Nothing brings back warm cozy feelings like memories of visits to my grandparent’s home.
On Sundays, we spent the afternoon at Grandma and Grandpa’s. The day began with a Shirley Temple or Tarzan rerun, progressed to dinner, and ended with Wagon Train—sponsored by twenty mule team Borax.
At dinner, Grandma’s condiments consisted of homemade catsup and goose-grease. Goose-grease is boiled down meat juice, and tastes great poured over meat or potatoes.
“It’ll put hair on your chest,” said Uncle Edward.
He said that about a lot of foods, so I wasn’t deterred.
Grandpa’s farm was already old when his parents bought it at the beginning of the Civil War. Grandpa was born in 1875, ten years after the war. In addition to a barn, his farm had lots of smaller buildings, such as a milk house, grain house, ice house, tool shed, workshop, and chicken coop.
Dad and Grandpa instructed David and me to stay out of the fascinating workshop filled with Civil War, World War I, and World War II uniforms, a German helmet with a pointy top, and a bayonet. Plus it held a motorized jigsaw and other work tools, and a skeleton. We bent a couple jigsaw blades, but hardly broke anything else. After making a few crank calls on an old-time crank phone connected to the house, we were ordered out of the workshop.
Another great building sat behind Grandpa’s workshop — a smelly three-seater outhouse. When Grandpa’s house got indoor plumbing, the outhouse was moved further away and used by anyone working in the barn or fields.
As soon as Dad’s car pulled into their driveway, David and I hopped out and jumped onto the stoop, careful not to step in any of Grandpa’s brown tobacco spit. Grandma stood waiting at the front door. I don’t know how she beat us because her feet had corns, bunions, and crossed-toes, making it hard to walk in her laced-up black grandma-shoes. Standing barely five feet tall, with curly whitish-gray hair, she usually wore a flowered bib-apron over her housedress. She also had a sparse wiry gray mustache that we weren’t supposed to make fun of.
Grandma was Grandpa’s second wife and much younger than he. His first wife, Lottie, died from influenza shortly after their marriage, which seemed as tragic and exotic as consumption. Grandma taught in a one-room school house, and her students included her two sons, Uncle Edward and Dad. I loved going through her old school books while she sat crocheting, patiently listening to me read aloud (in a dramatic voice) for long periods of time.
After kissing Grandma, David and I raced to the kitchen. Inside her deep bread drawer, one or two coffee cans held homemade cookies, usually chocolate chip or molasses. After eating a few cookies, Grandma ran a loaf of homemade bread through the slicer, since at least one finger would get sliced off if we used it ourselves.
I did use it, once. I plopped the bread onto the platform and slowly turned the crank. A sharp metal wheel began spinning through the soft brown crust. After a half inch of successful cutting, the bread wadded up and jammed the wheel. I got scolded, but it was still fun. I should have turned faster.
Another favorite treat was Grandpa’s soggy cucumber slices, soaked in vinegar until they got soft and mushy. Grandma cut the outside edges away, with just enough left to hold the seeds together. My eyes watered and nose stung as my tongue pushed the vinegary cucumber mush against the roof of my mouth. I pressed until nothing but seeds remained, and crunched them into a chewy pulp. I sipped a little of his vinegar juice, too. It made my eyes water and cleared my sinus.
I liked whatever Grandpa liked. He liked sardine sandwiches right before he went to bed. Grandma made me half a sandwich each night I slept at their house, and let me eat it in her bed while she read. I ate with minimal chewing. After too many nights of fish pieces stuck in my teeth, I made the mistake of removing the top piece of bread and pulling one of the little fish apart. Gunky organ parts crowded together inside the opened body. I shoved my sandwich on the floor underneath my side of Grandma’s bed. During the night, Grandpa’s black-and-white cat finished my last sardine sandwich.
Their living room was small and cozy. Grandma’s delicate crocheted doilies covered the head-rest and arms of her over-stuffed furniture. Grandpa sat in his rocker to the right of the sofa. If I begged enough, then he sometimes told stories of his youth, such as stealing a watermelon from a neighbor’s field. A shotgun blast over his head made him decide to drop the melon, run home, and leave his life of crime.
His best stories were about working on the railroad in the late 1800s. I was transfixed by the one about a man who fell between two cars and had to be carried out in a grain bag. That story got cut short by Grandma hurrying from the kitchen.
“Ed! Don’t be telling such things to the child.”
I became aware that adults were more than old people. As hard as it was to believe, they used to be young, and their histories held interesting stories I needed to unearth. I vowed to keep my future children and grandchildren spellbound with unedited stories about my own exploits.
I broke my vow. They’re edited.
Related posts: Exposed/Rhubarb Massacre
Now it’s your turn: Do you have a favorite grandparent or farm memory?
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