My Grandma liked to cook and she liked to eat.
She has a starring role in my memoir, spotlighted in two chapters: Grandma’s Bountiful Table and Easter & Politics. Everyone had a seat at her table.
I treasure time I spent preparing meals with her and having her potpie recipe handwritten on an index card.
In this excerpt, Grandma and I are warming up before we begin Thanksgiving preparations:
“I have some hot cocoa for you, and after that, we’ll have to get
down to work,” she enticed me.
I swallowed the warm drink whole, almost, drinking from a pale green Pyrex cup.
“Okay, I’m ready!” I announced, plunking down the empty cup on
We hefted all six leaves into the gaping mouth of the table just sprung
open, stood at opposite ends and synchronized our pushes toward each
other. “Clap!” the table banged shut as we met in the middle. Next, we
concentrated on adding two white linen tablecloths so they overlapped
each other, placed the Limoges china from the red-cherry china cupboard
close by, and finished the settings with thin glass tumblers, each with
etched florets and a tiny gold rim, some of the gold erased with use over
the years. I sat down and watched as Grandma pulled the silverware,
one or two fork tines bent, from their long cloth pockets.
Aunt Ruthie was not in the kitchen with us. The only woman who
had a driver’s license in our extended family at the time, she took charge
of going to the butcher in her grey Studebaker to fetch the meat: a
24-pound turkey and a duck to match, both baked at low heat overnight
in the oven to a succulent brown.
In a little while, though, Grandma and I would go down to her cellar
and bring up cans of spiced cantaloupe, preserved watermelon rinds, and
several kinds of pickled cucumbers, crisp and green in their blue Ball
jars. The steps were steep and long, and I worried that Grandma might
tumble down in her black-laced high-heeled shoes. Safe and sound,
though, we made the trip up and back two or three times with jars of
green beans and her yearly favorite—red, yellow, and green pickled
peppers stuffed with shredded cabbage.
But I desecrated Grandma’s name when I wrote on the board during my teaching days
Let’s eat Grandma.
Why is that a sacrilege of my saintly Grandmother?
Well, I left out the comma. Placing a comma between “eat” and “Grandma” makes me sound less like a cannibal, and more like the civilized person I aim to be.
Why am I bringing this up?
This month I read and reviewed the hilarious book by a copyeditor, people who obsess over commas and other punctuation. Authors need copyeditors. However, Mary Norris’ sense of humor propelled me from page to page. Even the cover has a jaunty look!
My review begins . . .
In the book Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (2015), Mary Norris comes at commas with a light-hearted approach. With humor, both effervescent and wry, her chapters, on a rather tedious topic, are gripping. She begins with a chapter Spelling is for Weirdos and ends with one entitled The Million-Dollar Copywriter. In between, readers will find an eye-popping chapter on profanity: SH*T! But make no mistake; there is serious scholarship in this 200-page volume with eight pages of notes and a twelve-page index.
Read more here . . .
Wise Teacher Overlooks Errors to Encourage Budding Writer
Some time ago, my friend Carolyn sent me this link to a heart-warming story. You can read it here.
& & &
Discussion wide open for eaters and writers
- Grandma’s cooking, your own, or someone else’s
- Value of good punctuation, grammar
Fun exercise: Depending on where you place the commas, you get contradictory readings of the sentence below. Who, really, is the savage?
Inserting commas, read the sentence two ways.
Woman without her man is a savage.
So funny. As soon as I read your title I thought (uh oh, I better warn Marian to put a comma in there before she publishes her book!). But of course, I know you have editors and beta readers not to mention your own strong grammar ability. Great way to hook us in and keep us with Grandma’s cooking, and then Marian’s comma lesson. Between You and Me sounds like a book I need in my (already too full ) writing library. Long ago I added the smaller book EATS SHOOTS LEAVES which includes wonderful lessons on the importance of correct punctuation! (I added the exclamation because most grammarians would say I shouldn’t… but punctuation DOES excite me). 🙂
So you did an Oops! and discovered it was just a gag . . . a hook!
