Saturday, March 29, 2014

Grandma's Sloppy Joe Gang

We would pull up to the bright white craftsman filled with anticipation. My dad could barely stop the car before Bob and I hopped out to run in to grandma's house. If you were the first there- you were relegated to snacking on honey roasted peanuts and relishes until the rest of the clan arrived. If you were the last- you were met with hungry glares and rushed hugs as you were pulled toward the dining room. It was time to eat.

Sloppy Joes at Grandma Connolly's. It was an affordable meal to feed the masses. At one point there were dozens of us. It was usually potluck- everybody contributing something, Grandma with a huge pot of Sloppy Joe's. We fought over the getting to sit at the kids' table then spent years fighting to get away from it. There are some days I'd give almost anything to be crammed around that red and white table- fighting over who gets to sit next to who. When my kids go crazy over their cousins and my husband's blood pressure boils because he just wants to have a normal conversation with his brother- my heart laughs. These are the moments that families are made of. Sometimes they are few and far between, sometimes they are weekly- they always stay with you forever. 

I remember the way grandma's house smelled.  Sloppy Joe Musk. I remember Grandma always had something on the stove and was always prepared to feed you something. That was how Connolly's showed love.  You could tell how tough the times were by the spread- food was used to fill the holes of loss. And there was a lot of loss, masked by a lot of laughter and a lot of prayers and a lot of food. 

Grandma was the most ardent of prayer warriors. She prays for everyone, for all kinds of reasons. Prayer is as much a part of her as breathing. She lived through world wars. She lived through the Depression. She lived though losing her husband, in a time when husbands were a family's identity. Yet the Connolly's did not lose their identity because of her and the strength of her family. When she was surrounded by pieces- she picked them up and carried on. She lost children and grandchildren.  She is a fierce protector of her family. 

I remember being pregnant with Phillip and feeling so sick. I would talk to Grandma on the phone and she would tell me she remembered how sick she was with my dad. She remembered having to sit on the curb and throwing up everywhere, she promised it would pass. I remember having four kids and Phil having to be gone for months. Grandma would call to check in and kept telling me how strong I was and she didn't know how I did it. A woman who raised 5 kids in the 50's after her husband died of cancer was telling me I had it rough. It blew my mind. I remember when Lily was diagnosed with cancer and I could hear her agony over the phone as she offered prayers, again her disbelief in my journey.  A woman who had lost 3 children to cancer, seen her other 2 children through multiple bouts of cancer, lost 2 grandchildren and now seeing the beast affect her great grandchild. She knew pain and she knew how to carry on. I learned how much it meant to have someone who had seen so much pain give out support instead of judgement. She never was the one to say look at me- look how much I've suffered. If her rosary beads could talk- I can only imagine the stories of loss and hope they would tell. 

Last week was such  mix of emotions. I got great news- complete response to chemotherapy. It was unexpected but great news.  We hoped the chemo was working, we prayed- Grandma praying more than anyone. I haven't talked to her in months-  hearing loss rendering phone calls more of a frustration for her. I relied on my aunt and uncle to pass along news. It felt great to be able to share good news for a change. So of course I felt devastated the next day when I got the call that Grandma had a stroke and was unresponsive. It just goes to show our family luck has been so bad- we just don't know what to do with good news. My heart broke. Yet I know Grandma has seen enough pain, she deserves to not fight her body anymore. I prayed. I am not a praying girl, but I prayed. 

The next day the kids had off. I asked them if they'd like to make my Grandma's Sloppy Joes. There was much excitement. Lily and I ventured to the store to get the traditional items. As we stood in line, I felt dizzy tired and nauseous- the typical day 3 after chemo. I knew Grandma had been through worse and kept going, so must I.  You can imagine my relief when we pulled in the garage and found friends there- delivering not only dinner for the day but lunch. There was enough food for days. It was a true Connolly feast and a reprieve from Sloppy Joes, for the day.  It was a sign- I didn't need to be cooking. 

Last night Lily was feeling down- it's been a long week- me not feeling well, everyone worried about Grandma, Phil working late. It was time to make Sloppy Joes. Lily helped chop the veggies and brown the meat. She stirred the sauce as I took breaks. The kids ran in and out, hovering in the kitchen- waiting to be offered a sample, asking about Great Grandma and the times she used to make this for us. We sat around the table and laughed, as a family. Facing another era in our history. Facing unknowns. Passing on the tradition to a new generation of the Sloppy Joe Gang.  

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Lily Kay Monkey

Lily Kay Monkey
November 2008 Photographed by Shelley Detton (7 Layer Studio)