On December 15, 1922, Marna Phyllis Rexroad was born. She was the youngest of 13 children in a West Virginia family. She would eventually find herself in Dayton, Ohio, and on April 2, 1942, she married James Arthur “Jim” Edgar. They would have 3 children – Allen Richard in 1944, Edward Neal in 1948, and Linda in 1951. Linda would have 4 children – Jennifer, Jeremy, Joshua and Joni. Neal would also have 4 children – Scott, Micah, Kelli and Elizabeth. Allen would have 3 children – Christi the oldest, Richard the youngest, and probably the most odd and off-center of Jim & Marna’s 11 grand kids, James Gregory. That would be me.
Some in this cluster of people died WAY too early – Jim at age 52 of cancer, Neal’s wife Jane at age 47 of leukemia, and Jeremy at age 21 in a car accident. Those deaths had all occurred by 1995. Everyone kept kicking until Grandma left us in July 2015, about halfway between birthdays 92 and 93.
(Side point – I’m ashamed to admit I am much closer to this, my father’s side, of my family, than my mother’s family. I’m working to fix that. One of the very best uses of Facebook and other social media is catching up with family. I’m now connected with and exchanging interactions with most of my cousins there.)
It has become routine for the brain to roll through memories when Grandma’s birthday rolls around. With it being so close to Christmas and my cousin Kelli’s birthday (December 26), there was always a ton of gathering and food at Grandma’s this time of year. The making and consuming of fudge (chocolate and peanut butter), chocolate-covered pretzels, taffy, cherry-wink cookies and French Toast were among the holiday treats that were always around. My cousin Joni made an epic Facebook post this week about the taffy pull, which she recently attempted to reenact. While you’re pulling it, you have to yell. A lot. Loudly. Scared Joni’s kids right out of their socks. Reading it gave me a belly-laugh that I desperately needed.
The French toast wasn’t just a holiday thing; it could be had at any time of the year. But Grandma made it in a way that no one else has been able to replicate. It’s not complicated – plain ol’ bread, dipped in a mix of beaten eggs and milk, and cooked in a cast-iron skillet greased with butter. The syrup was simply sugar and water on the stove top. It’s dadgum-near impossible to articulate the finished product, with the unique taste and crispness of the outside of the bread, and equally impossible to explain why none of her 3 kids or 10 living grand kids have been able to duplicate it. Some have moved on – my cousin Micah has his own recipe, which he calls “pretty awesome.” Most years, when Grandma’s birthday arrives, I decide to try again. Yes, I am going to try again in 2018. I have no expectations of success, but screw it, I’m gonna try anyway.
It appears this is going to be my standard method of dealing with the loss of family members – recall the fun stuff, spend a great deal of time on the interactions that revolved around food, and laugh as much as possible. Everyone has to develop strategies that work best for them. Some cry, some drink, some try not to think about it too much, some seek to laugh. I’m going the “laugh” route.
Grandma was a dedicated, devout Christian and I have absolutely no doubt she is in heaven. My goal is to join her eventually. Miss you, Grandma. See you on the other side one day.