About two weeks ago Grandma Buxton died. Robust at 84, she lived for the brief weekends "passing through" and occasional holidays when the family would gather at her home in St. Louis. Never a great cook like Grandma Roark, the farmer's wife in Indiana, she had her special lunches she cooked for my brother and me when we went out to her old house to stay weekends after Grandpa died. Sandwiches of thick peanut butter and homemade jam, and chicken noodle soup, the canned kind.

Grandma made plum pudding every fall from the recipe she stole from my mother. When I was young I didn't appreciate the heavily alcoholic fruitcake with its rich brandy, butter and sugar sauce, which arrived every Thanksgiving and Christmas after my family moved to Connecticut. But I did appreciate the image of her slaving away in her small kitchen, lovingly wrapping the pudding in cloth and dousing it weekly with expensive brandy, then mailing it off two weeks prior to the holidays, marked: Handle With Care, Perishable. This year, instead of the usual two, she only sent one pudding at Christmas. As it sat on the table, its decorative flames promising richness and post-feast indigestion, I realized she must have been tired that fall.

Grandma's gone, and inheritance decisions have been made, but we forgot to plan for who would make the pudding this year.