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This generation's bananas

My teenage daughter made banana bread today using a recipe written in my grandma’s perfect, tiny script. The years between Geraldine’s passing and Grace’s birth add up to 15, Grace’s lifetime. But I think the two would have understood each other. They’re cut from the same cloth, just a different bolt.

Grandma was a career woman, a book-keeper in the flapper era. In 1931, she wrote down her cousin’s banana bread recipe. It calls for a cup of sugar, a half cup of butter (scant), 2 eggs, a teaspoon of soda, a tablespoon of sour milk, 2 cups of flour, 3 mashed bananas, and a pinch of salt.

I’ve been making this banana bread all my adult life. A couple decades ago, I took a year or so off from college. I lived in Hawaii for a while, working as a waitress at Pizza Bob’s and Rosie’s Mexican Cantina in a little town called Haleiwa, on Oahu. I was strapped for cash. For a while I lived in a duplex on the Kam Highway, with banana and coconut trees in the front yard. I didn’t know what to do with the coconuts, even after I witnessed a car pull up to the tree, a couple of little kids get out, shimmy up, and throw the coconuts down to older siblings who loaded them in the trunk. With the kids back in the car and the trunk full of coconuts, the mom drove away like she had just robbed a garage sale.

But the bananas, I knew what to do with them. I made loaf after loaf of Grandma’s banana bread. Depending on the shift I worked, I had lunch or dinner at Pizza Bob’s or Rosie’s. All my other meals consisted of banana bread.

I was going to say that Grandma’s life was very different than mine, but I don’t think that’s true. She worked hard her whole life. She kept her nose to the grindstone and dealt with frustrations by swearing prolifically. She loved her family. The biggest difference is that she didn't have much opportunity for adventure. It was the Depression, after all.

In his later years, Grandpa was diagnosed with deafness—but only in the range in which his wife spoke (or so he said). Grandma and I, we have that effect on men, yammering on with the same old stories, swearing under our breath. But the banana bread—man, just stick around for the banana bread.

I don’t use sour milk, as the recipe calls for. In my Hawaii days, I might have set a little ramekin of milk on the counter, thinking it might get sourish if I left it out for a while. Then I realized this was probably a bad idea. I was lucky to have survived my high school years, when I made homemade eggnog using raw eggs.

Grace offered to make banana bread today, even though we only had two overripe bananas, not the requisite three. Keith suggested adding some pineapple to make up the difference. And once you’ve gone that far, you may as well add coconut. I think we’re on to something. It was delicious. Now I understand the shimmying up the coconut tree. If Grandma only knew. She'd never admit it was a good idea. But under her breath, she'd say, "Dammit, this doesn't taste all that bad."
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