With Gratitude and In Memoriam

On June 20th, 2012, Grandma Ruth, the loving home-baker for whom My Grandma Baked A Cookie was created, boarded the weekly van to go to the Senior Citizen’s Center and went to heaven instead. She was two weeks shy of her 86th birthday and she loved to go to the center to play the piano for “the old ladies”.

Grandma Ruth was full of love, caring, warmth and the capacity to put any soul who crossed her path at ease. Only her God was more important than her family and — living in the same community her entire life with an open door policy to everyone from visiting missionaries to the mail delivery personnel — pretty much everyone she met was family.

While we all enjoyed the benefits of her delicious baked goods and accompanying conversation for as long as we could respectively remember — there was no day that the loss of this important retreat from the world (into Grandma’s world) was felt more keenly than at her memorial service a few days later.

When the microphone was passed, so many mentioned their trips to her house, the gift of a cookie, a smile that only the very best Grandmas can bestow and a listening ear. On that especially sad day in 2012, the idea for My Grandma Baked A Cookie was born — a baking company where Grandma’s own Pennsylvania Dutch inspired recipes would be made, just as she did for more than seven decades, ‘with the warmth of the hand and the heart’.

On this fifth anniversary of her passing, with her baking company now housed in its own small Pennsylvania bakeshop and a second location on its way later this summer, I share the words I spoke the day we celebrated her long and beautiful life:

As most of you know, I grew up in New York City and spent most summers of my childhood out here with Grandpa, Grandma, Uncle Phil, Mom, and my dog, Bitsy.

When I wasn’t following Grandpa around (trying to help with some project that he was working on) or helping Uncle Phil in the [woodworking] shop, I was in the kitchen.
 I started off slowly: eating the “too small” potatoes that Grandma didn’t want to put in the dinner that night. She would peel them and make multiple slices to one side.

They made little potato books. Raw potato books. And yes, I ate them. They were fairly disgusting, but fun, because Grandma made them.
 When she was baking pie, she would give me a small piece of dough to practice rolling out my own crust. I would get to put a mini pie in next to hers and see how it came out. It was always a bit dry and the crust was always dirty from my little hands touching it way too much. I would also get my own mini bread dough to knead and smack. If I was lucky, my own little roll would rise next to the larger batch.
 I also got to be the cookie tester, if Uncle Phil didn’t get to the cookies first. And when I was strong enough I was allowed to mash the potatoes. Well, PRE-mash the potatoes. Grandma’s well-trained arm always put the finishing touch on the fluffy bowl of creamy goodness. Everything always tasted better after Grandma touched it. Still does.

Then there were Sunday mornings over holidays or in the summer. I would get up early, climb out of the guestroom bed that I shared with my mom, and patter next door. Grandpa would be snoring and
 Grandma would be doing that strange deep breathing thing that she did…slightly whistling with each breath.

I’d walk around to the foot end of their bed and hike one knee up over the edge. Grandpa would say, “I think she’s in here” and as I started to crawl, he would chuckle, “Here she comes.” To the top end of the bed I would scoot, then stop and wait for the, “Well, get in here then” invitation coming from Grandma’s side. One flip and under the covers I went.

I don’t remember sleeping. I just remember waiting, listening and feeling surrounded.
 Going to Grandma’s was everything little girls (and older ones) dream of. She’d be wearing her apron and standing at the top of the stairs when we pulled in. Or at least that’s how it always seemed when I was younger. Like she was waiting in that exact spot since we got in the car from New York.
 There was always something on the stove getting ready to tempt my belly. In later years, it was the ‘Delicious Dish’ — a pot of warmth and joy that always lived up to its odd, but apt name. In earlier days it was ‘Turnips-N-Hamburg’. Grandma would say, “Does that girl want Turnips-N-Hamburg again?” and happily oblige. But she always made sure to alert you of the dessert waiting on the back porch so you could save room accordingly.
 After dinner, I would be sent to fetch the sweets and be met by a knowing grin upon returning with a slice of cake missing or an obvious hole in the cookie container left in the wake of a pre-dinner visit
 from our family cookie monster. “That Flip”, (the nickname she sometimes used for her only son), Grandma would exclaim with a laugh and head shake in the direction of Uncle Phil.
 When the table was cleared, Grandma would disappear into the living room and we would soon hear the piano bench being adjusted. Then the house would erupt with a lively ditty that she either wrote or adapted from a tune she heard played. One year she heard “It’s A Small World After All” and learned to play it over her own unique blend of lively chords. Another time, she spent a week working out and perfecting a new ending to a tune that had come to her in her sleep one night. You could hear her practicing as soon as you pulled in the driveway.

