Grandma’s Sandwich

As Told By: Lisa Quattlebaum


I was 11 years old when mom was sent to the hospital. During that time I stayed with my aunt, cousins, and grandma. I was an only child, so my cousins were more like siblings to me. I loved my family, but I really missed my mom. It was usually just her and I. I felt lost during this time as I tried to internalize what was happening to my mom at such a young, tender age. I didn’t understand why bad things happened to good people.

Mom cooked a lot before she was hospitalized. She made a lot of healthy dishes. She liked to eat clean, but she smoked cigarettes. She figured the clean eating would balance out the tar she was putting into her body. Plus, fast food was expensive in the 70s.

My grandma also loved to cook. She was a natural cook, as many older women seem to be. Grandmother’s somehow just know how to cook. No recipes. No measurements. Just a dash of this and a dash of that and voila. Culinary magic.

I was transported to a place of peace, of happiness, if only for an instant while eating that simple, yet delicious ham and cheese sandwich my grandma made especially for me.

My grandma could sense the pain I was enduring during this time. She was feeling it too. Her beloved daughter had abruptly been admitted into a hospital and in many Black folk’s mind, that’s a 50/50 chance of death. Black people don’t usually trust doctors. And, how could you blame us. According to the US National Library of Medicine, 40.33% of Blacks die in hospitals on average while only 24.07% of Whites do. (may need a more recent stat here)

One afternoon was particularly bad. I was feeling down. Really down. Mom was still in the hospital, still in the place where she may never come out of. I was safe, staying with my aunt and grandmother, but the rain, the rain just wouldn’t stop. “Let me make you a sandwich Lisa Mae,” grandma offered. She didn’t offer to make any of my cousins a sandwich. Just me. (MAYBE DELETE THIS LINE?)

Grandma entered the kitchen and went straight to work. I on-looked as she laid out stacks of fresh honey baked ham and toasted two slices of whole wheat bread. She then spread a heaping of spicy mustard onto one slice of bread and covered the other half with two slices (not none) of sharp cheddar cheese from the deli around the corner. Grandma went back to the fridge to get the lettuce and tomato out. I hated tomatoes but I didn’t stop her. She rinsed the veggies off in the sink, shook the lettuce dry and then topped the sandwich with two leafy green pieces. She sliced the fresh tomato and added four rounds of the fresh red flesh to the sandwich. She closed it, cut it in half and served it to me on a delicate glass plate.

I sat there a moment. Admiring the wonderfully made creation my grandmother had presented to me. I ate, without saying a single word and without removing the tomatoes I, before this moment, completely despised. I ate every last crumb of that sandwich. And in that moment, just for a second, I forgot that my mom was in the hospital. I was transported to a place of peace, of happiness, if only for an instant while eating that simple, yet delicious ham and cheese sandwich my grandma made especially for me.

It wasn’t just the combination of the flavors that made the meal so special. I was a visual person. IT WAS PRETTY. The thick golden brown toast, the color genesis of the deli meat, bright orange cheese, fresh leafy greens, and deep red tomato made for a beautiful display of art in my adolescent mind. That sandwich was a work of art that distracted me from my sad reality. The sandwich felt like a big hug. A hug that was meant just for me and wrapped me up tight and never let me go. It felt like love. It was so good in fact, that after admiring, then devouring every last morsel of the sandwich, I looked to grandma and said, “Can you make me another one?”

Lisa is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Homesteadista, a site that connects women with one another to actively make strides in transforming our cities. When she’s not wearing multiple hats as a stay at home working mom, she’s feng shuiing the house or pretending she’s a contestant on “Chopped”.