(I am sitting in my Grandpa Millard's lap, Lisa is...well I don't know what she's doing, but even from her back you can tell she's laughing!)
When I was little we would spend several weeks every August and December with my Grandma & Grandpa Millard here in Salt Lake City. Although the drive seemed eternal, even in the finery of our Ford Pinto Station wagon - equipped with faux wood paneling, it was always exciting to arrive. Grandma and Grandpa had a few things we did not seem to enjoy in Oregon. The first was thunderstorms. I loved sitting in the chaise lounges (which were metal, by the way, seems like an odd choice for watching a storm) on my grandparents back porch and watch the lightening. I'm sure there are all kinds of fascinating meteorological reasons as to why we didn't have lightening and thunder in Oregon, but I have no clue what those might be. We did manage to have plenty of rain.
The second source of enjoyment was a freezer full of Hostess bakery delights. (Delightful to children, anyway.) Grandma always had loads of Ding Dongs, Twinkies, Cupcakes and occasionally SnoBalls, neatly stacked in her upright freezer. We would all be excited to devour the treats - so excited that waiting for them to thaw was not an option. I have vivid memories of Marc and I gnawing on the sides of our Ding Dongs trying to get to the rock hard creamy center. As you can imagine, the Ding Dong would soon become a mushy, slimy mess, and we would throw it away out of disgust and frustration.
One week in August my Mom, Marc and Lisa would drive down to Provo and participate in Education Week at BYU and leave me with my Grandparents. I always felt a little abandoned and left out as I watched them drive away, and wonder why I couldn't join in.
One year my Grandpa noticed me sitting sadly on the front porch. He came out the screen door and handed me a large hat and a pair of garden gloves. "We are going to harvest some zucchini today!" He happily announced and began walking toward the backyard. I put on the floppy hat and attempted to put on the large gloves and trotted after him to his vegetable garden. We carefully examined his gigantic zucchini plants for the perfect zucchinis. "We need just the right zucchini's, because today is a very important day." he told me. "Why is today important?" I asked. "Because today you are going to be my assistant chef - We are making zucchini bread."
This peaked my interest. I liked to help in the kitchen. Grandpa and I picked out several dark green specimen that met his exacting zucchini bread standards. I lugged the zucchini through the back door and up the steps to the kitchen. Grandma was setting out all of the necessary equipment as I proudly displayed our bounty. You would have thought it was a pile of jewels, the way she oohed and ahhed over our perfect choices.
"The first step," Grandpa announced, "is to wash and grate the zucchini."
Looking back I don't know how my Grandparents had the patience to watch me grate the zucchini. I was determined to grate it all by myself. There was no food processor involved - this was pure muscle and time. Have you ever watched a small child attempt to grate cheese? Somehow the cheese gets all squished and crumbly once it enters little hands - now picture that with zucchini. I am quite certain that I must have grated for two straight hours, curls falling in my eyes, tongue poking out to the side in deep concentration. My grandparents just smiled and chatted with me, as if they hadn't a care in the world.
Once the zucchini was finally prepared we began to assemble the other ingredients: eggs, flour, sugar, oil. I begged my Grandfather to allow me to sift the flour. It is not that the recipe called for sifted flour, but merely that I was fascinated with the sifter.
After another long delay, with a vast flour distribution over every surface, we mixed the batter and placed the loaves in the oven. This is when Grandpa pulled out the games. I loved to play a game with them called "Help Your Neighbor." I can't remember if they invented this game, but I know that they made the pieces to the game. We had a series of cards with numbers, there may have been dice, all I really remember was how I would giggle as I beat them in game after game. They were always so astonished, "Bert, can you believe she won again?" my grandma would say.
Soon the smell of the zucchini bread would send our stomaches to growling. Grandma would take out the loaves and make us promise to let them cool. The wait was interminable. Grandma placed 3 large glasses filled with cold milk on the round, oil-clothed table. She cut thick slices of the warm bread and generously spread butter across the tops while Grandpa and I would lick our lips. She passed out the plates with the fragrant bread and then she and Grandpa would toast the assistant chef before we devoured our creation.
After that summer, each year I would stay we would always bake zucchini bread. I would like to think my cooking skills improved, but no improvement was needed on the company. To this day, those warm summer days baking bread with my Grandpa make me smile.