As she got older her practice sessions became a way, as she said, “to keep her limber.” The arthritis in her hands never affected her piano playing. Every day, the ivories got a tickle and so did her soul.
 There was something about the way she said, “I love you.” It wasn’t a declaration. It was more like a wish — A promise bestowed into your ear and your life with the hope of an equally fervent and whimsical return. It was never flat in tone and the accent always made you want to say, “ I love you back…but you know that.”

“I love you” she would say, and smile…then wait, with her head ever so slightly to one side. She would give Grandpa the same face right before she said, “Don’t you have a kiss for your wife?” He always did, of course. He wasn’t the only one. She had a smile and a cheek that no one could ever refuse.
 And who could refuse a poem that so easily flowed from her pen. Whether she was writing about a family event from long ago, or quietly observing a bird at the feeder…she was quick, witty and precise.
 Many of us received her rhyming couplets in at least one perfectly penned note over the years. Here’s one that she wrote to me on Valentine’s Day in 1989. I was nine years old and my dog, Bitsy, was
 still alive…
 Snowflakes are falling so fine and so fast
 The ground here is frozen so they just may last
 But the lumber is covered and the wood is all in
 So I’ll sit at my quilt and look out and grin.
 To write you a letter I find it such fun
 Since the ground is too slippery to get out and run.
 I’ve left that to Bitsy …said, “boo” and then clapped
 She runs back and forth till her breath is all sapped.
 Then she goes in to bed and takes a quick snooze
 I dash for the house with no time to lose
 For if I stay out, she’ll wake up for more fun.
 And the quilt that is waiting will never get done.
 My first load of laundry is doing its spin
 When that’s in the dryer I’ll put the rest in
 Then up to my quilt I’ll go with delight
 That’s one job I could do, from morning till night.
 We all send our love in this letter to you,
 So that you will be happy and never feel blue.
 You can share with your momma our love and good wishes
 And help her with cleaning and doing the dishes.
 I’ll now close this letter but just pause to say
 We love you, you’re special, this Valentine’s Day.
 Today, we celebrate the life of Ruth Evelyn Cramer: a dutiful daughter, a loyal sister, an incomparable friend, a beautiful wife, a devoted mother, a doting grandmother and proud great-grandmother. More than that, we celebrate the home-going of a woman after God’s own heart. Grandma’s well-worn green bible is a testament to how she spent her life. Sitting in the kitchen at the same table that she filled with thousands of cookies during the holidays, she read her bible well into the evening…sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. Underlined and notated more than most preachers’ bibles of today, she was invested in the words of her Lord over and above all.
 She quoted scripture in everyday conversation. She invested in exercising her faith. She wanted everything God promised for her children and her family…and she reminded us of it daily (hourly if
 we somehow forgot).

It wasn’t antics. It wasn’t to impress. It was just who she was.

Just who she is.

Just who she wants us all to be.
 She often talked about what would happen today. Not in a morbid way, but in her practical tone of planning. She wanted no parts of weeping and wailing. She wanted a message of hope and salvation. She wanted none of us to be left behind or lost forever.
 She’s not laying here in this coffin. She has taken her light to the heavens. She’s standing near her beloved savior, probably holding Grandpa’s hand. She is lifting her voice with the angels and finally delighting in singing all the hymns she loves so much…directly to The Father.

There’s a certain glow on her face, even brighter than when she played the piano at the Senior Citizen’s Center. She’s probably greeting everyone coming through heaven’s gates with a hearty “kum rye” and that knowing twinkle in her eye.
 I know she will be in her new body and likely clothed in her robe of righteousness…but something tells me that she’s still wearing a signature broach just here at her neck. Her hair is translucent, silky white and curled just the way she likes it.

And if she has anything to say about it, there will be a polka in heaven tonight.

On this fifth anniversary of her passing, we thank Grandma for creating the feeling in our family that hopefully lives on in every bite of cookie and pie and bread and sticky bun that we serve and every location that bears the “heartmade” symbol of her baking company.

On this June 20th, 2017, if you are still honored by the presence of one or more Grandmas in your life, please call or visit them and remind them that you love them now and forever. A grandmother’s love is the most uncomplicated experience that most of us will ever have.

I’m so grateful that all of those years ago My Grandma Baked A Cookie…and wanted me to share it with you.

With gratitude and in memoriam: Ruth E. Cramer (August 9th, 1926 — June 20th, 2012)

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