My grandparents grew up in the depression era, were raised on farms in Southwest Mo. They fell in love and got married during WWII, Grandpa being deployed 17 days after their wedding. Their life was never easy, but my memories are of them always being happy. They worked a simple farm, but the pressure was on to grow bigger and produce more, rather than to go into debt for big milking equipment, Grandpa took a job in construction and farmed on the side. I can still smell the dried, hot, hod mingled with steamy sweat as I buried my face in his overalls and was embraced in his arms. My siblings and I would run down the lane to meet him when he came home from work, jumping into the truck to ride the short distance and raid his lunch box, which almost always had a candy bar or some other small treat left in it for us to share! My memories of Grandma are mostly in the kitchen, frying chicken and making gravy for family dinners, the sink and counters being piled high with mixing bowls, spoons, serving platters and all kinds of dishes it took to bring that meal into existence. I can still see her standing over the frying pan, fork in her hand, turning the chicken. Being allowed to spend the night with them was always fun, the most memorable being woken up in the grey of dawn by the smell and sound of bacon sizzling in the pan, the gentle clink of plates being put on the table, coffee brewing, and sounds of low voices in amiable conversation. I would always lie there for a few minutes, as the first hints of daylight were permeating the darkness of the bedroom, feeling completely content. Did I mention it was early, always so early! For that was the farm life they led. I didn’t know the price that was paid for that steamy bucket of milk that was brought in, strained, and poured directly on to my heaping bowl of blackberries! Nor the juicy pork chop I enjoyed, these were just things that were part of the landscape at Grandma and Grandpas. And to them, they were just part of life, they hardly chose it, it was what they had always known and this is what they did to feed their family. They lived it, and breathed it, and it was what it was.
Grandma had the gift of hospitality, all kinds of people have sat at her tiny table. Whatever they had, they shared. Once, when I was in college, I had taken a group of 27 middle school students to a Christian festival. As we were beginning the 5 hour journey home, I found that most of them had spent ALL of their money. . . and ALL of them were hungry! We were about and hour and a half from my Grandparents, and they were on our route home. I didn’t think twice about taking that hungry bunch of kids to my Grandma’s for a surprise visit, I just knew she would have something to whip up to feed them, and she didn’t disappoint! (aren’t you all glad you weren’t my Grandma!) I tell you what, as I loaded up the van, after each child received another hug from her, those kids KNEW what a grandmother’s love was!
In the hard times, as the story goes, they would spend Saturday mornings rummaging through the dump on their property for tin, then they would clean up, put their town clothes on, and put everyone in the car and go buy groceries for the week! They told me this story with fondness, they had FUN! They were together, and their needs were always met. . . what more could they want?
I have all of these memories of my grandparents that I cherish, but the ones I love the most are the ones that just pop up as I am doing everyday things. Things they taught me, or things we did together. I never sit at my sewing machine without being reminded of my Grandma, because she showed me how to make pleats for the curtains in my house when I was a young wife and mother. Bread and butter pickles also make me think of her, I remember her coming over and showing me how to make them the first year we put in a garden and had a bumper crop of cucumbers! When I’m stirring gravy, she usually comes to mind, because that was one of the emergency phone calls I put in half way through a meal that I was making, at that moment when I suddenly realized that I didn’t REALLY know how to make it! She patiently talked me through it 🙂 I think of Grandpa almost every time I’m amongst the tomatoes, with the sun bringing their fragrance out, I can almost feel him there with me. I have some of his home made tomato cages that I use, they were his specialty crop. He grew 19 tomato plants, even when it was just he and Grandma, taking loads of them to church and neighbor’s every week. He loved giving stuff away! Every time I plant out my tomato plants, I can hear him saying, “now, plant it deep. . . lay it on it’s side, plant it clear up to those leaves so it can grow a good root system,” . . . And, yes, he said that to me EVERY year! Dahlias are special to me, because he would bring the bulbs over every spring and help me plant them out. Then, every fall, he would come back and help me dig them up and he’d store them under his house for the next spring. The closeness I have to the land and our food, that choice that we’ve made, strengthens my bond with my Grandparents. I like the idea of keeping their memory alive by carrying on some of their knowledge and ways.
My grandparents invested much in my life, and they taught me a lot: but the most important lesson was their love. Growing up, I never heard my Grandparents fight- never even a cross word. I saw a lot of pecks on the cheek, but I didn’t think much about their love for one another. In my mind, they had always been together and always would, they were a team, but not my idea of romance. It wasn’t until my Grandma got sick that it started dawning on me. She had lymphedema, which is a terrible affliction where fluid built up in hard pockets in the tissue in her legs. It was very painful, her legs ached constantly and sometimes excruciatingly. Eventually, it became very debilitating. I saw Grandpa not only take care of her legs, but, over time he BECAME her legs. He did many, many things he had never done before and I’m sure he had never wanted to do! He gave up a lot to take care of her and be “stuck” in the house with her all the time. But, that’s not how he saw it. He was with her, he loved her and there was no other place he would rather be. It was at that point that I began to recognize the magnitude of the love I was seeing lived out before me. This was a fairy tale love: not the beginning that’s all “the beautiful princess swooned at the handsome prince and they were in love at first sight” but the “happily ever after” part. You know, the “He loved her more than himself, he loved her like Christ loved the Church” Oh, it was a powerful thing to realize and see lived out. My Grandpa was a man, a real, old fashioned bonafide Man who was strong and tough and leathery. . . with a humble heart of gold! When Grandpa’s dementia set in I saw her return the favor. She was smart as a whip and clear headed and it was hard for her to have to re-explain everything to him. She was patient. She, too, loved with all her actions. They were quite a sight the last couple of years, I tell you. She would want something from some dark recess of the bedroom closet, he would dutifully go off to fetch it, after detailed directions on where to find it. Then, maybe 10 minutes later he would be back, “June, what was it that I was supposed to be getting?” . . . this would go on a few times, then she’d say, “Don’t worry Hon, I don’t need it” Yep, that’s love! I often wish every young couple could see this kind of thing and look at their future mate in this light. Judging on their present actions with others, are they capable of this kind of selfless love for a lifetime?
Today is the anniversary of my grandparents wedding, they were married for 68 years before my Grandmother went on to be with Jesus! 68 years of Faithfulness, fun, and love: made all the more precious by the hard times.