A Sweet Legacy
By Samantha Phillips for Forest Fresh Alaska
The kitchen was clearly one of Grandma’s favorite places. One day I asked her to teach me some Tlingit words.
Holding up an apple from the kitchen counter, she smiled, “X’aax’.” She couldn’t remember many more.
During the month known for love, one of the people I remember most is my grandmother. She was easily the world’s sweetest grandma, maybe because she was born on Valentines Day.
Grandma Genevieve, who we called Grandma Jennie, had the best cheeks in town. Her high cheekbones gave way to the soft, smooth flesh of her cheeks. As she smiled (which was always), her cheeks would raise her glasses up, making her countenance all the happier. My little sister wrote a poem about her cheeks one time, referring to them as apples. Many of her grandchildren inherited those signature squishy cheeks. Thank you Grandma. That’s not the only thing she passed down though. She left us a legacy of love that can best be displayed by the sharing of meals and traditions that will live on as long as we, her children and grandchildren, continue to carry them.
A Tlingit woman, coming from a matrilineal society, my Grandma was matriarch to her large family. With nine children and dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren, she lovingly tended to anyone who made the time to visit her. In my eyes, Grandma possessed the art of turning nothing into something. She could multiply the little she had by sharing. On any given Saturday that meant dipping into her crock of sourdough starter to make her famous, plate-sized sourdough pancakes and hosting one grandkid at a time at her tiny table. News traveled fast at the mention of her coveted potato donuts and family appeared out of the woodworks to her door to enjoy them hot and fresh. The love she poured into feeding her family was just one extension of Grandma’s sweet and tender heart.
One Christmas, when food was scarce for her family, Grandma secretly stashed away special ingredients to surprise her family. After eating modestly for quite some time, they couldn’t believe their eyes when they awoke on Christmas morning to two elegant fruitcakes, candied cherries gleaming on top. In true form, she had created something out of seemingly nothing. Nearly sixty years later, that Christmas is still my mom’s most memorable. Her eyes sparkle as she savors (understatement!) fruitcake during the holidays. To watch her relive those memories Grandma etched in her heart is a gift in itself. A testament of Grandma’s love.
The kitchen was clearly one of Grandma’s favorite places. One day I asked her to teach me some Tlingit words. Holding up an apple from the kitchen counter, she smiled, “X’aax’.” She couldn’t remember many more.
As I learned of her forced assimilation, the atrocities she suffered in her days spent at a residential boarding school, I quickly realized her Tlingit words were taken from her. Her customs, ceremonies, and rituals that she knew, all taken from her. She was left with nothing.
With scars covering her back and her hearing loss from the abuse, somehow Grandma remembered her role. She would lead her family, serve her people, all with the sweetest spirit. That is a big something.
We, her daughters and granddaughters seek ways to serve our families and communities with meals and other gift, as we artfully turn nothing into something, just as Grandma did.
From distinctive cheeks, to thoughtfully prepared food, to never losing love, Grandma’s legacy lives on. May these recipes inspired by Grandma Jennie remind you to share love, no matter the hardship, and to always keep your sweetness.
King Salmon Patties Recipe