“This is so cool.”
My older sister and I were poring over my Gran’s old cookbook. Technically, it had belonged to our grandmother’s grandmother, but Gran had contributed so much over the years that the book was more hers than anyone else’s.
Jade and I had grabbed the musty book out from where Mom kept it hidden, at the very top of the bookshelf in the living room. The cookbook had only been ours for a few weeks, ever since Gran died. We’d been cleaning out her house for several days following the funeral when Mom found the cookbook in the very back of a cupboard containing clashy double-boilers and thunky frying pans.
“No way,” she’d said, paging through it.
“What?” I asked, sitting back on my heels.
Mom glanced fleetingly at me. “Nothing,” she muttered. “Just your Gran’s old cookbook.”
“Oh, cool! Are we keeping it?”
“I’m putting it in the car,” Mom answered backhandedly, and did so.
Once we got home from the day’s ordeal, Mom hid the book somewhere and wouldn’t tell us where it was. One day, while she was out grocery shopping, Jade and I scoured the house and eventually found it crammed between the top of the dusty living room bookshelf and the ceiling. She let me stand on her back, and we retrieved the family heirloom from where it was hidden. Now we were sitting cross-legged on the circular rug in the middle of the room, admiring the cover.
It was faded but beautiful, laced with small leather details. There was an intricate drawing of a Japanese cherry blossom tree on the front. I touched the pastel pink puffs reverently, tracing them. “I wonder why Mom didn’t want to show us this,” I mused.
“She’s probably still mourning. I mean, we all are, but Gran was the most important person in Mom’s life, and, most likely, vice-versa. Too much pain to look at it right now.”
I nodded. Jade always had insightful comments. Together, we flipped back the cover and began going through the pages. The paper was yellow and brittle, so we handled it carefully.
“Look at this handwriting.” Everything was written using long, black, elegant thick strokes and what looked like a calligraphy pen. “It’s beautiful.”
“This wouldn’t have been Gran, Lily,” Jade reminded me. “We’re just at the beginning, so this is our great-great-grandma’s handwriting.”
“Oh, duh.” I smacked my forehead and laughed feebly. “Let’s skip to Gran’s part.”
“No, I want to read the whole thing.”
Reluctantly I went along with her and tapped my knee impatiently. The recipes were for simple, rather generic foods, like salads, tempura, and even a lasagna. That one made me laugh. My great-grandmother, making lasagna? You learn something new every day.
Several minutes into the recipes, even Jade grew a bit antsy. “You’re right, let’s go to Gran’s stuff,” she said, flipping past a page on homemade rye bread dough. She turned the paper delicately, scanning for a style of handwriting different than what we’d seen before.
Forty-seven pages in, I stopped her. “There,” I said, pointing. “I think that’s Gran.”
“You’re right, good job.”
I smiled--praise from Jade was rare--and leaned in closer to the book. “Clam chowder soup,” I read aloud. “Ingredients: fresh clams, butter, vegetable stock, onion, toes, potatoes--”
I stopped and frowned at the cookbook. “Toes? What is that supposed to mean?”
Jade shrugged, but she was frowning along with me. “Maybe it’s just, like, an abbreviation of ‘potatoes,’ or something, but then she decided to write the whole word out instead?”
“I know, I know,” Jade mumbled. “It’s a dumb explanation. But we’ll figure it out.”
I began reading the instructions, curious as to what the “toes” might be.
“Heat a large stockpot, add melted butter, garlic, and onion, add thyme, whisk in flour,” I murmured to myself, scanning the recipe. “Gradually add milk and vegetable stock until slightly thickened. Bring to a boil, add toes and clams, season with salt and pepper to taste.”
Confused, I looked at the prepwork near the top of the page.
“Peel and dice two large russet potatoes. Mince three cloves garlic. Dice one onion. Rinse one cup toes and medium dice. Roughly chop two tablespoons parsley.”
“Are you… are you getting the toes part, at all?” I asked Jade. She was following along with the directions, murmuring them under her breath.
“I have no idea,” she admitted, shrugging. “Maybe it’s some kind of inside joke, or something?”
I shook my head. Gran wasn’t the joking type. “Let’s just move on,” I suggested, turning the page.
The next recipe: Gyoza, a type of dumpling Gran would make, occasionally, when we came over.
The ingredients: Unsalted pork, cabbage, garlic, ears, chives--
I pointed to it, but Jade had already seen. “Apparently the ‘ears’ are ground in with the pork,” Jade said. “What is this?”
“Was Gran a cannibal?” I asked. We both laughed, but there was a hint of uncertainty in our tone. We continued to flip through the book, noting odd ingredients like “pinky” or “breast” or “gallbladder” mixed in with normal foods like sushi or stir-fry or meatloaf. We grew more and more silent the longer we went on.
Finally, Jade reached for her back pocket and announced, “I’m calling Mom.” She pulled her phone out of her jeans, tapped Mom’s number, and put the call on speaker.
A few dials in, Mom picked up. “I’m on my way back, honey. Traffic. Do you need something?”
“Um, actually, Lily and I were wondering about this book.”
A fraction of a second of silence, then Mom swore.
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. Mom had never cursed in front of her kids, or at all, for that matter.
“Mom, Lily’s on speaker.”
“Oh. Sorry, sweetie. Listen--”
Jade interrupted her. “What’s going on with all these wonky ingredients? ‘Knee’? What’s a knee?”
“Was Gran…” Jade trailed off and whispered to me, “Her food always tasted funny. Not bad, but different. It smelled weird.” Jade cleared her throat and went back to the call. “Is there something you’re not telling us?”
“Well, you see, darling…”
We waited. I was biting my thumbnail, and Jade had her hands resting nervously on her knees. Mom’s breath sounded staticky through the phone.
“Do you remember when your grandpa died?”
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Best ending line in all of history.
To be honest, I was just skimming through this, but... ahem... that last line is a KICKER. OoO REALLY well done with this! You made me react so strongly in a physical way that you should be proud! I pretty much gasped, leant forward, clamped my hands over my mouth and stared.
wow, i never thought my writing could affect someone in that way! thank you so much haha :)))
Woooooooow!!!! Amazing ending. Wonderful story and nice pen name Would you mind reading my new story " The adventurous tragedy?"
Thank you, I did try ;) And sure, I'll check it out!
“Do you remember when your grandpa died?” -That killed me, pun intended.
Haha thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it :)