I’ve become cross-eyed from all of the edits, reviewing my own manuscript and comments from dozens of others. I finally did a read-aloud because my eyes gloss over errors because I’m so familiar with the content. You know how that goes!
You’d enjoy Comma Queen because of the humorous way she treats the topic. Mary Norris is not the bespectacled “queen” with a tight top knot we usually associate with grammarians. I laughed out loud several times. I’ve read Lynne Truss’s book, equally funny and true.
Thanks, Pam! (Very excited today!!)
I enjoyed the excerpt, Marian. What a great photograph of your Grandmother! She had a wonderful smile. I’ve been wanting to read Between You and Me. Thanks for the review.
Jill, this book is entertaining enough to read on your lunch break. Thanks for commenting today. I know you are busy launching your own next book. 🙂
Good morning, Marian! I recognized your title from various things I’ve seen about grammar and comments–and also your final sentence. They often show up in articles and memes. I’ve heard Mary Norris interviewed on NPR, and she was very amusing. I’m a bit obsessed about grammar and punctuation–even in my texts. (Younger daughter does this, too, so it’s not an age thing.) 🙂
I know that writing about your Grandmother is a way of keeping her alive, and cooking with her is a strong and vivid memory for you. Thanks for sharing!
I remember your favoring the Oxford comma when you read a memoir draft. It seems so long ago now: the manuscript has been scrutinized so many times since then. My latest copyeditor/proofreader insists on the Oxford comma too. Using it does clarify meaning.
Yes, writing my history keeps my family alive, especially the women in two generations. I realize now how much cooking expressed their love. Thanks, Merril!
Yes, I’m a stickler for the Oxford comma. 😉
Your post reminds me of when I was editing a newsletter for an organization planning a lunch event for people who find Christmas a difficult time. The event was called Struggling toward Christmas, but when the article was printed, it was written simply as Struggling toward Christmas Lunch. It made it sound like people were really going to have to struggle to make it to the lunch. We corrected it to: “Struggling Toward Christmas” Lunch Event. My story doesn’t involve commas, but it’s a similar idea. Thanks for your insights into your grandmother and a funny memory.
Thanks for sharing your anecdote, Arlene. I often reads “homemade” ads and announcements and notice errors, sometimes unintentionally comical. An error on a billboard makes me want to climb up on a ladder with a paint pail. 🙂
What a wonderful and beautiful photo of your grandma and how special it must have been for you to get involved with all the preparations for Thanksgiving. Reading this, I can really picture you both working together and I’d love to have seen your beautiful table, dressed with so much care, pride and love. The Limoges China and glassware sound amazing. Any pictures?
And yes, I am a sucker for commas and full stop and I often get annoyed when people omit them and what they write doesn’t make sense at all. What’s the point in writing if the true meaning is lost or not properly conveyed?
As for your last interactive sentence, I prefer: Woman, without her, man is savage.
Thank you for sharing a sneak preview of your memoirs: I really look forward to reading them.
Do you hear the drum roll? You’ll find a photo Grandma’s dressed up table in my memoir. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until then!
You are my companion in comma use, Fatima. Commas do clarify, and I side with you in the placement of punctuation in the man/woman sentence. Thanks for your comment, always welcome!
Ha ha! 😄 I had the same thought as roughwighting! So funny!
I agree with Jill–your grandmother’s smile is wonderful. So warm and inviting!
Another good punctuation book is EATS SHOOTS & LEAVES by Lynne Truss.
You are a true-blue writer, with a sharp eye for proper punctuation. Thanks for the tip on Ms. Truss’s book. I laughed all the way through it. Anyone who can make punctuation interesting, funny even, has my vote. You’d love Mary Norris’s book if you haven’t read it. 🙂
Decades ago my red pen, was wielded everyday at a small electronics manufacturing company. I was the bookkeeper and HR person, but I also proof read every sales advertisement before it went to print, and the technical manuals for new equipment. In my last career my red pen was famous as my work product was a legal document! Grammar is one of my pet projects whether it is written or spoken. It’s amazing how quickly you can change what you say by how you punctuate [or not!]. Loved reading this post today.
