Fifty years ago, Mother Midge died suddenly. She was my maternal grandmother and her unexpected death shocked and shook our family. I was a boy of 10 at the time, and our collective grief was devastating. My brother and sister and I wept when we lost one who had been so very special. She doted on us as all wonderful grandparents do—and we missed her dearly.
To celebrate her life, my brother and I decided to make a cake at my mother’s house. As they say, “this was no ordinary cake”! It was Mother Midge’s secret Waldorf-Astoria cake, the recipe having been stolen long ago from its namesake’s kitchen, then spirited down to a small east Texas town and into the waiting hands of Mother Midge. The cake takes a long time to make from scratch. It has some odd ingredients: vinegar, buttermilk, salt—at least, these seemed odd to me, a man who never bakes cakes. And as its crowning glory, this cake is a brilliant red, and I mean brilliant. It contains bottles of red food coloring to give it an otherworldly ruby color. Even the icing is unusual, made almost like a sweetened roux topped with coconut. To say it is merely delicious is almost offensive.
Of course, much of this cake’s allure is because it had been made by the hand of my beloved grandmother. But life is like that, isn’t it? Material memories give a very close connection to something immaterial—the love of my grandmother toward me. And the “ordinary” material thing becomes an expression of something extravagant.
And thus each token, each memento becomes a treasure.
As a boy, she once gave me a small bottle of “jewels.” Now this bottle was an old, cloudy, scarred medicine bottle with a plastic cap. And the jewels, which I have kept for over 50 years might not be found at Tiffany’s. It took me a few hours over the past two days to dig that small bottle out of my “collection” in the attic. And as I opened the bottle, the jewels were actually much as I had remembered. There were two fake diamond earrings, a tiny blue mirror, a button with an inset crystal, and shards of fragmented marbles. That might not set hearts afire, but they were Mother Midge’s jewels! Which she had given to me!
And what memories flood back! To see her standing in her kitchen cooking coconut pie and chicken and dumplings. To watch “Hogan’s Heroes” on her black and white (!) TV together. To play with a plastic Donald Duck shampoo bottle in the tub. To hear her sing “Sweetly Sings the Donkey.” To smell her house and to play in the fallen sycamore leaves in the backyard. All these tangible objects and the attendant memories are physical reminders of something no longer present. But I believe they are something more.
They are an expression of a peculiar truth: that God uses his material creation to communicate and express his transcendent truth. Not just in the form of childhood memories. This world is His epiphany. It is a means of his revelation, his power, and his presence. And I can sense it. And I can know.