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Of Grandmas and Chocolate

I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth. So my palate wasn’t exactly…evolved. When I was a kid I hated German chocolate cake. Actually, I didn’t like chocolate at all, but add that funky coconut or whatever it was that made a cake German chocolate and…..BLEH! My favorite cake was yellow cake with vanilla frosting.

The same thing with ice cream. My favorite flavor was vanilla. Plain old vanilla. Or maybe sometimes strawberry. But never chocolate! And leave the nuts off the sundaes, please.

Also? I didn’t like the taste of coffee as a kid. So forget coffee candy or the ick of icks: rum butterscotch. To me, that nastiness was adult candy, not meant for kids.

These preferences of mine were no secret. But you know what my grandmother served after dinner at her house on my birthday, EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR? German chocolate cake with coffee almond ice cream. What the hell, Grandma?

Here it was MY birthday, and I had to sit in front of a plate of this disgusting crap and force it down. As a child, I could never understand it, but it was just one more thing that contributed to the reason why this woman was not my favorite grandmother, if I were to choose one. And I did.

I never ever ate German chocolate cake any other time, why would I want it on my BIRTHDAY–the one day of the year it was supposed to be all about ME?

Of course, in retrospect, I suppose she may have served this brown coco nutty crap because it was also my Grandfather’s birthday and my father’s birthday and it was meant to be more of a group celebration, but to me it wasn’t fair. I was the kid and really, aren’t holidays for the children? I mean, would it have killed her to have a second option on the ice cream at least? I usually scraped off the cake frosting and accompanying that with a decent vintage vanilla would have made a world of difference. Birthdays were supposed to be special, and serving me food I hated didn’t make me feel that way.

And don’t get me started on what I got as a gift from dear old Grandma, either. I’m liable to split a seam.

I never felt very close to that woman. I carried her middle name, Isabel, but it didn’t make me favor her more. In fact, my middle name embarrassed me as a kid because it wasn’t “Ann” like EVERY OTHER GIRL I KNEW. Isabel sounded like an old ladies’ name. It’s not something I shared in public willingly.

Even though I never tested any boundaries with “Izzy”, as Grandpa called her, I always felt like she occupied her time not approving of me. She was serious and authoritative. She never “played” with me. Children were to be seen and not heard. She was full of rules and standards. You dressed up (as in, you actually wore a dress) when you went to the grocery store. You took off your shoes in the service porch before coming into the house. Her couch was usually covered in creaky plastic. The house was constantly and immaculately clean. My mother obviously rebelled the second she moved out, got married and had us kids, so Grandma’s rules seemed Draconian to me.

She spent the last few years of her life in a nursing home, suffering from dementia that would result in her refusing physical therapy for a broken hip. I was her conservator, so once when she hysterically demanded the phone from the staff, they called me and let her cry into the phone, demanding to “come home”. I told her I would come right over and I did.

I arrived hoping she had calmed down and forgotten everything by the time I got there, but she was still panicky and wanted to “go home”. Instead of telling her she was already home, or that she had to stay where she was, I asked her why. She said “the Germans” were coming to get her and they would kill her with a knife in court or something like that. A few minutes later, I picked up the paperback she was reading and realized she was reliving the last scene she had read in the book. Word for word. Weird that her memory was so good, yet served her so disastrously.

On a different visit, I asked her how she had met my grandfather. She told me this crazy story about how Grandpa was this leather jacket-wearing motorcycle-riding rebel. And how her family didn’t approve of him. And how they ran up to Reno and got married while she was still in high school. It sounded romantic, but definitely not something Grandma would do, and I wondered what book she had taken that story from.

When she died, I gave her eulogy at the funeral. I had reflected on memories and gone through her belongings to construct an appropriate funeral for a woman I had never gotten to know. As I outlined the eulogy, I began to realize how much we had in common. Either her “rules” had an influence on me, or I was genetically destined to be like her in other ways not so obvious, regardless of my resistance.

However, my impression of her as a rule-following, properly-behaved woman melted away when I found a newspaper article in her scrapbook that announced the elopement to Reno of her and my grandfather while she was still attending Sacramento High School. In 1937. I thought that was fantastic and wished I could have hung out more with THAT woman.

It was such a revelation for me and I was disappointed that I missed out on that part of Grandma. I wish I had spent more time with her, particularly before the dementia. Instead I got to know her a little better by rummaging through all her stuff as I settled her estate. Now I’m proud of and even impressed by her. She didn’t spend her time with me disapproving of everything I did, she was busy teaching me life lessons. And now I like my middle name and I love that it came from my Grandma Isabel. 

But I still don’t like German chocolate cake.

* * *

(This post was inspired by, of all things, a recipe. For German chocolate cake. Over at Jan’s Sushi Bar)

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  1. Ginger says:

    Nana, I love this post! I was waving placards with “I hate german chocolate cake” and “why don't you love me” as I read the first 3 paragraphs. and by the last two, i had simmered down and wondered about the great relationship i missed wrapped in youthful self pity about favorite flavors of cake and cream..
    Maybe she was trying to atone for her youthful escapade by making sure you grew up a proper lady….errr nanny? goat? panties?

    1. How sweet of you to read my old posts, posts whose comments have disappeared no thanks to Disqus and it's lousy ability to migrate from Blogger to WordPress. And I'm so glad you liked it!

      1. Jstlookn says:

        I just read this one too, Margaret…and felt a twinge of nostalgia.  I am an awfully lot like your g’ma..but not as much as my own grandmother.  Can you spell rigid?
        Fortunately I have a 10 year old great grand child now and can act out as wild as a March hare with her.  We have the mostest fun. 

        My kids don’t understand it one bit.


  2. Pouty Lips says:

    I meant to type "to the supermarket." I'm such a daft typist.

  3. Pouty Lips says:

    Zero comments? The best post on my blog has zero comments. Ha-ha. I have up to 30 on some of them that were frivolous and stupid.

    Grandma sounds like a hoot! The rebel wore a dress to to supermarket, apparently.