Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Most Days Lead to Granny

Most days take me back to Granny. There in the warm coziness of her four-room house or outside in her tiny yard, I would follow her like a shadow on a sunny day, mimicking her every action. Granny would be crocheting a new afghan and I would sit patiently with my crochet hook like a surgeon wanting to start a delicate operation as I watched her knobby, arthritic hands manipulate the yarn with the speed of a typist. Granny would complete a row and then show me another stitch before moving on to start another row. I never did learn to crochet as well as Granny, but then again, I’ve never been able to do any of the miracles as well as she.

Baking cookies was always a thrill and Granny never seemed to mind the mess, and believe me, there was always a mess. Mixing the thick sugar cookie batter and then rolling it out on a slab of marble. When the dough was rolled to the right thickness, Granny would hand me a juice jar to use as a cookie cutter. Dipping the open end of the jar into a bowl of snow-white sugar, I would cut out one cookie after another. I was married with a child of my own before I realized you could buy preformed cookie cutters in all shapes and sizes.

While the cookies were baking in the old gas oven, Granny would mix up the frosting, several different colors – red, yellow, green and blue. The green was always my favorite and by the time we had finished frosting each cookie, I would end up with green lips from tasting so much frosting. Back then no one worried about how bad all the sugar was on a growing child and grandmothers were always trying to feed their grandchildren. Later, when my Mom would pick me up, Granny would send us home with a fresh tin of cookies and fresh memories I would look back fondly on in my later years.

Graveyards and cemeteries have always been some of my favorite places to visit, and when I was a child, I loved walking through row after row of old tombstones and statues looking for great grandfather so-and-so or great grandmother so-and-so or aunt and uncle so-and-so. This may be a morbid activity for a young child, but my Granny loved visiting these places and paying her respect for ancestors who have gone before us. Mom would usually take us – Granny, my brother and sister, and me – on Sunday afternoon drives. We would end up in the cemeteries of Deep Creek or Antioch or Bruner’s Chapel and my siblings and I would have free rein to run and play while Mom and Granny would clear weeds away from tombstones.

Although I have a fairly extensive family history I have been working on for many years, I can’t remember exactly who is buried in what graveyard, but I can find each family tombstone from all the cemeteries we used to visit. I remember walking down a deep hillside at Deep Creek, I remember walking up a small rise at Bruner’s Chapel, and I remember someone is buried near the old outhouse at Antioch. My childhood memories can carry me to these places like someone walking in a dream.

Another autumn adventure occurring on these Sunday afternoon drives was gathering bittersweet vine for fall decorations. Traveling the old back roads to the out of the way cemeteries, we would find bittersweet growing wild on fencerows near the road. Now a day, I would never dream of pulling over to the side of the road and gathering wild vines, but in the late 60s and early 70s this is exactly what we did. We would go home with the car trunk full of bittersweet vines full of bright orange berries. Granny would make wreaths or table decorations to help brighten the house for fall.

Gathering hickory nuts is another autumn adventure I loved to help with. Granny had friends who owned a farm near Perryville and one field of the farm had five or six hickory nut trees. We would fill several large sacks full of nuts, knowing Granny would use them in her wonderful jam and orange slice cakes, or in fudge or fruit salad. Once we had the nuts back home, we would sit in Granny’s side yard and remove the hulls from each nut. Although not as messy as working with black walnuts, the green hulls would still stain our hands. Mom and Granny would then crack the shell of each nut and carefully work out the sweet meat inside. It would take hours just getting a small bowl of nuts, but we knew the reward was worth it.

Although my Granny loved to sew and make crafts, I think her first love was working with plants in her small yard. Elephant ears were one of her favorite plants and she would grow the same bulb over and over again every year. During the summer, the huge green Elephant ears would grow happily in old buckets on the back porch. When the air started to chill in the fall, Granny would drag the buckets to the crawl space below the house. After wrapping the entire bucket in layers of old newspaper, the elephant ears would over winter in the dark dampness of this small cramped space, getting just enough warmth from the furnace pilot light to keep from freezing and damaging the root bulbs. Every few years, Granny would repot the elephant ears, harvesting baby bulbs to turn into new plants.

Granny also enjoyed growing sage in the tiny flower garden between her home and her next-door neighbor’s house. She kept the flowers plucked off each sage plant in order for the leaves to grow big and fat. During the late summer and early fall, Granny would start harvesting the sage leaves, lining them on paper plates and allowing them to dry on the back porch if it was a sunny day, or placing them on top of the refrigerator where it was warm. Granny would then use the sage for making her wonderful dressing on Thanksgiving and Christmas. My mother still grows and dries sage in the same manner as Granny and her dressing is always the highlight of the holiday season.

Sewing, gardening, baking and crafting, in my opinion, there was nothing my Granny couldn’t do – except maybe drive a car. Granny never learned to drive and never had any desire to learn to drive, depending on my Mom and aunt to take her the places she needed to go. It is because of Granny I love to work in my gardens, although my plants never seem to grow as good as Granny’s did. It is because of Granny I love to sew and craft, but my fingers will never be as nimble as Granny’s were. It is because of Granny I love to bake – although I hate cleaning up the mess – but my desserts will never stand up to the delectable sweets she would create.

Granny has been gone for 24 years, but I still think of her often. Although all my memories of her are happy memories, it saddens me to know my children and my husband never got to know her. In recent years the motto, “What would Jesus do?” has become very popular, but whenever I’m in doubt about something, I catch myself asking, “What would Granny do?”