Posts Tagged ‘Grandparents’

Impulse Shopping

January 21, 2013


As careful and hesitant as I am, I am disabled by an impulsive streak that flashes its lightning at interesting times. My long-term goals, although still there, fade in the brightness of what’s in front of me. Sparkle captures my eye and sends me wanting. My husband usually grounds me. He listens quietly, then brings me back to the reality at hand. He ticks off the hazards, extols the cost, and after a day or two of processing his words, the careful me returns. I go back to thrift store shopping, gardening, recycling, and saving. I can count the times on one hand he’s let me run the extent of my dream without interference. Those have worked out for me.

Bruce and I didn’t take a vacation last year. With my dad’s illness and death, we’d spent most of my vacation time going back and forth to Chesapeake to check on him, then to make funeral arrangements, and finally to settle his estate. I had gone full force for five months without stopping for breath. I’d yet to have a good solid cry. I was worn out.

“Let’s go to Chincoteague this weekend, just the two of us,” Bruce said the last week in July. The boys will be alright at home. We can take the bicycles, beach chairs, a cooler full of cold ones, and sit on the beach, do nothing but relax in our favorite place.

A year ago we bought a lot on Chincoteague at Big Glade Creek; and made plans to build a house in ten years when we retire. The view is as close to perfection as we have found. Ten years seems a lifetime away, and we continue to visit our little island. Each trip, whether staying in a hotel, cottage, or campground costs us rental bucks. Zoning laws will not allow us camp on our lot. We bought the property knowing that up front. Even so, Bruce threatens to pitch a tent, but I don’t want to antagonize the neighbors.

We arrived on the island a little after daylight on Friday morning and parked at Big Glade Creek. We watched the egrets and geese catching their breakfast. The breeze cooled my skin as I sat cross-legged in front of Bruce on our floating dock. I leaned back against his chest and he rested his chin on my head. “I could sit here forever,” he said.

“Me too,” I echoed.

We checked into the hotel at 3:00, stored our gear and unhooked the bicycles. We rode toward Assateague and then onto the hike/bike beach. We stayed, watching the waves break, until just before sunset. We shared the beach with only six other people, but if we looked straight ahead, it was just the two of us.

Sunday came too soon. It always does. I hate to leave Chincoteague more than I hate paying the one hundred thirty-nine dollars a night hotel cost, but with a five hour drive ahead of us, and work for me on Monday, we pulled out at 11:00. We usually head straight down Maddox Blvd to the causeway over Chincoteague Bay toward the mainland, but there was a small line of traffic up ahead and Bruce veered left onto Pension, then right onto Ocean Blvd. which would take us to Main.

That’s when I saw it, a small white, aluminum-sided house with a brick chimney, on a neat manicured lot. It reminded me of my grandparent’s house. The one we live in now. The bay window was somewhat obscured by an overgrown rhododendron bush, one of my grandmother’s favorite shrubs. The ‘for sale’ sign held a box of leaflets describing the property. “Look at that house,” I said, pointing. “Pull over.”

Bruce parked at the curb and I grabbed one of the leaflets. The house was built in 1950, the same year my grandparent’s home was built. This one had two bedrooms, just like theirs. We walked around the outside and found hydrangeas and crepe myrtles in bloom, ours at home are blooming now. A shop and shed sat on the back of the lot. I peered into the window. Woodworking tools were anchored to the workbench. My grandfather was a carpenter.

“I want to see the inside of the house,” I said.

Bruce looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “If we do, we’ll get back late,” he said, looking at his watch.

I could not explain the connection I felt to this house, but it was there. “Let’s just call,” I said. “At this short notice, they might not even be able to show it. If they can’t, then I’ll take it as a sign and we’ll go home.”

Bruce handed me his cell phone and I dialed Debbie, the realtor who had helped us find our lot last year. She answered on the first ring. “I’ll call Ocean East Realty and get the key,” she said. “I’ll meet you at the property in fifteen minutes.”

Debbie opened the back door and we stepped into “Melva’s kitchen”. The carved wooden sign on the wall proclaimed it to be. My grandmother lived in her kitchen. I remember the tastes and aromas of biscuits baking, strawberry jam and apple pies.

