When I was in college, my grandmother would call from New Jersey and whichever roommate answered the phone, part of the chit chat was inevitably about the weather. Of course, she already knew the forecast for Rhode Island, certainly better than a roomful of nineteen year old girls.

“How’s the weather up there?” she’d begin the conversation. Because it had not occurred to us to notice, we’d look out the window and report current conditions. Admittedly, it came in handy sometimes, even if we laughed about it. “Wear a coat, Grandma says it’s going to get cold this weekend!”

I’m not laughing quite as loud these days as I yell out the door to my children, “Aren’t you going to wear a hat?!” Ah, hubris. 

My grandmother has always been an avid reader and, for years, I was convinced that she single-handedly kept the US Postal Service afloat. If she saw an article she thought I would like, she would cut it out and mail it to me. From personal interest to practical advice, I’d get a small stack of clippings tucked into a card. Museum exhibits, book reviews, recipes, how to season a cast iron skillet or de-ice the door handle of a car.

Last night, while looking for dinner inspiration, I scrolled through saved recipes in my New York Times cooking app. Then I checked Epicurious. Then I scrolled through texts I’ve sent myself. Finally, I scrolled through Facebook messenger because I often copy and send myself recipes.

Damn, I thought. If grandma had google, this is what it would have looked like.

Since the online articles are date-stamped, these files have become a record that can gauge my mood throughout the year — a digital thumbprint of the zeitgeist of my life. The recipes shift in complexity with the seasons. There is evidence of times I’m trying to be healthier, and other times that I seem eager to spend more time alone in my kitchen, willing to hunker down over a multi-stepped recipe.

There are a ridiculous amount of cocktail recipes, even though I consistently pour wine. There is also some evidence that my memory is slipping: I’ve sent myself a Poloma recipe at least twice a year for the last three years. I’ve never made it. Not once. At least I can find solace in an article I saved about aging and normal memory loss.

Tucked in and among recipes are essays that I must have found interesting: blogs on raising children, letting go, starting kindergarten, starting high school, navigating adolescence. There are clusters of articles that speak to uncertainties, resolutions, a desire to do better. Articles on how to be more present, book lists, how to hold a plank everyday for 30 days. It’s all there — a record reflecting my inner workings for the last several years — peppered between the constant need to get dinner on the table in 45 minutes or less.

Even though she still reads the papers, my grandmother doesn’t send me too many articles anymore. Instead, she will call, or even text, to tell me about something she’s read, knowing that I can look it up myself. The small piles of thin yellowing papers that I used to have collecting  in drawers or sitting on my nightstand have dwindled. And while I seem to have replaced the clutter with other things, I miss the surprise of happening upon a clipping that had been sent to me out of mutual interest — out of love — that really said nothing more than I’m thinking of you.

When I look back, I’ll remember the first blizzard of 2018, dramatically dubbed “the bomb cyclone” by weather forecasters, with a cluster of braises and variations on mashed potatoes. I hope the rest of the year is filled with a wide variety of articles because if my grandmother’s habit has taught me anything, it’s that reading makes an interesting life. We can be curious and hopeful, take little steps or make big plans, and that a good piece of practical advice never grows stale. Neither does a good recipe.

Polomas, anyone?

6 comments

  • MAUREEN GAITES

    JEN. I’M TELLING YOU PUT ALL OF THEM IN A BOOK, IT IS LITE READING THAT ALL MOTHERS CAN SAY I DID THAT OR THAT HAPPENED IN OUR HOUSE. IT EAITHER MAKES US LAUGH OR SMILE WHICH WE ALL NEED ANYWAY. I WOULD BUY IT. LOVE YOU MOE

    Reply
    • Jennifer Gaites

      Thank you! I always appreciate your reading and your feedback!

      Reply
  • Phyllis Provenzano

    What a great testament to your grandmother in terms of sending the articles and showing you how reading makes for an interesting life. I wonder what you will do for Abbey, Matt and Robbie to stay connected. I’m sure it will be something equally amazing.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Gaites

      Thank you, Phyllis! Who knows which little things become big things, as the kids get older!

      Reply
  • sheila

    Jen, one of my greatest delights, having had the wonderful mother I did, is opening the old yellow plastic recipe box, and looking for a pot roast recipe, and finding instead, my mother’s coq au vin, in her handwriting (still beloved) thumb printed by me over the last forty years + and the collection of 3X5 cards with bent corners and the beloved recipes for Christmas: Spritz, and Carmel Heavenlies and Crescents, all stained with the thumb prints of children as they handled the card in preparation. I would say, “Okay, what next?” and Lael would say “powdered sugar” or “a stick of butter” or John would say, “I want to help put on the Andies candies” and my mother is back in the room. A generational event, every card of hers a litany to holidays and Thanksgiving and birthdays and our family. Best ongoing gift! Thanks for giving me again the whiff of her cooking, sometimes with Manhattan in hand!

    Reply
    • Jennifer Gaites

      I love this. And it’s so true…those cards hold our DNA in a way!

      Reply

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