And I love hearing your anecdotes here, Ginger. Not every company is blessed with a built-in copyeditor and proofreader. I wonder if you worked for a law firm: lawyer? paralegal?
In my last career I retired from the court system, where I was in the courtroom each day. I also worked for a law firm part-time after retirement, for a couple of years.
Thanks for the clarification, Ginger.
Hi Marian. Your description brought back memories of my German grandmother, Frieda Gutsche, who died when I was eight years old. On Sunday night, we often drove to Germantown for “supper,” which consisted of a spread of cold cuts, potato salad and cole slaw, pickled beets…, etc. I remember the vinyl tablecloth, the kitchen with the hutch containing the glassware you describe… the Bell jars. I can’t recall many details, but I vividly remember her black-laced shoes, ones in later years we called orthopedic, old lady shoes…haha. Frieda wore an apron, one of those things that covered her big bosom and tied behind her back…good heavens, it’s all so strange, it feels like another world…and it was, that house, those people in Germantown to whom I am related but for whom, as a woman, I feel we might as way have flown in from separate planets.
Not so my English grandmother, Nanny Weidener, who ran her own boarding house and got engaged to be married when she turned seventy-four, a “modern” woman, so to speak, sort of like your Aunt Ruthie. Anyway, your description is vivid and resonated with me, as you can tell, and your memoir is evocative of a time no more. In a writing class I taught yesterday, we spoke of the importance of specificity of detail. Your excerpt is one I could have used in that class as an example.
Susan, I’ve enjoyed reading the details of your unique brand of nostalgia. Like me, you caught two different ways of looking at the world from your German and English forebears. Good for spunky Nanny Weidener, open to romance in her elder years. 🙂
Thank you for your nod of approval on this memoir excerpt. As you know, I’ve included you in the Acknowledgements section, along with a link to your writing group. I applaud the noble work you are doing with these women.
That should be…might as “well have flown in…” You see? A prime example of why we writers need copy editors!
You caught the typo before I did. Ha Ha!
I love the smile on your grandmother’s face. I bet she was a great cook too. A lovely excerpt.
I imagine you know all about good cooking in your ancestry too. Thanks for visiting today, Darlene!
Marian — SIX leaves in the dining room table and SPICED CANTALOUPE. Oh, my!
I’m so thankful for editors. I just added “Between You & Me” to my reading list. It sounds like a win-win book—both funny and informative.
Your second book is a fixture on my desk lately as I’m taking notes on the how-to of advance reader copies. I remember vividly how you blended delicious menus with a marketing plan in The Business of Being. Thanks, Laurie!
As a grandma and a great grandma, I was a little concerned by the title of this post… 😂
I like your tongue-in-cheek comment here. By the way, you look too young to be a grand grandma.
Thanks, Linda Lee!
Aww, thanks. My picture was taken almost 10 years ago, when I was 56. I look older, now. But I feel like I’m about 25. Unless I’ve gone too many miles on my exercise bike, then I feel my age!
Miles on your exercise bike may be keeping you young, younger looking even!
Way to get second mileage out of your review on Good Reads–well done. I loved your title here and didn’t think for a minute you had a typo. Your excerpt from your memoir here shines with detailed description without going overboard. Blessings!
Many thanks for recommending a book I thoroughly enjoyed. I enjoyed it even more than Lynne Truss’s book, maybe because I’m writing a book, not grading composition papers – ha!
I’m glad you enjoyed the description. As I recall, you saw a very early manuscript before the developmental edits. With lots of editorial help, including yours, it’s become more polished now.
Wonderfully entertaining Marian thank you 🙂 Your excerpt was lovely. Great tempo and it pulled me in immediately. And the photograph of Grandma is absolutely lovely!
