Memories of My Grandparents

Creative Nonfiction
By Linda Easley


My paternal grandparents were farmers who raised twelve children on leased farms in Oklahoma. My granddad died when I was six, but I remember him well. We stayed with them for two months the summer before my fifth birthday because my mother was ill.

He was a tall man, with black eyes and sculpted cheekbones that spoke of his Cherokee ancestry. The graying, sandy hair was pure English. I remember the slight squint to those Cherokee eyes, as though he’d spent a lifetime following the sun across the fields.

Even after they retired and moved to town he kept a big garden. That summer I helped him plant the black-eyed peas. He poked the hole; I dropped the peas in. By the time we’d done half a row, I was parched and ready for a drink from the stove-pipe well by the back porch.

Grandma would toss the remains of the water bucket on her hollyhocks and hand me the bucket to carry to the edge of the porch.

“Are you ready?” Grandpa asked, as he turned the wheel that cranked the long “stove pipe” from the well. Then, swinging it over the bucket, he would pull the trigger that released a lid at the bottom of the pipe. I danced with delight as the cold well water filled the bucket and slopped over my bare feet.

After he poured a little into the wash pan by the back door, we’d wash our hands. At last, he would plunge the dipper into the bucket and offer me the first drink. No water ever slaked my thirst like that cold Oklahoma well water.

My grandma was a small woman, with gray hair and soft wrinkled cheeks, who always seemed to have an apron tied around her middle. She had dentures which she never wore. They sat in a glass of water, in the kitchen cabinet, where their porcelain grin never failed to unnerve me as I reached for a glass or plate. And she dipped snuff, hiding her spit can behind the sofa in the living room. I was the one who knocked it over, playing hide and seek with my sister and my cousins.

Her favorite expression seemed to be, “Oh, Lord, child. What’ve you got into now?” Yet I never remember her being mad. I suppose after raising twelve kids, she’d about run out of mad.

Aunt Sis—Marie was her given name—lived with them. She had been crippled and twisted by polio as a toddler. I can still picture her coming across the room in a slow, crab like gait, her face a strained mask from the effort. I remember the soft, black leather shoes she had specially made to fit her twisted feet. And the salt and pepper shakers she collected and kept in a glass front curio cabinet against the kitchen wall.

“Yore Uncle Jim give me this set. It’s from Germany,” she would say with pride. “And yore daddy sent me these from the Philippines when he was stationed there between the wars.”

Uncle Jim, whose eyes always danced with laughter, was going bald in his mid twenties.

“You been wearing’ your hat too tight,” Uncle Wilson would tease. He had a full head of thick brown hair.

Uncle Armenia was the oldest. His lungs had been damaged by mustard gas in World War I. I remember him for the grunts he gave us kids when we irritated him as he sat on the back porch, chain-smoking. “You kids go on now,” he would say, waving us away. He was a wanderer, who appeared once in a while at the only place he called home. He never seemed to find pleasure in his short stays.

My favorite times were the family get-togethers. Hearing that we were there, aunts, uncles, their spouses and children, gathered at the white frame house—each bearing a dish of vegetables, a beef roast or ham, pies too numerous to count.

With the table and cabinet buried in food, Grandma would look around, and say,”Mebbe I better put out a couple more vegetables.”

Uncle Jim would laugh. “Lord, Mamma. We got enough here to feed a small army.”

Peering over her glasses at the crowd, Grandma would say, “Seems to me we got a small army.” And a platter of fresh tomatoes or a bowl of cucumber and onions, soaked in vinegar, would miraculously appear from the old refrigerator.

We ate until we were too stuffed to move from the tables, immersed in swirls of conversation and laughter. The conversations continued, though considerably diminished, on couch, chairs, and porch, through the long afternoon.

Toward evening, one of the uncles would say, “Reckon we better go find some watermelons.” As they left, Grandma would drag out the ice cream maker while an aunt or two mixed the sugar, vanilla, cream, and eggs. Someone made a run to the little store, a few blocks away, for ice.

By the time the men returned, we cousins had ground the tasty concoction to its sweet conclusion.

I remember many things about that two months. The hot, hard feel—against my bare feet—of Oklahoma red dirt baked in the July sun. The delightful squish of that same red dirt, turned mud in a quick, loud July thunderstorm. I can still conjure up the odor of horse manure and cut hay, the velvet feel of hollyhock petals and crepe myrtle. I remember the bittersweet taste of Grandpa’s strong coffee, cooled in and sipped from the saucer; and the fresh baked biscuit scent of my grandma’s hair as she bent to kiss us goodnight.

My family life fell apart after that summer. My mother’s illness, my father’s guilt, the unkindness of strangers at the children’s home where we spent the next three years, a stepmother whose love turned to vitriol, all took their toll.

I was bitter and angry for too long. But, over the years, I’ve learned two lessons from the months I spent with my grandparents. Bitterness causes the heart to wander, unable to find its true home. And love—freely given—is big enough, stretchy enough, strong enough, to encompass a small army.

pencil

Linda’s essay, “Memories of My Grandparents,” is about two months spent with her grandparents and the family when she was four, and the lessons she learned from them. She has been writing for four years and her stories have been published in the ezines No Noun-Sense and Pencil Stubs. Linda can be reached at elsie40[at]earthlink.net.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email