Pictured above: Granny’s handwritten recipe for Italian Meatballs
Fourteen hours later, we start rolling up a tree-covered, large hill in east Tennessee. All five of us are scrunched into a brown 1984 Caprice Classic and are in need of fresh air. We’ve made it. Slowly, out of the small brown house, come two loving souls. Their smiles are wide and their hugs even wider. It’s summer and it’s time to spend our annual week at Granny and Papa’s.
After a long embrace from my grandparents, I set off. I would enter the humble home by pulling hard on the sliding glass door and then step directly into the kitchen. Once inside, it hit me immediately: the smell of simmering meat and tomato sauce, the sound of boiling noodles, and the heat of toasting garlic bread. The long table too small for their kitchen would spill into the living room. It was set to sit an army of loved ones.
I had eagerly anticipated this meal the entire road trip from Oklahoma. I was equally excited for Granny’s stocked pantry. Just to make sure my favorites were awaiting me, I would do a brief inventory. First, the small cabinet under the stove – Captain Crunch Berries. Next, the freezer – Blue Bell Dreamsicles. Lastly, the stand-alone dishwasher – IBC Root Beer. She always had it perfect. All my needs were met.
I don’t recall the occurrence between arrival and dinner; it probably involved a game or two of Ping-Pong with my cousins in the basement. When it was time for supper, we would all sit down, hold hands, and Papa, the gentle giant, would say grace. Papa, his tall, large frame would fill the head of the table. He would eat slowly, talk frequently, and zero in on us with his piercing blue eyes. Granny would be next to him, with one elbow on the table and eating with the other. I don’t recall topics of conversations, only faces and moments frozen into still-framed pictures – images of loved ones past, images of loved ones far removed, images of my east Tennessee family – where half my heritage lies.
When I visit these memories of summers past, my heart swells because the wild blackberries are just as sweet, the fireflies just as bright, and the air just as humid. Nothing changes – the cucumbers in the garden, hydrangeas in the front yard, chairs on the back patio and Ping-Pong in the basement. Most of all, I remember the unconditional love of my grandparents and Granny’s spaghetti and meat sauce.