The land where my grandparents lived when I was a child recently came on the market. There are a lot of good memories tied up in that acreage. I went so far as to contact the realtor for the details and briefly pondered the possibility of bringing the old home place back into the family. However, after several days’ consideration, I decided the negatives outweighed the positives and I dropped the idea. But not before a jumble of memory clips made their way through my thoughts. To mention a few:
1) Hot summer days during the watermelon harvest. There was always a pile of perfect watermelons under a tree in the side yard. I don’t think I’ll ever again have access to watermelons as sweet as those grown by my grandfather. We would gather under the tree with a knife and salt shaker and split watermelons, eat the sweet hearts while juice ran down our arms and dripped off our elbows, then toss the rest into the pig pen. Now when I see puny watermelons in the grocery store, priced at $5 each, I just can’t bring myself to buy them.
2) Spending winter nights in the country in a house where the fireplace in the front room was the primary heat source. It got mighty cold in the bedrooms and we would pile my grandmother’s handmade quilts on top of us until we were weighted down, barely able to move. It would be so cold that the sheets would feel wet, and once you got a spot warm you tried to stay put. Then in the morning, heading for the fireplace to warm up. My grandfather would always have it started and would be on his second cup of coffee by the time we dragged ourselves out of bed.
3) The cow pens where my grandmother went everyday to milk. I even tried milking once upon a time. It ain’t easy and it feels weird until you get used to it. After the milking I would watch her run the milk through the cream separator that was mounted to the kitchen cabinet. She made great homemade cottage cheese (or curd) and regularly churned butter. I took a turn at churning, too. I doubt I ever contributed much to the process, but I can truthfully say I’ve milked and I’ve churned.
4) One summer my aunt and I whiled away a good bit of time constructing a dirt town in the field back of the house. We piled dirt up into a small “mountain”, constructed roads, and made up stories about the folks that lived there. As we created our town, we sang a song of our own creation:
A little bit of white and a little bit of brown
All go together in a little dirt town.
We had a lot of fun with our imaginary town. It was a little disappointing when my grandfather plowed it under later in the season.
5) Another time my aunt and I were hanging out at the tank. (That’s a small body of water, kids.) We watched as a large cloud of black insects settled on top of the water. My aunt cracked me up by observing that it was undoubtedly a Billy Bug Crusade.
6) One day I was walking backward on the dirt road, talking to my aunt who was riding a gentle mare. I just happened to turn around, seconds before I would have fallen over an armadillo that was shuffling across the road behind me. My aunt found it humorous. If I had actually come into contact with the thing, we probably would have had to go home so I could change my clothes.
7) My grandmother would usually have a huge platter of chicken fried steak ready when we got there. One of the side dishes would be Ranch Style beans. It was many years later before my brother realized that those beans weren’t a special recipe of hers. She also would make a roasting pan full of cake doughnuts, coated in sugar. I’ve learned to cook a decent chicken fried steak and I make doughnuts using her recipe, but they never taste as good as my memories. (It might have something to do with her use of lard. That was before we knew to watch our cholesterol.)
8) Since there were witnesses, I’ll confess to getting in trouble one time in her kitchen. I’m not sure what artistic impulses caused me to park myself in the middle of the kitchen table, where there was a big bowl of newly made curd, and to proceed to fling handfuls against the far wall. For some reason, no one else appreciated my creative efforts.
That’s it for this round of memory vignettes. No wait, one more. Whenever I think of my grandfather, I can hear him call me an “old hen”. Maybe he used that peculiar term of affection with all his grand-daughters, but I prefer to believe it was just for me. He seemed to find me amusing. I know I found him to be a standard by which I’ve always judged the men in my life. My grandparents were good people. I hope I measure up to their example.