Debbie stepped aside for us. “It belonged to a couple who lived here for sixty-two years,” she said. “Islanders. They built the house just after they were married. Melva’s husband passed away a couple years ago. Melva lived here by herself until June. She’s moved to the mainland to live with her daughter now. They had a hard time putting the house on the market. It’s been Melva’s life.”

As I looked around, I could see that. I could feel it.

Part 2:

The Backroom

November 29, 2012


My grandparents bought their house in 1957. It was small with one bedroom, one bath, a connected kitchen and dining area, and a living room. The dirt floor basement housed a wringer washing machine and galvanized wash tubs for rinsing clothes. A small enamel top table sat in front of the lone basement window for potting seeds in preparation for spring planting.  The house was a perfect size for a just retired carpenter/gardener and his wife.

Their cinderblock cottage butted up against a buggy shed that had been built in 1910. While the house roof sported asphalt shingles, the attached outbuilding boasted wide, rough hewn boards and beams, all covered in green painted tin. Grandpa could have parked the car there and cut an outside entrance into the living room, but Grandma had other plans. She talked him into a second bedroom.  They only needed one bedroom for themselves, but Grandma expected grandchildren to come visit.

I imagine her now, hands on hips, staring up into the rafters of that shed, saying, “Garth, I want an extra bedroom. You can make this into a cozy space. All you have to do is….”

And my Grandpa, carpenter’s pencil in hand, scratching measurements and drawing plans right there on the rough wood, filling in Grandma’s dream with his plans.

That was the room I stayed in when I was a little girl. It was referred to as  “the backroom”.  I fell asleep in a big, quilt-topped double bed to the sound of rain pattering on the tin above my head. A small pot-bellied woodstove popped and crackled next to the rocking chair where Grandma read me stories. That room smelled of lilac in summer and pine kindling in winter.

We bought the house in 1986, when my grandparents died.  Tonight, we gutted the backroom.  Between the termites and rot, we had to do something before it fell down around us.

I stand in that 1910 buggy shed looking up at the wide rough boards under the tin roof. I shiver in the cold. One wall is completely gone, three other walls and the roof complete a shell that was once my refuge. I stare at what’s left, and am surprised that I’m not sad. The primitive feel and color of the wood above me is warming. The possibility of new beginnings excites me.  I don’t want to cover those boards with tile or sheetrock or paneling.

“They’re all different kinds of wood,” Bruce points out. “White oak, red oak,  pine, and probably some walnut thrown in for good measure.”

“That’s OK,” I say. Looking up, marveling at the shades of brown, black, red and rust. I love it just the way it is. We’re not covering it up.”

“They’re rough and you know you’re going to lose a lot of heat through the roof,” he answers.

“I like the rough texture,” I counter. “It’s rustic, original. Besides, there used to be a woodstove here when I was little. Can’t we put one back?”

“I guess so,” Bruce says, “not too much trouble to run a pipe and patch around it.”

I help him hang plastic sheeting which will keep the wind and cold out when he pours the new cement floor. As I hand him the staple gun a small set of figures catches my eye on an old two by four.

“Did you write this?” I ask.

“No, not that set. I think your granddaddy must have put those figures there. Mine are on that board next to it.”

Sure enough there they are, two sets of numbers on boards side by side, two generations apart on a home that keeps evolving.

Custard Pies and Family Reunions

July 5, 2012

Egg custard pie was my favorite. Mama stood in the kitchen, Grandma Payne’s recipe card propped at eye level in the window, the green glass mixing bowl in front of her, as she combined milk, eggs, sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla. She whisked the mixture and poured it into the unbaked pie shells resting on the oven racks. She slid the metal rack carefully into the oven and closed the door. As minutes ticked, the aroma of the baked custard filled the room. She only made them for special occasions, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and family reunions. She always baked two, and two were never enough. Not a piece was left after the first round of dessert.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were close together, but the family reunion was in June. Six months was a long time to wait for my pies, so when the time rolled around, I was excited. Mama spent the morning baking and my mouth watered until I didn’t think there could be any wet left in it. We loaded the car and headed to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

