Palo Alto Weekly 35th Annual Short Story Contest
Teen Honorable Mention

Grandma Honey's Almond Butter

by Claire Sun

Author Bio

Claire Sun is an 8th grader at Castilleja School. She lives in Los Altos Hills with her family and three maniacal cats. When she is not writing, one can most often find her on the volleyball court. Claire also loves reading, and baking. Besides short stories, Claire especially loves writing poetry and vignettes.

Inspiration

My story "Grandma Honey’s Almond Butter" was inspired by two things I love dearly, making almond butter, and my Grandma. A couple of years ago, my grandma had a stroke and has been bedridden since then. I pulled from the feelings of desperation and helplessness I had felt at the time and added them into my character, Tasha. With added emotion, she came alive. My other main inspiration was making almond butter. Making almond butter was one of those magical things I discovered during the pandemic. I decided to weave the process of making almond butter and my grandmother together, creating "Grandma Honey's Almond Butter"

3 cups of almonds

1 pinch of love

I reached for the bag of almonds, sitting conspicuously on the kitchen counter, the red Kirkland Signature logo glaring at me. 3 months, Tasha. 3 months. What if I had gone stale? I slowly unclipped the binder clip holding the loose ends together in place. I looked at the binder clip, happy yellow polka dots dancing across painted magenta squiggles. I tossed the offending clip away, watching it skitter across the countertop.

With trembling hands, I slowly reached into the bag of almonds with a measuring cup, trying to channel Grandma Honey’s energy. Like this, Tasha, she would say, large, warm hand over mine, carefully measuring exactly one cup of nuts.

I used to marvel over her hands. Hands the color of golden honey, calloused and wrinkled with age. Always moisturized. She used to say, heaven knows why your hands are so dry, Tasha, when the world was blessed with the wonders of hand cream. Grandma Honey’s hands had blue-purple veins running all the way to her elbows. I used to trace my fingers over the soft skin and small bump where the veins bulged, tracing up and down her arms. She’d throw her head back and laugh heartily. When I see my veins, popping out just like Grandma Honey’s, I think of her.

Measuring out exactly three cups of almonds, I pressed a kiss to the back of the measuring cup. Grandma Honey used to say that giving it a bit of love would enhance the flavor and light you up inside. While my brother would scoff, I could feel the warmth of Grandma Honey’s hazel eyes filling my heart with flickering embers.

I threw the nuts into the oven, roasting them slowly. The clock ticked, and I waited. I was instantly reminded of that dreadful day of waiting. We sat as a family, crusty grey hospital seats and brown carpet under feet. The unmistakable sound of my brother’s tapping foot adding to the baking heat of our stress. The clock ticked by, seizing every second and amplifying the fear and heat pounding inside my chest. After what seemed like forever, the doctor emerged, kind eyes hidden by square glasses, shoulders hanging tiredly, dragging his entire body downwards. A stroke, he had murmured, soft voice filling the room. She’ll have to be on bed rest for a couple of days, but she should be up on her feet in no time. She’ll make it through alright. The room was overwhelmed with relief, like ten thousand breaths releasing at once.

The timer pinged and I opened the oven door, the smell of smoke and woods and nuts filling the kitchen. I checked the nuts. They were roasted thoroughly. A couple were burnt. I pressed the burnt ones onto my tongue, letting my saliva cool them before relishing in the charred nutty aroma. I threw the others into the food processor.

We visited Grandma Honey once in the hospital. My grandma of light and laughter and brightness was confined to a room of blank walls and dirty windows. A bed. A TV. Her eyes lit up tiredly as we walked in the room.

"Hey, Grandma," my brother managed, eyes fixated on her frail body. I sat down by her side and took her hand. Though her body was weak, her hand was alive with a grip of steel. She squeezed my hand, veins bulging. I kissed her hand. Don’t you ever change, Tasha, she had whispered as we turned to leave. I nodded twice, swallowing the fear in my throat before walking out the door.

Taking a deep breath, I turned the food processor on. Grandma Honey would laugh as Captain, our orange kitten would jump into the air and race out of the room. I smiled as Captain, now almost a full grown cat, glared at me accusingly and leaped out of the room. As the almonds raced circles and clunked around the food processor, I sighed.

Grandma Honey always smelt of warm snickerdoodle cookies and lemons. After the stroke, she was walking again, albeit slower than usual. The day she was discharged, my mom had pulled me aside. Tasha, she murmured, it will be hard for your Grandma Honey to sit down and stand up. I trust you, she paused, eyes glimmering with pain, to help her sit down and stand up. She sighed. She’s recovering, she needs the help. Help her with the restroom as well, it will be harder for her to manage. I nodded. She squeezed me tight, and I could feel the woman with a backbone of steel start to dent.

As the almonds swirled around and around, becoming cookie dough sized balls of nuts, I remembered the day I broke. Remembering my promise to my mother, I helped Grandma Honey. I took her on walks every morning by the lake. We watched the sunrise as ducks swam on a rippling surface of pinks and oranges. The wind would blow as we returned home. I assisted Grandma Honey, helping her lower down onto the toilet and helping her stand back up when she finished. I could feel the embarrassment radiating off of her, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t say, of course I’ll help you, or it’s no big deal, Grandma, or even: I love you. I simply put on a brave face and smiled, even when the thought of Grandma Honey breaking internally squandered my courage and squeezed my soul.

And I couldn’t take it anymore, thoughts akin to the now ball of paste flying around the food processor. The almonds, my heart, squeezed and compressed, wishing to fly out of the cage I had locked it in. The ball of soon to be almond butter flew around the plastic container, yet managed to stay within its confines.

Those were the hardest days. A crisp November, and we were rushed to the hospital. Mom, in a state of frenzied panic, the bite of her lip and glint in her eye holding the emotion that was threatening to empty out. Dad, ever the face of calm, hands silently shaking against the steering wheel.

I’d never forget the look on Mom’s face when the doctor told us she had had another stroke. We’re trying the best we can, ma’am, but she’s suffering. Stricken, collapsing into my father’s arms. And me, a tear slowly carving it’s way down a face of stone. It’s your fault, Tasha. God, can’t you ever get anything right? Why weren’t you with her? I bit my lip, hard, tasting cold iron fill my mouth, keeping my thoughts at bay. An arm snaked its way around my shoulder, and my brother pulled me towards his body.

By the next day, she was gone.

Before I knew it, a tear had fallen into the churning mess of almonds. And suddenly, just like magic, the almonds smoothed, becoming a creamy batch of almond butter. And as I unplugged the food processor, I could feel Grandma Honey’s warm hands on mine. I could see her eyes, feel myself melt into the folds of her body. See, Tasha? No matter how bad it is from the start, everything will turn out just fine. And for the first time in three months, I smile.