There would be times when I’d do some quirky thing and my father would shake his head a little ruefully and a little fondly and comment, “Ruby’s coming out in you.”
Ruby was my father’s mother. In many ways, I’m a great deal like her, though with a large enough helping of my maternal grandmother to horrify her if she ever really knew me well. Ruby was an odd duck. She was cranky and didn’t like people much, but she’d always do what she felt was Right, so her behavior was moderately benevolent most of the time, though never warm.
I was just making deviled eggs to bring to a Thanksgiving gathering and was griping to myself because the plate didn’t look all neat and beautiful and perfect. That was Grandma all over — no matter what she did, it never measured up in her own mind. She used to tell me a story of her childhood where she and her younger sisters were canning peaches. Her younger sister was moving slowly, arranging everything perfectly and beautifully in the jar while my great-grandmother was trying to hurry them along, saying that what it looked like didn’t matter, that they needed to get the chore done! My great-aunt retorted that when she was grown-up, that she was going to arrange the peaches in the jar so that they’re pretty.
Grandma commented that she felt like she’d be lucky to have peaches, never mind getting them pretty in the jar.
Grandma’s canned peaches weren’t pretty, fair enough. I can tell you they tasted great. I told her so. She smiled a little, so I know she was pleased. She didn’t smile much.
I often wonder if that was a source of friction between my mother and Ruby. Mom is good at pretty –it’s just this natural thing to her. I wonder if it bothered my grandmother. I ‘spect it did. I used to wonder if that was part of the distance between us, since Grandma knew I was used to pretty surroundings. I don’t think I ever told her it was okay not to be good at pretty and making everything look perfect. I’m not neat-handed. If I bake a pie, it’s not going to look professional. It’ll taste great, ’cause I am a good cook (though Grandma’s pies were far superior to anything I can do), but it’s not gonna be a showpiece.
Whenever I worry about making things pretty enough, I think of that story in Grandma’s kitchen eating those sweet canned peaches and thinking that I didn’t give a damn how pretty her peaches were. Pretty’s great and goodness knows I enjoy it. But in her scrubbed kitchen with the worn out dishtowels and the ancient fridge with the old-fashioned locking handle, there was something to admire, too. Those frugal home-canned peaches she’d grown herself spoke of a self-made, handmade life that I don’t think she ever knew how much I admired. The peaches were delicious, but even better, it felt great that Grandma was willing to say something personal and vulnerable to me.