Turtle's Progress

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

....To Grandmother's House We Go (part one)

Throughout my childhood both of my grandmothers were still alive, and except for the two or three years when my family moved closer to where my dad worked, I lived in the same small California town where they lived. That was the norm back then. Most of my friend’s grandparents lived close by also. I never really appreciated or thought much about being in such close proximity to my grandmothers until I became a mother myself. Except for the four years the Navy stationed my family within 30 miles of my hometown, my daughters have always lived far from their grandparents and other extended family. They never had those spur-of-the-moment chances to “spend the night with grama” that I had growing up. And now my grandchildren, who live far from me, will also grow without that possibility.

My grandmothers were very different, though as a child, I thought they looked alike. Typical grama looks – overweight, stooped a little, with gray hair. Both wore glasses and had arthritis that worsened as I grew older. They knew each other and were friends but not close. For a time they had raised their children on the same street. They had a total of 11 children between them – all of different ages. My mom and dad were the proverbial “girl (boy) next door”. My sister, brothers and I became the main things that my grandmothers really had in common. They were our Grama D (maternal), and our Grama Keith (fraternal) and other than loving me and my siblings, as only grandparents can, they were very different.

Looking back I have realized that Grama Keith was my country grama (though I never thought of her in that way at the time). She and my grandfather lived in a small house on a “berry ranch” where he was a “hired hand” and did many of the chores around the place. Going there was a chance to spend lots of time outdoors. I remember climbing the BIG tree in their backyard, playing with grampa’s dog, Teddy, hiding in the barn, climbing the steep steps on the front porch that no one ever used, and smelling the honeysuckle. To this day the early spring smell of honeysuckle always takes me back to that front porch and my Grama Keith.

Being there was usually a social occasion. Often some of my many cousins would be there and we would have fun playing together. At dinner time with lots of cousins around there were never enough chairs at the table. We would end up sitting on grama’s old hope chest which held a treasure of her memories including her children and grandchildren’s school papers, pictures we had colored for her, and cards sent for special occasions. It was pulled up to the table as a bench. That hope chest now sits in my living room and is one of my favorite pieces of furniture. The crack in the lid caused by our sitting on it so long ago has been repaired, the wood sanded and refinished, but the memories are intact. My grandmother told me that it was tradition for a hope chest to be passed on to the first granddaughter – lucky me!

All socializing (not just eating) at my Grama Keith’s house was done at the dining room table. This is where she and grampa spent their time. The television there, and the wood-burning cook stove could easily keep this room and the kitchen warm. The rest of the house was closed off. Grama always had her “stuff” around her. Books, magazines, crossword puzzles, mail – all stacked on the table close to where she sat. I’ve inherited a bit of that trait as I store my similar “stuff” in a basket that I can easily carry into whichever room where I plan to spend time. I like it to be close to me just as Grama seemed to. The furniture in the entire house was stark and old, some was second hand. But I remember well the NEW brown upholstered furniture that suddenly appeared in the living room. I think it was my Uncle Jerry who purchased it for them (probably with wages from his first job). Despite the new furniture, the adult socializing continued to be at the dining room table. This was where Grama and Grampa seemed to be most comfortable.

But sometimes the grandkids got to spend time in the living room (only when weather or darkness kept us inside, of course)! In addition to the new furniture, I clearly remember a heavy library table, peddle foot sewing machine (grama tried to teach me how to use it but I never mastered pumping the pedal like she could) and a small bookcase holding a set of encyclopedias (as a child I thought this book shelf was so unusual because the shelves slanted up to more easily see the books). The one children’s book I remember was a well-worn Richard Scary that was falling apart and whose pictures we all enjoyed.

Some additional random Grama Keith memories. She encouraged me to brush my hair 100 strokes before going to bed. When she did this at bedtime I was amazed at the length of her beautiful gray hair as it came down from the bun where it was hidden during the day. She had a set of primary colored Pyrex nesting bowls that she used daily. She used some sort of purple medicine on her skin for impetigo. She always had wheat bread in her home. I was raised a 1950’s “Wonder Bread” kid and thought brown bread was so unusual (but it made great toast!). And speaking of bread…. She and I made potato bread from an OLD recipe one day. She tried to teach me how to knead the dough – I was an utter failure at this task at the time, but I can do it now and I always remember her instructions when I do decide to make any sort of bread. She was not religious but “believed in” nature. After Grampa’s funeral when we all gathered at her home, she tried to distract all of her grandchildren from our sadness by having us help her bake a cake. That is my clearest memory of my grandfather’s funeral – baking a cake with Grama.

As with all families, my dad and all of his siblings have different memories – both good and bad – of their mother. In the same way my memories probably differ from that of my cousins. But I think we would all agree that she was a strong woman who raised six children to the best of her ability during the Great Depression. Despite many ups and downs she stayed married to my grandfather for nearly 50 years until his death in 1974. She always lived on a limited income but until she died she always managed to send her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren a birthday card with a single dollar bill in the fold. She enjoyed writing and receiving letters and stayed in touch with many of us (including me) when we lived far from home. She loved us and we loved her in return.

(to be continued with my “City Grama”)

Here's the recipe Grama Keith and I tried to make so long ago. It is hand written and discolored, I will try to post a picture of it next week. I wouldn't recommend anyone try to make it! Grampa called our creations "bricks" instead of loaves.

Good Bread

At supper time soak 1 cake of yeast and boil 4 or 6 potatoes (according to size) in 1 qt of water. When done mash fine with water in which they were boiled, add 1 qt cold water, the soaked yeast, 1 table spoon full of salt and 2 table spoons of sugar. Set aside till next morning. In the morning the first thing put on the stove and stir constantly till lukewarm, then add flour for a stiff sponge. By the time breakfast is over and dishes washed this is ready to make stiff and knead 30 minutes. Let rise, punch down and make into loaves, let rise again and bake 1 hour. I use about six sives full of flour. Here's hoping you have luck.

My grandmother added this note when she gave me the recipe: This is a recipe that your great Aunt Maggie gave me. She was my oldest sister. Barbara's grandmother. She gave it to me when I had been married about 10 yrs.


At 12:21 PM, Blogger erin said...

Love that you posted the recipe. It's so "old school"! It's neat to hear about Grama Keith...thank you for that.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger lori said...

I have so many of the same memories of Grama Keith. I remember when I was in the 4th grade I would walk to her house at lunch time and she would make me tomato soup. I also remember she talked me into eating liver and I loved it until I found out what it was. Thanks for reminding me of such good memories; they seem to have gotten lost in my everyday life.

At 7:00 AM, Anonymous Joyce said...

You are so blessed to have such wonderful memories of your Grama Keith. There is that connection that brings us all to the love we have and are able to give to others.
I too, remember your Grama Keith. Sitting in her room just off the kitchen. Always so very plesant to Bill and I when we would visit your parents.
Thanks, my friend, for all the great stories.
Love you lots....

At 7:41 PM, Anonymous Meghan said...

It is so nice to hear such nice memories of Grama Keith...since we didnt know her as well as we did Grama D. I dont think Ill try the "brick bread" :)

At 5:38 PM, Anonymous Joyce said...

Sorry I did not read your blog correctly. It was your Grama D. that I met.
Please excuse the error.
I'm willing to try your Grama's recipe, if you help me and we can then sample it together. What are friends for.
Love You....

At 9:42 AM, Blogger erin said...

You did it! Great job dragging the picture, grasshopper.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home