Abuelo, Apples & Me
By Luna Azcurrain
This piece looks at the way an unexpected Thanksgiving tradition was able to bring me and my grandfather closer.
I was on my way to work when I remembered that it was going to be Thanksgiving tomorrow. Thanksgiving in my family is not your traditional Thanksgiving. Half of my family is from Spain so we like to add our own spin to it. We have tortilla de patata, croquetas, and manchego, but the one thing that stood out to me every year was the apple cake. Thanksgiving was typically held at my aunt’s house so I always assumed she was the mastermind behind it, but I soon learned it was actually my grandfather, which completely surprised me because I had only ever seen him reading the French newspaper or watching the Spanish news channel. When I found out it was him my first reaction was that: for one, I would finally be able to get closer with my grandfather; and two, I would finally get my hands on this recipe. As I approached work I got excited about the cake me and my grandfather would be making the next day; it has become a tradition over the last few years.
As I begin to close up at work my mom calls me and says my grandfather has been admitted to the hospital. He needs to get a pacemaker put in, it’s going to be a minimal surgery and he is going to be okay, but we will be having Thanksgiving in the hospital this year. I have to admit part of me was worried about him but I was also worried about who was going to make the cake. I know that if we don’t have the apple cake, it won’t be Thanksgiving, so I decide I will make it alone for the first time this year.
I get home and I’m staring at these apples my mom had just picked out from the farmers market as my mind slips away, and I completely forget how to do everything. I can’t remember if he cuts the apples into slivers or chunks. If they are big or small. I just remember being mesmerized by the fact that he could peel an apple in one entire rind. We would have this old recipe book in between us as I would mix the wet and the dry ingredients together. He would always double-check my measurements and as I look down at the bowl in front of me I realize no one has checked if there really is a cup and a half of flour in mine. Nothing seems to come out right. I keep making this cake with a huge cloud of doubt hanging over my head, I’m making it wrong, it’s not going to taste the same. All I want is for it to feel like I was baking with my grandfather again. The house would instantly smell like apples and cinnamon. As soon as it came out at the end of the night, everyone got that thick slice. My family would applaud and give us neverending praise for it being the perfect palette cleanser and having just the right amount of sweetness. My grandfather and I would look at each other as everyone was enjoying their slice. We would smile and nod like, Yea, we did that. It was a moment I looked forward to every year. My opportunity to bond with my grandfather. This year we couldn’t do that.
I finish off the rest of the cake, put it in the oven and just wait. I reminisce about all the times I was little and had the chance to share this moment with him. Having abuelo by my side and connecting with me was what made making the apple cake so special. Beep beep beep, the oven rings, reminding me that this no-longer-perfect cake was done. I am hesitant to bring the cake over to the hospital. I know it is not the same. It doesn’t have his touch but of course my mother insists. As we enter the hospital this waft of medicine fills our noses and the cool air leaves goosebumps on our skin, but as we approach my grandfather’s room I see my whole family surrounding him, creating some warmth. I pull out the bag of apple cake from behind me and hand it to my grandmother. She takes the cake and exclaims, “Look Luna made apple cake!” as she places it on my grandfather’s lap. He looks down at the apple cake and back up at me and I swear I feel this rush of memories flow, of us making the cake together year after year and our bond getting tighter. At that moment, even though he was in the hospital, it still felt like he made it with me. We had done it once again.
Luna Azcurrain is a class of 2020 Girls Write Now mentee based in New York, NY.