Grandma had been cooking all day the day before and all that morning too. Her kitchen table was covered with bowls, platters, glass jars, dishes, and baskets. Potato salad, baked beans, a picnic shoulder ham, chocolate layer cake, deviled eggs, three kinds of homemade pickle, strawberry jam, buttery yeast rolls, cookies, and fried chicken waited for places in the picnic basket, coolers, and trunk of the car. After arranging, rearranging, stacking, and praying, the trunk finally shut, but the two custard pies were still in the backseat of the car. Mama and Grandpa always rode up front and argued over directions. Grandma and I rode together in the backseat, ignoring them and telling secrets.

“Oh no,” Mama said. “We forgot the pies. Where will be put them? There’s no room in the trunk. It’s slam full.”

“Let’s put them in the floorboard,” Grandma said. “There’s plenty of room for Margaret-Dawn and me if we scootch together a little bit.”

I slid over close to Grandma and she hugged me tight against her soft padding. She smiled down at me.

Mama carefully placed the plastic wrapped custard pies on the floorboard behind the driver’s seat. “Now you watch your feet,” she said to me. “Don’t be stepping in my pies.”

All went well on the drive over the mountain. Grandma and I counted cows, looked for John Deere tractors and whispered secrets about a package of chocolate chip cookies with my name on them packed into the corner of the picnic basket. We laughed at my silly joke about the chicken and the lollipop, and decided what we were going to fill our plates with when we got to the reunion.

Two and a half hours after we left Grandma and Grandpa’s, Mama pulled off the main highway onto the gravel road leading to the picnic shelter. I could see all my aunts, uncles, and cousins up ahead. While the women arranged dishes on the long tables, the men unloaded coolers of drinks and fired up the grill for hamburgers and hot dogs. My cousins were already having fun. Some pitched horseshoes, others unloaded fishing gear. Several flew kites.

The car rolled to a stop and I slid across the seat to jump out the door. I felt the mistake before I saw it, the soft squish under my foot.  In my excitement, I put my foot right in the middle of one of Mama’s custard pies. “Oh no,” I said looking down at the sneakered instigator.

“What’s wrong?” Mama asked, meeting my eyes in the rearview mirror.

I felt the heat rise into my face. “I stepped in the pie,” I whispered.

“You didn’t!” Mama yelled.

“Don’t you get on her,” Grandma admonished. “She was just excited. Besides, it’s my fault. I told you to put them on the floor. No harm done.” She frowned at my Mama, giving her the look my Mama often gave me.

“No harm?” Mama asked, her own face turning its own shade of red as she opened her door and turned to open mine. She flung it wide and stared at the ruined pie with the imprint of my shoe neatly cratered into it. “Look what you did,” she accused, as I started to cry.

Grandma patted my knee. “Don’t you cry. We have enough food to feed an army in this car. No one will ever know there were two pies. It’ll be our little secret,” Grandma said, winking at me.

Mama rolled her eyes and huffed her anger as she grabbed the remaining pie and turned to the trunk with her keys in her hand. Grandpa opened his door and headed to the back of the car to help her unload. Grandma sat still, waiting with me, handing me a tissue from her purse. “Don’t you feel bad,” she said. “Accidents happen to the best of us. I dropped a whole bowl of watermelon on the floor this morning. You just sit here with me for a few minutes and get yourself together. Let your Mama work off that steam she’s built up.”

I sniffled and stared at the stupid pie.

“You should have seen that mess I made,” Grandma said. “Watermelon from one end of the kitchen to the other. I wanted to cry too, almost did. Then I got to thinking.”

I looked up at her. “You did?” I asked.

“Yep, sure did. More for me, I decided. I cleaned that mess up, ate the pieces that stayed in the bowl ’til I had my fill and threw the rest away. No harm done. Just a little clean-up, that’s all.  Reach down there and hand me that pie,” she said.

