My grandmother, Louise Evans, passed away on Thursday, after suffering a massive stroke this past Saturday. Below is the eulogy that I read at her funeral today.
Her whole life, I remember Grandma doting on us grandkids with food. Good food. Really good food. Grandma fried a chicken like no one’s business: crisp, lean, golden brown. She baked cakes and pies that dissolved into sugar and cream and buttery fat the moment they hit your tongue. She’d fill her glass candy dish with spice drops, we’d eat them all, she’d refill it several times over the course of our visits. My favorite was her potato salad. It took her hours to make. I remember driving up to St. Joe, and watching Grandma at the kitchen table, peeling potato after potato with her small paring knife, dicing them, folding in hard-boiled eggs, onion, salt, pepper, one last quick dash of paprika. Then the best part: miracle whip and mustard in a measuring cup, thinned with whole milk until the flavor was just right. She’d ask me to test-taste it and I’d eat three or four heaping tablespoons. Then she’d make some small adjustments—more salt or pepper—and put the dish in the fridge, chilling it before dinner, when it would quickly disappear.
Grandma was a hard worker. She worked methodically, systematically, obsessed with doing each part just right. Though I never saw her work as a nurse, I had an idea of how secure and taken care of her patients must have felt. She had a careful eye. That’s probably why it was so hard to sneak around Grandma, to get away with things. Not that Grandma didn’t enjoy gossip (especially about the Kennedys). I remember thinking how great it was, for a couple of years in high school, that we were both regular watchers of Melrose Place.
Being a grandson is easy. You receive the best parts of a person: their affection, generosity, optimism, and indulgence. Whatever I was studying, wherever I traveled, however long I grew my hair, Grandma only saw the best in me and I always appreciated that optimism. When Dad and I visited a couple of months ago, she gave us an earful for going out for a fancy dinner. At Schlotzky’s Deli. Didn’t we know that we could go to The Fountains and eat a full dinner for $6.75 including coffee and dessert? Dad tried to get her goat a little by agreeing that, indeed, we were spending money like it was going out of style. For example, could she believe that John had spent all that money buying a brand new Toyota Prius? In this economy? But Grandma just smiled, “Well, Mike, that’s a sensible car with gas prices the way they are today.”
When I was in the Peace Corps, Grandma and I got into the habit of writing each other news-y letters every couple of weeks. I sent her Bangladeshi towels, she sent me chunky peanut butter. In Miami, I would mail Grandma dark chocolate when we’d see a holiday special at the grocery store. Dove dark chocolate Valentine’s hearts. Hershey’s Santa bars. Godiva samplers. Grandma was eating a pretty limited diet, so some part of me know that the chocolates I sent her would just pile up. Still, she’d call to say thanks, and we would get into a good discussion about the differences between the various chocolates, and which ones she liked the best. If she was having a hard day, we’d talk medications, or movie stars, or—my absolute favorite—Presidential politics. It was great to talk politics across generations and find that our opinions were often so similar. I liked how she could get a rise out of Dad, every time, just by saying, “That President sure is a stupid man.”
Grandma had a tremendous capacity for sadness, which I think made her life difficult sometimes. The forms of genuine love are complicated and imperfect, maybe few more so than Grandma’s. Yet, in her own way, she made each of us feel important. One of my favorite memories of my grandmother is from an early birthday. I was turning eight or nine. She made a buttermilk cake from scratch (with butter-and-Crisco icing). She sneaked me extra pieces in the kitchen, while everyone else sat out on the back porch. I don’t remember exactly what that cake tasted like but I remember how good it felt to eat, forkful by forkful, slice after slice. It’s the same effect I shoot for now whenever I make cookies or stir-fries for friends and family, and I consider it Grandma’s legacy to me: the joy and peace that a good meal creates in this world, and the memories it preserves and sets in motion in the people you love.