My G.G.


K9F53F6591F_1000000Leek Soup
Serves 8

Glaucoma, like a recipe, is passed down maternally. My mother’s mother’s mother had it. My mother’s mother has it. My mother and I are genetically predisposed.

Chop the white part of 4 medium leeks (about 2 cups)
Finely chop one tablespoon of shallots

My Great Grandmother, my G.G., wore big dark glasses because of her glaucoma. In her last year, when she was going through chemo, she wore silk scarves on her head. I remember her in sunglasses, her head wrapped in emerald, even though that’s impossible: I never saw her after the chemo. My grandmother, whose eyelashes have grown so long—a common side effect of her glaucoma medication, so long, she tells me, that she has to trim them—passed along the detail of her mother wearing scarves over the phone. Or, perhaps, my grandmother told my mother who then told me, the information criss-crossing the country via copper wires, from Central to Western to Eastern Canada. I remember my mother calling to tell me my G.G. had died. I was standing in line outside a bar in Montreal. I remembered all of this again when I got an eye exam a year later. They test for early signs of glaucoma by spraying air into your eyeball.

Cook leeks and shallots in 1/4 cup of butter until soft (about 5 minutes)
Peel and dice 2 cups of potatoes and chop 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley

My G.G. eloped on the back of a motorcycle when she was 17. She was in love. He could walk on his hands, his entire body inverted, for long distances, even up and down stairs. Once, years later, she’d tell him he had an ink stain on his shirt and he’d go into the bedroom, only to emerge in the same button-up, now a spot of whiteout covering the stain. This was already a piece of family mythology years before he started feeling sick and didn’t tell anyone, hiding twenty dollar bills and love notes in her pockets. She’d find them months and months after he was gone.

Add potatoes and parsley to the leeks, shallots, and butter
Add 4 to 5 cups of chicken stock

My G.G. was the baby girl after a horde of brothers. One was named Lime, another Garfield. The day she was born her father went to war. When the breadwinner in your family is poisoned with mustard gas and never comes home, and instead has to live in a veterans’ hospital for the rest of his life, the Canadian government gives your family a plot of land in the middle of nowhere. So my G.G. grew up in the woods. Once, she was sitting on a fallen log with her brother, she at one end, he at the other.  They were picking berries and talking. Her brother hadn’t said anything in a while and she turned around and there was a big brown bear where her brother was supposed to be. The bear, she’d tell me, was more afraid of her than she was of him and dropped his berries and ran. Sometimes I’d imagine the bear like a real bear, sometimes more like a man in a mascot costume.

Cook until soft very soft (about 20 minutes)
Add freshly grated nutmeg, half a clove of garlic, and a teaspoon of lemon juice

My G.G. always put extra butter on her bread and drank beer out of the bottle. She said “quesadilla” with a hard L and pronounced it toe-mah-toe. A plane ride to Calgary from Toronto after a car ride from Barrie, a town north of Toronto you’ve probably never heard of, is probably a lot for a woman in her 80s, but my G.G. still came to visit. She would sleep in my bed. I’d sleep on the couch and stay up late watching TV.  There were leeks in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and then the next day the smell of them simmering on the stove. It was winter. My mom lent her boots. My G.G. and I were baking and spilled the brown sugar all over the floor. Not one to waste, she scooped it all back into the tupperware with the green lid. Months later my mother pulled a dog hair out of her mouth. I never told.

Puree in a food processor or blender
Add salt and white pepper (to taste) and a 1/4 cup of warmed cream

My G.G. had yellow tablecloths and deviled eggs at her 90th birthday party. She got a $90 gift certificate to the liquor store and let me have a G&T even though I was too young to know the actress everyone said I looked like in my sundress. The dogs would have loved her even if she didn’t put the dirty dishes out on the porch for them to devour. I can still picture her coming out from the behind the screen door at just the moment you’d arrive at the bottom of the steps. The dogs would run out from behind her if they hadn’t already found you. There was rhubarb in her garden, clean laundry on the line, and she loved us all without the faintest hint of judgment. I still remember exactly how her hands looked.

Crumble 8 ounces of Stilton or Danish Blue cheese on top and serve

Whitney Mallett writes and produces news and documentaries. She lives in New York.