I reached down and picked up the still plastic wrapped dessert and handed it to my Grandma. She held it in one hand as she fished around in her purse with the other. Finally, she pulled out a plastic spoon and smiled.

I looked at her, confused.

“Clean-up,” she said. “I always carry one of these for just such an occasion.”  She wiped the spoon with another of her tissues. She grinned at me. “Let’s unwrap this and have us some.”

“But it’s ruined,” I said.

“Tastes just as good with a footprint as without,” she said, unwrapping the pie and digging in for a bite. Then she handed me the spoon. “See how lucky we are,” she said. “A whole pie all to ourselves.”

I grabbed the spoon and dug in.

“You sure you didn’t plan this all along?” Grandma asked me, winking and wiping the corner of her mouth with her tissue.

To this day, custard pies are still my favorite.

Grandma Payne’s Custard Pie Recipe

3/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbl. flour
2 cups milk

Mix sugar, salt and flour well. Add eggs, milk and vanilla. Mix all well, pour into deep dish unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle nutmeg on top of pie. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees, then turn down to 325 degrees. Bake until pie is done (knife comes out clean).

Grandma’s Lilacs

April 8, 2012



  APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the   dead land, mixing
Memory and desire,   stirring
Dull roots with   spring rain.
Winter kept us warm,   covering
Earth in forgetful   snow, feeding
A little life with dried   tubers.

–T. S. Eliot




I round the corner of my house with the lawn mower this evening and I’m met with an overwhelming sense of my grandmother. Her lilacs are blooming and their scent brings her right to my face. Years ago, she planted the bushes from several slips her mother had given her. She told me the story of the lilac’s trip east. She carried them with their roots wrapped in wet newspaper and as soon as she and Grandpa arrived home, they dug holes and planted the slips in the ground, one at the back corner of the house, one next to the back porch, and one at the pig pen. She planted them in the fall, when they could set their roots and rest over winter. By spring, she said, they were settled and ready to grow. Her lilacs are tall and full now, their roots run deep.

I stop mowing. The soft green leaves of the lilac press into my face; the sweet smell that always reminds me of my grandmother envelops me. I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and stand with the lawn mower vibrating in my hands.

I remember her clipping bunches of the blossoms when I was a little girl. She’d set them in a quart mason jar on the kitchen table, filling the house with their perfume. I’d press my face into their lavender blooms then too.

“There’s no better spring fragrance,” she’d said. “When you get old enough to have a house of your own with a yard, I’ll give you a slip from my lilac.”

Sometimes, I helped her weed, prune and tend her perennial and annual beds. I handed her the clippers or trowel. I’d run to fill the watering can with water from the well.  I got my knees and fingernails dirty digging in the warm, rich soil. We knelt, side by side in reverent homage to the gifts of the land.

I wanted a slip from all her flowers. I imagined the yard of my grown self. It looked just like hers, the lilacs in exactly the same spots, the iris in a bed out front, surrounded by river rock, the mock orange at each corner of the property, their sweet fragrance carried to the center of my home by a spring breeze.  On Mother’s Day, I’d take out the hanging baskets from my earth floor basement around back of the house and fill them with potting soil, then add the salmon colored sultana, water their roots, and hang the baskets from eye hooks my grandpa would place around my front porch for me. My imagination did not wander far from the reality I knew as a child at my grandmother’s. My mother and I lived in an apartment with a parking lot instead of grass. We didn’t have flower beds like Grandma.

“I’ll put them on my kitchen table,” I said to her so many years ago. “Just like you.”

She died in September of my twenty-fifth year. Her body was planted in the ground where her roots could rest through the winter.  My husband and I bought her house, the only house I felt attached to growing up. The home and yard of my imagination came to me from my grandmother’s nurturing hands. Her lilacs became mine, her perennial and annual beds, mine to tend. Her legacy lived on through me.

The first spring she was gone, I clipped and carried a bouquet of our lilacs in a mason jar to her grave site. I wanted to bring a piece of home to her and a sense of peace to myself. The two of us visited a long time there in the cemetery.  I gave her the news of her snowball bush, the forsythia and japonica in the front yard and the bridal wreath out back. I told her how the peonies had sent up their shoots between our house and the Thomas’, and I let her know that the frost had not killed the cherry tree blooms. There would be pies cooling on her windowsill come summer.

