by Peggy Ramsey
Illustration by Carolyn Skrzydlewski
When people speak of family heirlooms, they usually mean silver watches, delicate china, and furniture so heavy it takes the whole family to move it.
Me, I think of waffle irons.
My grandmother's waffle iron rests in the back of my kitchen cupboard. I've never used it and have no notion of how it works. Pancakes baffle me, so homemade waffles are the culinary equivalent of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile. I bump into it every so often while searching for a stray lid or that one last clean pan.
When my grandmother passed away, I felt as though I'd lost my fairy godmother. She was the one who insisted I looked fine and didn't need to diet. She was the one who consoled me when I had to put my dog to sleep. She was also the one who called to make certain I threw away my Tylenol capsules during the tampering scare a few years back.
But mostly when I think of Grandma, I think of waffles. I remember sitting at the gray and white table in her pine-paneled kitchen while Grandma tried to feed me. She would stand before the open cupboard and run through a litany of my favorite foods.
"Hot dog?" she'd ask.
"No, thank you, Grandma, really, I'm not hungry."
"Peanut butter and jelly?"
"I know you'll eat a waffle." Out came the waffle iron. I always found it incredible that anyone would trash the kitchen for the sake of a few waffles.
I have other things of hers as well. The pan she used for banana pudding and the recipe from the Nilla wafer box. I have her dictionary, the one we used for Scrabble and the one she used to ace those New York Times crossword puzzles. Tucked between the pages are coupons long expired, odd notes and score sheets from pinochle games. The empty pages in the beginning and end are crammed with lists of words in a system of her own making. I never understood it, but I enjoyed it just the same.
I have the three incredibly tacky ceramic fish that hung in her bathroom and an equally tacky ceramic squirrel that patrolled the philodendrons in her living room. I also saved the plastic troll that stood sentry in her garden and scared a six-year-old me. Now the fish hang in my bathroom, the squirrel watches over my plants and the troll guards my bookshelf. It has a hole in the bottom, and each time I move it, dirt leaks out. But no one has made off with any of my books since he's been on the job.
As a child, I remember falling asleep beside a round plastic night-light that depicted a forest fire and fleeing deer. It had a plastic insert that spun when the bulb got hot and made the flames seem real. I know it sounds scary, but it made sleeping in a strange room a little easier. The plastic insert has long since melted, but the lamp holds a position of honor on my nightstand.
Admittedly, all these items together wouldn't fetch a quarter at your average yard sale. Even the waffle iron wouldn't bring a dollar.
And it works.
At least I hope it works. Because while I was visiting my cousin, she made an off-hand remark about wishing she had a waffle iron. When I told her I had Grandma's but didn't know how to use it, her eyes got wide.
"Waffles are easy," she told me. "It's just like making pancakes."
As soon as I got home, I boxed it up and mailed it to her. I know Grandma would want it to go to someone who would actually use it. Because even if I could manage to make homemade waffles without involving fire and rescue workers, I probably wouldn't.
The truth is, it's not the waffles I miss at all. I miss that my grandmother made them for me.
About the author: Peggy Ramsey works a "mundane" job in the auto industry in Highland, Michigan, but prefers to write stories. She has contributed articles to The Encyclopedia of North American History and Ready Reference: Family Life.