What's in the Freezer?

by Eryk Casemiro
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bundtcake.jpgFood and death are a marvelous combination, except for when one suddenly causes the other.  In my family, news of someone’s passing usually initiates a steady stream of food delivered to the ground zero of loss.  Sandwich platters, rice puddings, and pink cardboard pastry boxes tied up with string.  These are a few of my favorite things.  The food, not the death part.

The different foods that are bestowed upon the bereaved are a reminder of the living.  Who else but the living would care enough to drop by with a Bundt cake?  Keep the pan.  I have extras for times like these.  You can look at this delivered feast as a measure of the love for the deceased.  Home made fried chicken is a great compliment; day old grocery store pie, not so much.

My grandmother Rose died unexpectedly, surprising our entire family since it was her husband Joe, my grandfather, who had the bad heart, high blood pressure and only seven of his original ten toes.  Rose was relatively healthy, if not for her ongoing battles with high blood sugar due to terminal sweet tooth that she satisfied with her own delicious culinary creations.  But on that day in 1983, Fate had a different plan: One minute my grandmother was baking up a storm in preparation for my cousin’s upcoming Confirmation, stirring, kneading and mixing purely by intuition, without a measuring cup to be found; the next minute she was gone. 

Death has always brought out the inner drama queen among my demonstrative Portuguese/Catholic family, especially with the older generation.  In the hours immediately following my grandmother’s death, elderly relatives showed up with casseroles and sandwiches, their wigs all askew, sobbing and wailing, Why did she have to go first?  And then, as if a switch has been flipped, all attention turned to eating the food that had been delivered.  To keep up our strength. 

Then came the viewing where my Aunt Frena, so distraught by her sister’s death (or dizzy from her own high blood sugar), started to climb into the coffin until my mother pulled her back, begging her not to upset my grandfather. 

desserttable.jpgOn the morning of the funeral, as our family was getting ready to start the day at the funeral home for one last viewing (sans Aunt Frena’s coffin-diving), my mother realized that she had forgotten to order food for the reception that was to be held at my grandparent’s home immediately following the funeral.  Already late for the funeral home and with no time for any other option, it was decided that we would serve the baked goods my grandmother had made in the days before her death.  We pulled out cakes and cookies and pastries out of the freezer, hoping they would thaw by the time people came back to the house after the service. 

My grandmother was catering her own funeral? I found the idea something akin to cannibalism like that part of a Catholic service when the priest holds up a wafer, Take this and eat it, this is a piece of my body, which shall be given up for you.  I felt a moral obligation to let people know what they were eating.  My mother shot me a look, defying me to tell anyone about this plan at the risk of my own death.  Unwilling to put my family through any more loss, I ignored my moral integrity. 

After the funeral mourners filled my grandparent’s house in numbers unlike anytime before.  I bit my tongue as I watched people help themselves to coffee and a buffet of my grandmother’s pastries, which had thankfully thawed in time.  As I watched, a strange thing happened.  What had seemed so ghoulish hours before seemed so right now that people were here, gathered out of a shared love of my grandmother.  I desperately wanted to tell my great aunt the truth about the nut cake she was eating, just so I could see her throw herself onto the table full of pastries in another fit of grief.  But I didn’t want to deny anyone the chance at one last bite of my grandmother’s culinary gifts.

If there’s anything to learn from this experience, it’s that you should always keep a cake or casserole in the freezer.  Just in case….

 


Eryk Casemiro is a writer/producer of children's television and films.  He lives in Los Angeles with his partner.

 

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