My grandmother made the best oatmeal. It was so good that it even tasted good cold.
She made it every morning for my grandfather, who always left some for his grandkids who wanted it.
I always have.
There were no microwaves so oatmeal was cooked on the stove. And the rest of the porridge sat in the pot waiting for me to eat it.
And I ate it.
My mother stayed at home until my younger sister started school. When I started third grade, Mom started dropping us off at her mom’s before she went to work.
We stayed with my grandmother over the summers until I was old enough to stay home while mom worked.
Going to my grandmother’s before school shattered my morning ritual of Cap’n Crunch and Captain Kangaroo. I couldn’t imagine finding anything better.
But I did. My grandmother’s oatmeal. And her cookies. And tuna sandwiches. And other staples of America’s most 20th century children.
She did everything the old fashioned way. But my family was looking for new technologies.
My mom and dad were the first in our extended family to get a microwave. Dad bought a Litton microwave that was so big that carpenters had to remove the bottom wood that was part of the kitchen cabinet to fit it.
And we started using the microwave to cook everything. Includes instant oatmeal. On the rare occasions I ate microwaved instant oatmeal, I thought nothing of it. It was tasty.
Until I started eating my grandmother’s Quaker Oats. Then I realized the purity and goodness of my grandmother’s kitchen.
She had a microwave later in life, but I only remember her heating up coffee in it.
My memories of her tireless work on her stove are indelibly etched. She had six children and 16 grandchildren. And she cooked for them all, vacation after vacation, year after year.
And we didn’t think anything of it. At least not then.
Cooking was for grandmothers. They cooked and baked and we ate.
In hindsight, my grandmother sacrificed a lot. She could have told us it was her turn to cook and that we needed to step up.
But she didn’t. Not only did she cook, she knew what each of us preferred from her kitchen. And she made sure we got it whenever we were around.
If I wasn’t full from her oatmeal, she would make cookies. Filled with real butter and homemade pear jam, they were unbeatable.
And she made them for me.
I can close my eyes and still smell and taste their cookies, canned food, and oatmeal. If only I could replicate her, I could have a piece of her back. If only for a short time.
My grandmother used a cast iron skillet to bake her cookies. Cast iron biscuits have a distinctive texture and flavor, and I still cook in them frequently today.
My grandmother’s mother, my great-grandmother, also used a cast iron skillet. When she passed, her Wagner 9-inch pan went to my mother, and she gave it to me.
This matured part of my family tree still functions as it should when making cookies for my children or grandchildren.
When I started college, I stopped eating oatmeal for breakfast. It was easier to skip the first meal of the day and down a pot of coffee on the way to class.
As I got older, my doctor encouraged me not to skip breakfast. And what did he recommend? Oatmeal.
My wife keeps instant oatmeal around, but it tastes like paste to me. So I asked for a packet of oatmeal. The kind you cook on the stove.
My grandmother used to cook her oatmeal every summer morning before my sister and I arrived. So I have to read the instructions to make it.
And I do. As an early riser, I make coffee from the coffee machine and a pot of oatmeal. And it’s good.
It’s not as good as my grandmother’s, but it’s good.
Years after my grandmother died, I mentioned to my mother how good her oatmeal was. I asked why I never saw my grandmother eat any of it.
“Your grandmother didn’t like oatmeal,” Mom said. “She did it for your grandfather and you because you both enjoyed it.”
That pretty much sums up grandmothers. Can cook something tasty. Even if they never tasted it.
John’s new book, Puns for Groan People, and his books, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are available on his website – TheCountryWriter.com, where you can also message him and his weekly podcast can hear.