My garden tools live where hers did. My hanging baskets swing from the eye hooks placed there by my grandfather. The scent of mock orange wafts through the house on a spring breeze the second week of May each year, and the lilacs bloom right on schedule.

Twenty-six years have passed since Grandma died, and on this Easter weekend, her spirit rises in me. I cut off the lawnmower and go to the basement in search of my clippers. I cut the blooms from her lilacs, fill a mason jar with cold water from her well, and place her gift to me on our kitchen table.

Fly Fishing

October 10, 2011


My grandfather used to fly fish on the Jackson River. Uncle Wallace would call on a Thursday evening and invite him down to the cabin on the river for the weekend. Grandpa jumped at the opportunity. It was his excuse to get away from Grandma’s list of chores. Most of the time, he carried her with him for the trip though. She and Aunt Ellen stayed in the cabin, waking early to cook ham with red-eye gravy and buttermilk biscuits for breakfast. Lunch was a cold plate of thick club sandwiches and homemade potato salad. The two sisters vied for attention with a feast for Saturday supper. They compared recipes and attempted to out-do each other cooking and baking the entire visit. The men never ate so good.

Grandpa wore the pair of hip waders that hung from a wooden rack he built in his shop. They were tall green rubber boots that squeaked when he stepped on wet rocks.  I can see him now, in the river, water swirling around his knees, a brown cotton vest over his flannel shirt, a railroad cap covering his bald head.  The flies he so carefully tied using feathers and string, stuck tight in the lamb’s wool on the front of his vest, an angler artist’s collage.  One hand held the handle of the long bamboo fly rod, the other held the line. He’d draw back and cast, draw back and cast. The tiny fly barely touching down before it took flight again.  Trout seemed to fight over which one would attack the little camouflaged hooks.  The men never wanted for a catch.

The fish fry was Sunday night.  Grandpa and Uncle Wallace stood outside at the cleaning station, gutting, scaling and de-heading the trout. They discussed the bend in the river, and hiding places where rainbow and brook trout laid low.  The ones the fishermen tempted out from under rocks and falls of water landed, clean and shiny, into a bucket of cold water.  Grandpa presented them to Grandma on the back porch. She and Aunt Ellen rolled the trout in cracker meal and fried them in big iron skillets.

We sat around the old pine farm table at the camp, passing the platter of fried fish, the bowl of homemade cole slaw, and the pan of cornbread cut into buttery gold triangles. The men compared this trip to the last one and argued about who caught the biggest or fought the hardest to land a catch.  

No fish ever tasted any better.

Searching for Savings

October 1, 2011

We’re on a race. It’s crunch time. The sale ends today and three of us are a few coupons short for the big deal at Harris Teeter. Spaghetti sauce is on sale, buy two, get three free. With the manufacturer’s coupon, we can save $2.53 on each jar. That’s a ninety two percent savings.

The craze has hit our community. It seems coupon clipping is no longer a hobby or drudgery, it’s a necessity. The downturn in our economy calls for measures, and a way of life embraced by my grandparents, frugality, saving, recycling, reusing, cutting back, cutting coupons.

Newspaper bin at the recycle center, here I come.

I remember when I was younger, shaking my head at the stacks of plastic margarine containers washed clean and saved in the cabinet under grandma’s sink. She and grandpa stacked newspapers in the smokehouse to have on hand to start fires in the woodstove to keep the house warm. Grandma canned rows and rows of vegetables in glass Mason jars to have on hand “just in case.” All that seemed unnecessary to me. My grandparents weren’t poor. They didn’t need to do that stuff. Who in her right mind washed plastic utensils after a cookout? Who stood at the checkout line, examining a receipt for mistakes leading to the savings of a nickel? Who sent shoes to the shop to be repaired?

