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When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of Grandma Edna | Carolyn Ossorio

Edna Ruth Cusack had her grandkids, including Carolyn Ossorio, rolling on the floor in laughter. - Carolyn Ossorio
Edna Ruth Cusack had her grandkids, including Carolyn Ossorio, rolling on the floor in laughter.
— image credit: Carolyn Ossorio

I love Thanksgiving and Christmas. But sometimes the true spirit of these holidays are overshadowed by commercialism and the knowledge that so many people in our community are suffering.

Which is why, especially during the holidays, I turn to my roots for guidance just as surely as lost travelers look to the night sky for their true North.

I didn’t have much money growing up — our mom was often labeled a single parent with a disability. But she was and is so much more than that. And I’m proud to say that she never let her disability stop her from striving to break free from the clutches of poverty.

In doing so, she taught my sister and I that we could literally do anything.

But back then, I’ll admit it often felt like it was us three against the world . . . especially when the holidays rolled around.

I can remember one particularly lean Christmas I felt like the luckiest kid alive when I happened upon an abandoned Christmas tree by the dumpster in front of our apartment complex. I have no idea how this enormous, beautiful evergreen got there and it was probably twice the size as I was.

Slick with sweat, tarred up hands and a thick trail of pine needles, I managed to drag that tree up three flights of stairs by shear determination and that night we strung popcorn and cranberries from head to toe.

That event made an impression that has lasted a lifetime: that the impossible was possible with a little elbow grease and that the world works in mysterious ways and our family was meant to have a tree.

Looking back there were other gifts that in retrospect didn’t cost a dime but were treasured, like visits with Grandma during the holidays with our cousins.

Grandma Edna was big and round and squishy and I couldn’t wrap my arms tight enough around her. Something was always cooking on the stovetop of her little low-income senior apartment.

Grandma didn’t have much but she always made our visits special . . . especially during the holidays.

It still makes me smile and tear up when I think about my sister, cousins and I gathering round Grandma, begging her to perform what she called “The Sock-it-to-me-Dance!”

The Sock-it-to-me dance was like an impromptu vaudeville/carnival sideshow and even though I was the youngest we all sat criss-cross-apple-sauce around her.

Grandma would make a big deal out of un-strapping her fake leg, (the real one had been a casualty of high blood pressure and poor circulation) and looked like it belonged on a “Twilight Zone” mannequin stuck in a fashion rut: always wearing the same white sock and sensible brown shoe.

My heart pounded in my chest as Grandma handed me her “peg leg” and commenced scrolling down the specialty cream-colored sock which covered her stump. She was quite the show woman!

And suddenly revealed, the stump below the knee flew into action, flying through the air with the same energy as any Rockette and we were mesmerized by her bright, clear blue eyes, huge smile as she broke into song waving her arms as she sang, “Cha cha cha cha cha.”

By the end of her show we were all laid out on the floor laughing until our bellies hurt.

Grandma let us take her wheelchair outside and we all fought over who got to push and who got to ride as we cruised across the courtyard to her neighbor, Andy.

Like Grandma, Andy lived alone.

I remember he was always so happy to see us. Welcoming us rowdy kids into his apartment that was filled with photographs, but never any visitors.

We always left Andy’s apartment with our pockets filled with sugar cookies and his wheelchair.

We would spend hours flying back and forth through senior courtyard, drag racing those wheelchairs.

But my absolute favorite thing about these visits was cooking with my grandma.

Her dishes were often the kind that simmered away all day in a soup pot —inexpensive cuts of meat, soup bones and gizzards.  She was an amazing baker, Bundt cakes, oatmeal raisin cookies and the best baked rice pudding with three inches of custard.

Her food was warm and comforting.

She had been raised with seven siblings and had five daughters of her own and I don’t think she ever got used to living alone and not being a part of something larger than herself.

One day I was eating a thick slice of my grandma’s steamy oniony meatloaf with baked ketchup running like a river down the middle alongside a mound of buttery mashed potatoes. I remembered my dad used to call her “Red” and I asked her if it was because she was Irish.

“I’m Heinz 57,” Grandma replied, referring to the famous ketchup slogan.

“What does that mean?” I had asked.

“It doesn’t matter what your color, I’m an American and we’re all a little bit of everything,” she said with a smile.

These precious childhood memories with the tree and my grandma serve as reminders about what the holidays are about.  Appreciating what you have.  Spending time with family and friends and giving back to the community in whatever way you can.

And so, this column is dedicated to my Grandma Edna Ruth Cusack.

Thank you, Grandma, for teaching me your simple recipes and Heinz 57 creed, gifts that I have never forgotten.

This holiday season I’m baking Christmas cookies with kids at the IKEA kitchen.  In homage to my grandma and Andy, our family will be packaging up and delivering Christmas cookies to low-income Renton seniors.

Merry Christmas, Grandma.

 

Carolyn at IKEA

Carolyn Ossorio’s Christmas Cookie Event at IKEA in Renton is 3 p.m.-3:45 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6.

Carolyn’s cooking with kids event will include an easy Christmas cookie recipe. Kids will leave with cookies and decorate a Christmas card for a local senior center.

Renton artist and crafter Mary Clymer will drop by to showcase her take on an “Artsy IKEA Lazy Susan” and holiday inspired Mason jar gifts.

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