I enjoyed your review on Goodreads and Sean’s experience of his encouraging teacher. I had a quick glance at a few of the many comments and golly, there were some glaring spelling errors! Maybe just typos; or perhaps the computers used to make comments may themselves be confused.
I love to watch my sister prepare a meal – she is so graceful about it all, even though it is time consuming. Recipe book, measuring instruments, the whole bang shoot. Her meals are delicious!
You read EVERYTHING, Susan. I’m impressed. This post is a little lengthier than most, with several “tributaries.” I’m glad you enjoyed Sean’s reflection. He has the right idea: creativity must be nurtured; the mechanics can follow in due time.
About the comments, yes, there are typos sometimes, and the computer’s auto-correct is often not helpful. I am certain I’ve made spelling/punctuation errors on blog posts, maybe even yours. I can always make corrections on my own website, but am at a loss on other’s.
Your comment about your sister’s meal preparation amused me. Why? You used the expression “the whole bang shoot,” which I understood perfectly. My mother would say in a similar sentence, “the whole shooting match”! I guess it reflects the difference between British and American English colloquialisms – or perhaps the era. Thanks for all this, Susan!
grammar and spelling errors on Sean’s post – I can’t recall ever finding one on your responders 🙂 – or by you!
Ha ha! Well, that’s a relief. I do find errors here, and sometimes I correct them, especially if they’re mine. Hope your Thursday is going well. 🙂
What a great title to get one’s attention,Marian! I love how you have kept the memories of the strong women in your life who have shaped you into the wonderful woman you have become, I feel like I have met them in person. It also whets my appetite for your memoir. Thank you for lifting my spirits through your words.:-)
“I feel like I have met them in person” is a great compliment, Kathy. I have a large photo of the whole family in front of our church. Sometimes I talk to them. And sometimes I wonder what they would think about being publicized in the world via my memoir. Grandma might say, “Ach, Marian!” The others may be aghast at my daring to “air” family secrets. I’m glad thee words lifted your spirits today. 🙂
This comment, posted earlier, got misplaced in the thread, so I’m “pasting” it here: You are always SO encouraging, Kathy. We are plodding down this road together. Writing is so solitary, so it’s nice to know there are friends, like you, on the other side of the screen. Thanks for your kind comment! (Give me a ring when you feel like it.)
I don’t have anything to add about finding or hiding commas…however, I do have an interesting tidbit about Grandma Fannie.
Besides her cooking skills when our family visited PA (mostly at Christmas time) I would sometimes see Marian’s Grandmother, clothed in her daily large apron, sitting snuggly in her rocking chair reading to my young daughter Crista. Crista usually sat on the edge of one of the hard green Pennsylvania Dutch kitchen chairs looking and listening attentively to another story.
On one occasion I was able to capture the two of them with my Minolta slide camera sitting face to face, both of them contrasting against the bright tall bay windows in the kitchen. Outside many different birds enjoyed feasting from the bird feeders. Thus great grandmother then became known as Grandma-of-the-Birds.
Thanks for reminding me of this photo, dear. I think I put it in her picture album, and I know it has appeared in a blog post a few years ago. 🙂
Fun post Marian. As soon as I saw the first heading it reminded me of FB posts – Let’s eat grandma is a popular one, lol. I enjoyed the excerpt and the recommend for what looks a fun grammar read. I enjoy reading Grammar Girl – Mignon Fogarty books as well as Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale. 🙂
I’m not familiar with either Grammar Girl or Sin and Syntax (love the title!), so thanks for adding theme to my to-read list. Again, I’m so impressed by how much you read — and write. Thanks, Debby!
I can say the same about you. 🙂
Six leaves to a table! Wow! We have one to put in whenever our children and grandchildren come, and they’re getting a bit heavy! I can just imagine your grandma’s turkey or goose permeating her cozy home with its delicious smells after slowly roasting all night. How blessed you were growing up with a grandma like that!
