Making an Exception for Cool Whip

I’m thinking the attitude and comments in most of my posts would indicate that I wouldn’t normally prepare anything with something like Cool Whip. Which is true. Except I have recently decided that every June 28th Cool Whip will be permitted.

On June 28th, 2011 my amazing grandmother Elena, lovingly called Baba Lyalya, passed away. I can’t believe that it has already been a year. When I was in Boston for school I spent many weekends at her apartment and she fed me a lot. And many times dessert was jello with Cool Whip. Yes, you read correctly, jello with Cool Whip. How someone who serves jello with Cool Whip produced a family that includes some self proclaimed food snobs, I don’t know, but I have to say that I loved it. I was always happy after dinner when she would pull out this yellow bowl out of the fridge. Always the same yellow bowl. Followed by the Cool Whip from the freezer.

We just flew home to New Jersey from Moscow on the 28th. I was too tired to deal with Shop Rite, so I was hoping that CVS (where I had to run an errand anyway) would have the two ingredients for this very special dessert for my 1st Annual Cool Whip is OK Today Day. They ended up only having jello, which I think is weird. So I thought, OK, I’ll go to Whole Foods to say hello (it’s been 3 months!!!) and then run into the KMart next door. Surely they will have Cool Whip. I actually went to KMart first and they DID NOT have Cool Whip. So strange. Whole Foods had something call TruWhip which looked like it basically had the same ingredients (also very weird), but it wasn’t totally lenten so I didn’t buy it. Plus I felt like I needed to be true to the tradition and my grandmother’s dish. So off to Shop Rite I went. Which was awful, but I’ll spare the details. It was probably mostly due to the jetlag. But I would like to blame the woman with 27 items in the 5 item check out line. I was shocked, though, to discover that Cool Whip is not lenten. There is a tiny percentage of milk solids in it. I swear I used to eat it during lent because it was 100% lenten. So I’m not sure what happened there. I guess it makes me feel a little better though because that means it isn’t 100% chemicals. The Shop Rite brand had beta carotene for color. That made no sense since it’s unnaturally and blindingly white.

In a reflective and bittersweet moment I ate my strawberry jello with Cool Whip and thought about my Baba Lyalya.

I know I shouldn’t be sad that she died because she lived such a full life. She saw each of 5 grandchildren get married (60% of whom married someone named Andrei) and from those 5 grandchildren she saw 8 great grandchildren. My grandmother lost her husband too early, but she remained so strong about it. She happily shared stories with me about their love and their life. Despite difficulties that she faced and great losses that she suffered she told me once that given the opportunity to live her life again she wouldn’t change anything. Except not to have been so worried during my grandfather’s illness. But she knew that her life played out the way God intended it to. And she accepted that. And I look up to her for that. Because that is something brave. That takes a lot of strength and trust.

I know in the end her mind was just starting to go a little and she was scared and she wondered why God was letting her feel this way. But that wasn’t really her. Before those things started happening, my grandmother had known she was at an age where she could meet her end soon. And she was ok with it and talked about it freely and confidently. She would ask God that if she could, could she just see her next grandchild get married or have a baby. She was blessed to see us all get married. And I know that when I have kids I will wish so much that she could have seen them and held them.

I told her at my graduation from Boston University, and I repeated it at her funeral, that she gave me the best example of how to have faith, how to live and how to love. Now that we are at the one year mark, I can feel more and more how much I miss chatting with her in her Boston apartment. I miss how she would explain movies to me as we watched them – movies that were in English that I probably understood better than she did. I miss laughing together or plotting my next conversation with the most elligible bachelor at that time in church.  Or how she told me if I died my hair it would fall out. I love the way she would retell the story of how my brother broke his chair during a game of Cranium or how she would give me all the sardines that she kept buying even though she doesn’t like fish. I will never forget how much she helped me through a real gut wrenching heart break that seemed, at the time, to last forever. Or how she helped me through homesickness. I still laugh thinking about the time she tried to force me to take one of her ‘house coat’ pajama things because she was so nervous that I would wear my very short sleeping shorts to Andrei’s parents house one of the first times I was staying over at their house and would scare them and irreversably ruin my chances of winning them over. And I’ll never forget how Andrei so easily became another grandchild to her.

I have so much to tell her, and although I know that she knows it all, I can’t help wondering what she would tell me. I have so many questions and she is the one that I want to ask. I wish I could know her answers. I wish that I spent more time with her in the end, and didn’t shy away because she was losing it a little and wasn’t completely herself. I’m glad though that during one of her last visits to New York, I was able to have jello and Cool Whip with her again. And now I will remember her with jello and Cool Whip for years to come.

Memory Eternal, my darling Baba Lyalya.



5 Comments to “Making an Exception for Cool Whip”

  1. sniffle.
    I can’t believe it’s already been a year. So much has happened since then it feels longer.

    Also, I thought if the non-lenten ingredient was lower than the 5th item it was ok? ;-D

  2. Olichka, what a wonderful blog. Your Baba Lyalya loved you so very much, as she did all her grandchildren. You were extra special to her, I think, because you are the youngest, and she got to really help you and take care of you while you were at the university. She suffered with you through your heartbreak and your homesickness, and shared in your joy when you met your wonderful husband to be. She prayed so hard for all of us, and I’m sure that all of the many, many blessings we have in our life, are because of her fervent prayers. Вечная память to our dear mother, grandmother, and great grandmother.

  3. Olya and Tanya!!! Your blog and comments made my eyes water and me sniffle at my kitchen table as I read about Tyotya Lyalya……….The love you feel for your grandmother comes through so strongly that It made me think of my own mother who I wish was still with me — who I still talk to daily — who was so wise, had such a great sense of humor — and it’s been 13 years………..Olya — Baba Lyalya was obviously a wonderful and special part of your life! Vechnaya Pamyat’

  4. I LOVE this tradition! It will be a way that she will remain alive even with your children. It will be a moment dedicated to talking about the woman who shaped your life and thus indirectly your childrens’.

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