Mandi Buckner, the Florida food blogger behind Chewsy Lovers, shares how her grandmother's love of food and family, and this deliciously moist lemon pound cake, influenced her own life.
Nita Rose
Credit: Mandi Buckner

Love people for who they are, not who you want them to be. This was the greatest lesson my grandmother Juanita (Gaga) ever taught me. Though she never actually spoke these words, as I reflect on her life, I realize she never had to. It was how she lived.

I don't have many moments that I can recall my parents being proud of me growing up. I just wasn't "one of those kids." My judgment wasn't the best and I never chose the path my parents felt I should have chosen. In college, I changed my major three times, never finished, eventually dropped out, married, and started a family. Not once, however, did my grandmother ever belittle me or judge me because I made that choice. In fact, she told me choosing to put my family first was the most important choice I could ever make, no matter what that looked like to me. For me, it was being a stay-at-home mom. Gaga loved for me to call her and talk about the kids, which magazines I was reading, or what I was cooking.

My grandmother watched three grandgirls all grow up very close in age, and she never compared us to each other, or made any of us feel inferior to (or better than) the other. We were all important. She loved us all for who we were, not who other family members or even society thought we should be. The eccentric fashion designer who went from a GED to a Master's degree, the multi-lingual, well-traveled scholar who worked in The White House, and the divorced, single mom, trying her hand at culinary school, were all the same in her eyes.

One thing my grandmother gave to all of us was her love of cooking and gathering her family. She believed food was one of the best ways you could love on people. The last time we were together, Gaga gave me a bag containing a box of recipes. Some recipes she had written, some were clippings from the 50's, and all were treasures to me…especially now. In the bag I found her pound cake recipe. I had made it before, but I always had to call her to make sure I got it just right. Now, I follow the recipe exactly, and it's the most perfect cake I've ever made.

WATCH: Do You Really Need to Grease and Flour Your Cake Pans?

I love that food is something that travels through generations and connects our memories to our future. Though she is missed terribly, my grandmother lives on through every meal my family prepares and shares. She sweetens every celebration. Gaga would be proud of me today. Not because I've accomplished anything noteworthy, but because I have created a life with the ones I love, doing what I love. Loving them everyday for who they are, not who I think they should be.

Mandi Buckner is a professional chef, entertaining expert, and aspiring restaurateur. She curates the award-winning blog Chewsy Lovers with her husband Elliot. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida, and is a lifelong fan of polka dots, pearls, the beach, and brunch.