I’ve looked a bit deeper into the lives of a few of my aunts and uncles – all part of that Greatest Generation – I have been reminded why they were great.
I think a couple of things that happened during my mom’s and dad’s lifetimes really molded them into the kind of people they were.
The Great Depression undoubtedly had a profound impact on how that generation looked at life. Nearly everybody was deeply impacted. Oddly, both of my parents claim to have been somewhat protected from the worst of the situation. My mom’s family lived on a farm. She often told me that she never remembers being hungry or even wanting for food. “We always had vegetables,” she would tell me, and would describe a meal of thinly-sliced radishes on buttered bread, or a salted tomato sandwich. For her, that seemed nothing to complain about. I’m pretty sure that would have brought a complaint or two from me.
My dad’s family, of course, had the bakery. While meat may have been a scarcity, they always had bread and rolls to eat. The only thing I ever remember Dad complaining about was that Grammie considered “Heavenly Hash” to be a meal. Heavenly Hash is a concoction consisting primarily of fruit, marshmallows, and whipped cream. Some recipes call for rice, but I don’t know if Grammie bothered with anything like that. Dad would be hungry after a long day at school and work, and the sweet meal just didn’t cut it for him.
But I also recall him talking about how Grammie would hand out rolls and bread to the hobos who would stop into the bakery looking for food. “Dad would be baking in the back of the store at the same time Mom was giving away bread and rolls in the front,” my father told me. What an example of generosity of spirit.
The other event that must have shaped their lives was World War II. Whether you served in the military or watched from the sidelines, it would have been impossible to not be impacted. I recently watched a 7-part special on the Roosevelts, and was able to get a pretty clear picture of just how scary the world must have felt at that time whether or not you were fighting overseas.
Despite everything, things seemed to be easier back in my parents’ younger days. Oh, you didn’t have the modern conveniences, there was no Internet and IPads were not even a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ parents’ eyes.
But take cooking, for example. You didn’t have to worry about where to find turbinado sugar or gluten-free flour or Meyers lemons or whether or not your seafood was sustainable. You just cooked. You were happy if you had any sugar. You probably didn’t have access to any kind of fresh lemon if you lived in Columbus, Nebraska; you just used the bottled stuff. Even I, at this very moment, don’t fully understand how or why or when seafood is sustainable.
No extra-virgin olive oil. More than likely you just used lard. What can I say?
My second cousin Kate told me this week that she has her grandmother’s (my mom’s eldest sibling) recipe box. Her favorite recipe (likely because it is in her grandmother’s handwriting) goes like this….
7 cups bread cubes
1 cup celery chopped
1 cup onion
1 lb. pork sausage
Fry, remove and slosh the bread in the fat. Put into container and add 1 can cream of chicken soup, season and bake at 350.
The Barefoot Contessa has never instructed me to “slosh the bread in the fat.”
At the same time, Kate told me they spent every Christmas Eve at her grandmother’s house. “EAT,” Clare would tell them, even though they were as stuffed as the turkey. Because people who like to cook like to see their food enjoyed.
And they always dressed in their Christmas finery for dinner, ready for Midnight Mass. Kate said she only remembers Clare missing Midnight Mass once, when she offered to stay home with Kate’s 6-month old baby on an especially cold Nebraska Christmas Eve.
But I am going on too long, and I will leave you, and my aunts and uncles, with one final recipe….
Mary Ann’s Cole Slaw Dressing
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. vinegar
Boil 1 minute.
Chill, then blend with:
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. dry mustard
1 t. grated onion
1 c. oil
1 t. celery seed
It remains my favorite cole slaw dressing to this day.