As a child, I didn’t realize the benefits of having a grandma and an aunt living so close. Now, looking back, I realize how blessed our family was.
Now, when I look at her table in my dining room, I feel twinges of nostalgia and love. Thanks for reading and commenting here, Elfrieda!
The Comma Queen sounds like a great read and reference, right up your and my alley. 🙂 Lovely photo of your grandma, and you already know I enjoy your excerpts. I find the connection you have with your family – and with language – quite special and amazing, Marian. And, I can totally understand you getting cross-eyed rereading your book so many times. Mine is on the back burner again, as we hit the road once more for the foreseeable future. Guilt, therefore, is on the front burner. Hard to find a balance in this life we’ve chosen for ourselves…
Oh, please take guilt off the stove. Your book will come into being at just the right time. I really believe that although I have weak moments myself. So, don’t interpret my admonition as a scold! 🙂
I have enjoyed reading about your last house-sit. You have the best of both worlds, stationary and moveable + with a husband as a steady companion. Have a wonderful weekend!
I had one more question: how about an an apostrophe in “Let’s”?
Both the missing comma and the omitted apostrophe are intentional, which again show the value of proper punctuation. But, I agree: “Let’s” looks naked without the apostrophe! :/D
Grandma and her wisdom have been digested in ways she never could have predicted, Marian. You honor her and touch your audience.
You would enjoy this sign posted outside a Subway chain restaurant recently: “Our secret ingredient is our people.”
You and I were both taught the value of friends and family, so in evidence with your recent posts on FB and Instagram. I wonder what media sources future generations will have to share their stories: mind boggling, for sure.
Thanks for passing on your wise observations today, Shirley.
Enjoy your weekend!
The first thing I reacted to was the lack of a comma! Sounds like a great book – I’ll have to look out for it.
You have sharp eyes 👀 behind the camera and otherwise!
So lovely 😊. I always think it’s wonderful when family members pass down recipes. Neither of my grandmothers cooked anything inspiring sadly . Grammar don’t get me on that one , you’ve probably noticed I’m rubbish in that area .
The thing I found quite amazing Marian was that I have just picked up a book from the library ,only this week, called ‘Have You Eaten Grandma ‘ by , a legend over here, Gyles Brandreth .
They say great minds think alike .
Who says you’re “rubbish,” Cherry. You always cheer me up, and that’s good thing.
I’ll have to check to see if our library carries the Gyles Brandreth book you mentioned. By the way, I am reading a book by Sarah Ivens, an author I think you recommended.
Have a wonderful week, dear friend! % -)
My Chicago grandma of Dutch ancestry ended up on a farm in Missouri with water pumped from a well in the yard and an outhouse, but the eggs were always fresh and so were the vegetables in summer. Like your grandma, she had a pantry and cold cellar full of winter treats. I loved eating with Grandma, eating at Grandma’s, eating Grandma’s feasts. My cellar looked a lot like hers 20 years ago with bushels of root crops and shelves of beautiful canning jars. She was a stickler for proper manners and good grammar, so I had to get the commas right. I’m also a fan of a good editor, especially one who dares to tell you something you don’t want to hear and then let’s you decide. Thanks for taking me to Grandma’s house and to the land of creating a book.
You hit all the chords, Elaine! How lucky you had a Grandmama who baked and canned, and paid also attention to commas.
My best editor was a developmental editor, who emphasized every word had to “earn” its place in my memoir; otherwise, it didn’t belong there. She always let me have the final word, though, and I never felt she was trying to impose her voice or her will on mine.
Today I discovered a wonderful feature on Adobe Reader. I clicked on “view” and there was a male voice that would read aloud my words. (You uprobably already know about this.) My eyes tend to flide over familiar phrasings, and overlook errors. Today I found at least one mistake, another repetition, that stood out after a gadzillion read-throughs – hallelujah!
I believe you are back from your workshop now and recuperating from the exertion. Probably I can look forward to hearing about your wonderful experience in a future blog post. Thanks, always, for your friendly visits here, Elaine!