On Monday it will be two weeks since my maternal grandmother passed away. Losing a grandparent – any family member – is sad, of course. But like so many people who live into their early 90s, sadness and sorrow are overwhelmed more by relief and gratitude that there’s no more suffering, that the loved ones are no longer mourning the loss of their mother’s mind, that the memories long tucked away are now perfect reminders of a happy, fulfilled, joyful life.
That’s how I feel upon Granmargie’s passing. We called her Granmargie because her name was Marjorie, Margie for short (a pet name coined by her husband of nearly 70 years). She was a World War II bride, marrying her longtime childhood sweetheart from Gordon, Texas, a teeny tiny town nestled in some part of the state that is still obscure to me. One of three sisters and a brother, she, unlike many girls of her time, earned her degree from Texas Tech (the ONLY good thing to come from that university, aside from my cousin on the same side of the family), and became a Home Economics teacher. In that time, she was a doting wife to her darling Garth, a mother to four children, and, according to my own mother and countless other accounts, the rock of the entire family. No one counted every nickel or quelled the arguments between Uncle John and Aunt Barb like Margie. A saint among mere men, she was.
Her death, although sad, wasn’t met with surprise. Only a short 6 weeks ago on Thanksgiving morning, my grandfather and her husband passed away after a horribly long battle with Alzheimer’s – a cruel battle that left family frustrated, forlorn, and her grasping for consolation in his jumbled world of memories. He was her everything… I recall growing up and watching her dote on him, cooking, cleaning, acting as the silent and steadfast force of calm and support. She cherished every moment with her beloved Garth, and although cognitively he had been gone for years, his physical passing cued the deterioration of her own state of living.
Although she too suffered from memory loss and dementia in her last years, she’s at peace now. And I am so grateful that her sweet, gentle self is finally no longer suffering. I’m grateful my wonderful, amazing, loss-for-words-of-how-perfect-she-is of a mother is no longer having to drive 3 hours each way to care for her. I’m grateful that despite enduring the Second World War, the loss of her parents, the loss of her brother, the loss of her sisters, the loss of a child, the loss of her husband, she lived and exhibited a joyful life. I’m grateful that we as a family have confidence that she is abiding in the presence of a loving, caring Father right at this moment, where suffering and pain is obliterated and the sadness of age and loss are behind her. I’m grateful to have witnessed her life as a wife, mother, and grandmother. Because she set the bar so freaking high.
And I’m grateful for her chocolate sheet cake recipe. Raise your eyebrows if you will, but this recipe is renowned in all of our family. I don’t know how old it is, only that the original is scribbled on a yellowed piece of paper in handwritten script that simply cannot be replicated by anyone educated post-WWII. Is it remarkably similar, nay, almost identical, to other Texas chocolate sheet cake recipes? Perhaps. But those weren’t ingrained in the minds of every one of my family members since birth, baked by her able and adept Home Ec teacher hands. So this one wins. Hands down.
I could do my usual spiel and expand on how delicious and easy this is, what a classic southern staple it is, what a crowd-pleaser it is… But all of that should be explanatory when you glimpse the words “chocolate” and “cake”. Instead, I wanted to remember her and commemorate her long, full life with this staple and share it. From birthdays, to weddings, to holidays, to funerals, this cake has brought dozens of our family members joy over the years, and all credit goes to her for it (and our existence, what with her being the matriarch and all…).
So enjoy this simple, classic staple of many families. It’s delicious, easy, and now forever a reminder of Granmargie and the love, honor, and respect she’ll forever have in my heart and the hearts of everyone in my family.
Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake
For the Cake
- 2 cups flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup cocoa
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the Icing
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
- 3 tablespoons cocoa
- 6 tablespoons milk
- 1 lb powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.
- In a medium saucepan, bring the stick of butter, shortening, water, and cocoa to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat and pour over the flour mixture.
- Add the eggs, baking soda, buttermilk, and vanilla to the above mixture and whisk well.
- Prepare an 18×13 cookie sheet pan with bakers spray. Evenly pour and spread the batter onto the prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 23 minutes, or until set on the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- For the icing, bring the butter, cocoa, milk, and powdered sugar to a boil over medium heat. Whisk in the vanilla until the icing is smooth and creamy. You can do this portion with an electric mixer to aerate it a bit (I like this method).
- Pour the icing over the cake. It's ideal for the cake to still be warm to the touch, but not too hot, otherwise the icing will seep in and not set well on top.