The gingersnap remembrance October 29 2017 7 Comments

A lot has been going on in our lives lately, not the least of which was the injury of my mother in July and her subsequent death October 3rd. Life is tough. Loss is hard. But in the middle of that sadness, we find lessons learned, memories relived and hopefully thankfulness spoken.

The printed funeral program included memories from family members. Below is what my son Jeremy wrote. 

The gingersnap rememberance
Growing up I had a grandmother. An honest, no foolin’, real-life grandmother. The kind of silver-haired grandmother who bakes cookies and fresh bread and knits by the fire. The kind of grandmother you read about in books and hear about in old nursery rhymes. A saint among grandmothers. The kind of grandmother you think every kid gets for free just for being born, but as you grow older you realize that you were one of the lucky few. 

My grandmother had a prodigious sweet tooth. She baked sweets and confections of every imaginable kind. She baked fruit cakes and lemon breads, wedding cakes and Christmas cookies. She even made sweet, tart rhubarb juice from rhubarb she grew in her own garden. The treats I remember her most for though are, without a doubt, her home made gingersnap cookies. Wafer thin and sweetened with molasses and ginger. If a grandmother’s love had a taste, this was it! 

While my grandmother’s gingersnaps came in a variety of shapes, my favourite was the little gingersnap men with their big heads and outstretched arms and legs. For in the humble gingersnap man, the eater is faced with a difficult choice. Should I snap off his arms and pop them in my mouth, or should I bite off his feet? Maybe I should dunk his head in a glass of rhubarb juice and suck out his brains! For a grandson with imagination, the possibilities were limitless. My grandmother, I noticed, often disposed of her gingersnap men in the most humane way possible; quickly and headfirst. I told you she was a saint!

It is perhaps with these little gingersnap men, that many children first begin, however unconsciously, to play at life and death, and think about the really big unknowable questions. As an adult, I imagine that in the days to come, I’ll make a batch of my grandmother’s gingersnap cookies. I’ll spend an afternoon dispatching whole battalions of gingersnap men as I contemplate her death and more importantly her life, and I shall endeavour to remember her, not just as my storied fairy tale grandmother, but to the best of my ability, on her own terms, as she was.

My grandmother was a healer. She spent the last part of her career as a nurse caring for the sick in the chemotherapy clinic of the Saint John Regional Hospital. She was an artisan and a craftswoman who filled our lives with folk art, mittens and sweaters she knit, and handmade ornaments of all kinds. She poured out her creativity like water on future generations of women in our family. My grandmother was a business woman that sold her myriad creations at craft fairs she organized, and her wedding cakes were in such demand that she was forced to turn people away.  

My grandmother loved the water. She loved to walk the ocean shores searching for beach glass, hoping for a particularly rare or ancient piece. She loved to watch her grandchildren swim in the waters of the Washademoak lake, and if you knew her well enough, you knew she had a special relationship to the water deep in the earth beneath her feet. My grandmother loved her church. The church she and my grandfather helped to build.

My grandmother was a woman, and a wife. As adults we discovered a box of love letters she had received. Imagine our surprise, we who had only known her as mother or grandmother, when we discovered that she had been involved in a life-long love affair with, of all people, my grandfather!

In one of my favourite images of her as a young woman, she could easily be mistaken for the kind of glamorous Hollywood actress that only exists in black and white photographs. It’s easy to see why my grandfather was so taken by her. One way to tell the story of their love is to cast my grandfather as the hero who bested all of his competitors to win her heart.

Another way to tell it would be that, my grandmother, faced with a crowd of suitors, surveyed the field, and chose my grandfather. Together they built a life. They were inseparable. 

After my grandfather’s death I remember being in awe of the quiet dignity and bravery my grandmother showed in the final moments of that great love story. Years later, suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, my grandmother visited with her friend Pearl in the hospital. They talked about the past and then sat quietly until her friend broke the silence, looked at my grandmother and asked the question; “No regrets?” My grandmother smiled and reached out her hand, “No regrets.”  

If at the close of my own life I’m able to look into the eyes of a trusted friend and whisper those words, then I will have learned the most important lesson my grandmother could teach me.

My grandmother loved life, and she was constantly present for all of the small beautiful moments it had to offer. She viewed all creation with unashamed wonder. Whether it was pointing out a rare bird on a nature hike, or picking berries at the side of the road with her grandchildren, she never failed to be surprised or inspired by the world around her.    

Funerals are odd things – they make children of us all, as we struggle with questions we imagine are bigger than us. There will be the usual condolences, kind words, and greeting card wisdom. There will be hugs and fellowship and I’m so-sorrys. There will be a quest for meaning. But I don’t have the language for any of that. If you are sad or grieving today, if you are weary of heart from the loss of a beloved friend, mother or grandmother, then I have no special council for you. I have no magic words or sage wisdom to heal your heart. I have only this – the beautiful life of Neta Hope Brown. That, and her recipe for gingersnap cookies. Eat and be comforted. 

Boil 1 cup of molasses for 5 minutes and pour the boiling molasses over:
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of ginger
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 cup of shortening

Add 2 cups of flour, mix and cool over night.
Roll out very thin, cut and bake at 350 degrees F.

A final word on the shape of your cookies. Of course you can cut them into any shape you wish, but in the humble opinion of this writer, the best shapes will always be those that force the eater to make difficult choices, not just about how to eat their cookie, but also how to approach life. Eat joyfully. No Regrets.       
— Jeremy (grandson)


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