Grandma G, what I’ve always called her since I’ve been part of the family, is in her mid-90’s and has dementia now. But before she did, she would tell the best stories, leaving out the nitty gritty and focusing on the sparkle and fun. At a time that I was yearning for and putting down roots, she talked about Seattle in a way that really drew me in; like she owned the town and knew all of it’s secrets.
My favorite of her stories are from during the Great Depression and WWII. While I’ve heard many stories of hardship from that time, hers always took on a different and fresh tone. Stories of her dad being able to keep his job as a foreman throughout the Great Depression, and because of it, having the only car in town. Stories of meeting and marrying grandpa, a Merchant Marine, and of working as a telephone operator, then for the Port during the war. Her war stories were of parties and dancing whenever grandpa was in town, and of getting early info on the ships that were coming in with goods so she could line up to get first dibs at the stores. I imagine that we could have been fast friends and wished to have known her and danced beside her during this time in her life.
Grandma G’s younger self always seemed so glamorous, and her wit makes her seem larger than life even now. But as the family cleans out her home to sell, I see more signs than I noticed ever before of a very practical woman. A woman who took good care of all that she owned, seemed to live rather simply so she could have plenty of fun, and who didn’t replace anything until it plumb wore out, as the light pink everything in her bathroom testifies.
As the only current canner in the family, I’ve been the lucky one to inherit her old jars, dusty from sitting boxed up on the shelves in her basement. I’m going through them still, but have found starburst style juice jars from the 50’s that even my single-digit year old niece remembers drinking from when visiting Grandma G in her home, probably alongside her favorite dish to serve: shrimp louie, something that itself feels from a bygone era. A couple of the jars I’ve found date from 1923-1933, from when she was just getting her start in life. Perhaps these were her mother’s jar, passed down to her.
I’ve never heard of one of the jars before: Reliance Brand Wide Mouth Mason. I’ve since learned that Reliance was a coffee company in the Seattle area that packaged its product in their own labeled mason jars, and the practical side, or maybe also the Seattle loving side, of Grandma kept that jar. My favorite though is a simple mason jar with a zinc lid that has half a label still on it with enough of Grandma’s script for me to know it contained some of her homemade salad dressing. I plan to leave that one just as it is, maybe even for my grandkids to find in my shed one day.
For all the glitzy and glamorous stories Grandma G told and how they made it seem like she went through tough times unscathed, these jars remind me that she was also a regular person, eating, drinking, cooking, and doing the everyday stuff of life. And I learned something new about her too. She didn’t can anything else, but every year she would put up jars and jars of apple sauce. Apple sauce was her thing! Now to hope I find a recipe tucked somewhere in the jars, or that the family finds it as they pack up her house. Because I’d love nothing more than to make her some, canned in one of her old jars, in honor of her younger self. Until then, we can always chat over a shrimp louie.