By Marnina Delahanty
Grandma Ana Mae never knew everyone in our family disliked her lemon cake, but it looms large in our memories. She glowed with oblivious pride while inflicting it on us every holiday, including birthdays. Let me tell you, each and every time it was a burden to clear the plate. She topped each slice of the dry, crumbling mess of tartness with a thin stream of what she called, “syrup,” made of a bit of melted sugar and lemon juice in way too much water. I wasn’t alone in suffering through it, but each of us dutifully finished without fail, because to disappoint this wonderful woman would have been unimaginable. As she often said, “You take the sour with the sweet.”
I was about 8 when Grandma taught me to bake her lemon cake. Over the years I came to realize that working in the kitchen with Grandma Ana Mae had little to do with the end product, (which, perhaps, explains a lot.) It was a chance to share, to hear the colorful pasts of people we’d overlooked as bland background figures we took for granted. She gave us new perspective; taught us wonder, and sparked our curiosity.
I was in my early twenties when Grandma Ana Mae passed away, long before my children came along. But they, too, benefit from her legacy. Grandma, you see, funded my final year of college with her life insurance policy. At a financially challenging time for my family, Grandma’s gift put me over the finish line. To this day that valuable degree benefits even the great-grandchildren who never had the chance to meet her.
Life insurance meant a lot to our family, and for that reason and so many more I keep my and my spouse’s policies up-to-date. But just as her life insurance gift endures, so, too, does her sad lemon cake. Each year on her birthday, the kids and I follow her recipe, with a few minor tweaks, and I share my memories of her. As Grandma put it, “You take the sour with the sweet.”
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