Chow Town

Writer, on Memorial Day, remembers woman who was like a grandma to her

This Memorial Day, I’m thinking about Miss Virginia. Born in 1917, she was part of the “greatest generation,” one that had lived through the Great Depression and World War II.

Although Virginia wasn’t a veteran in the strictest sense of the word, she kept the home fires burning brightly for a young airman named John McCormack, who never made it home, after being shot down over the Aleutian Islands in 1945.

She was never to marry and have a family of her own — but I like to think I may have been a granddaughter to her — as she was a certainly a grandma to me, and a great-grandmother to my own children.

Virginia died this January at the age of 95. She was still spry and loved to tell stories. She was one of the few in my life who said she was proud of me: “I’m popping my buttons!” as she kept nearly every story I had written for the Kansas City Star in a tall stack behind her chair.

She also had a way of taking the long view on things that would set me at ease: “Time will tell … ” and “Worrying accomplishes nothing ….”

As I reflect on Virginia’s life, it’s amazing how many memories of her swirl around food. She loved to go out for birthday celebrations and would devour “lush” cinnamon rolls I would make for her. A batch of spritz cookies made by my children would find its way to her.

She loved simple foods: chicken and dumplings, potatoes and bread. Virginia had a well-stocked kitchen, full of Pepperidge Farm cookies, candies and ice cream treats, just for children who happened to stop by. She was kind and generous of heart and loved “making memories.”

So, today, I pull out my “Coastal Breeze” serving pieces, designed by Warren Kimble in 1998, the ones Virginia bought for me 15 years ago for no special reason at all. Around the edges, is a patriotic New England scene with lighthouses and sailboats and American flags — something very different from our celebrations here on the plains.

But for our Memorial Day celebration, I’m serving fruit in the square dish and I’m going to make a large potato salad in the round one.

I think Virginia would approve.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes the nationally syndicated home column and the much beloved Star column weekly Come Into My Kitchen featuring home cooks and their recipes.