I’m beginning to understand the prudence of my grandparents. I didn’t live through a depression. They did. Every cent they spent had to account for something. Reuse and recycle was not a trendy fashion, it was necessary. Hand-me-down clothing may have been disliked by the child receiving it, but as long as a garment still held together by its stitches, that was one less thing to have to buy. Eating out at a restaurant was a luxury reserved for birthdays or anniversaries. Christmas for children meant a shoebox filled with fruit, candy, nuts and a small toy. That was an extravagance.

Grandpa grew an acre sized garden every year, even after the children were grown and all he and my grandma needed were a handful of tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers to get them through the summer. The garden didn’t feed just the two of them, it continued to feed their children and grandchildren, the neighbors, and friends.

Grandma clipped coupons from the Sunday newspaper, and on Monday, she sent Grandpa to the grocery store with the little paper squares of savings and her list. “Don’t you dare get anything that’s not on that list. You hear me?” she’d call as he walked to the truck.


My friend Lisa and I hang over the edge of the big green newspaper dumpster at the recycling center. We’ve brought some milk crates to stand on because the dumpster doors are a good five feet off the ground. I’m taller than she is, so we’ve positioned her where the mound of newspaper is higher.

“Here’s one!” she calls to me, as excited as a child who finds the coveted golden Easter Egg.

I’m still searching.  I reach under a stack of sports magazines and pull out a Sunday supplement. I rifle through the inserts only to be disappointed. Whoever received this paper was a coupon clipper too. They’ve left the diaper coupons which I don’t need anymore, and the dog food ones. We have a cat.

 I keep looking, pushing the weekly papers aside, hunting for that fat Sunday paper or the glossy insides that house the eight by ten inch coupon booklets.  The one I want has apples on the cover. That’s the one with the spaghetti sauce coupon. Seventy-five cents, doubled, gives me a dollar and a half off the sale price of two, plus I get three free. I can use a coupon even for the free ones. The thought of those twenty-six cent jars have me sweating, reaching, digging, pulling, mumbling curses under my breath. There has to be one here somewhere.

I take my milk crate down to the next bin opening and search some more. I find other booklets of coupons and stack those beside my feet, but the one I’m searching for is illusive, hiding. I see a movement to my right.  Another coupon clipper, a red head in cowboy boots, has joined us.

“You here for the same reason as me?” she asks.

“Coupons?” I ask.

“Yep, glad to see I’m not the only one dumpster diving,” she answers as she flings a discarded phone book to the back of the container making a hollow echoing sound.

We dig around awhile longer in silence. Lisa has moved to the back of the newspaper dumpster where a new load has been dumped by patrons coming and going at the center.  She’s having all the luck. I hear little squeals of delight every time she puts her hands on the coveted prize.

Lisa stops. She has to get back to work.  I have the rest of the afternoon off.  I stay a while longer, finding a few more booklets, but none of the ones with the spaghetti sauce coupon in it.  As I drop down from my plastic perch, the red head says, “Hey there’s one more in here just out of my reach. I think you can probably get it. You’re tall.  If you reach it, it’s all yours.”

I go to her bin door and there halfway across the stacked pile of newspapers is my prize. I reach for it but I’m  six inches short. I lift onto my tip toes and bend over as far as I can, teeter-tottering on the edge of the bin opening. One wrong move and I’m swimming in newsprint.  I stretch just one more tiny bit, straining. Finally, with the fingertip of my longest finger, I drag the little booklet to me. I grab that sucker up into my fist. Dropping down to find my footing again, I let out a whoop and do a little dance of celebration on my milk crate. This one treasure makes the whole trip worthwhile. I kiss its apple adorned cover and hold the booklet to my chest, smiling.

I wipe the sweat off my face, gather my coupons and milk crate and head to the car. I have some shopping to do, but first, I have to go to my parent’s house. They dug sweet potatoes  yesterday and called me to come by and pick some up.

Family tradition lives on it seems. Grandma and Grandpa would be proud.

The Tricycle

August 9, 2010

 Every few years, we hunt scrap metal to sell.  Usually, it’s around the time that real estate taxes come due.  We live in my grandparent’s old place.  We bought it after they died.  Acres here bring big bucks.  People are drawn to this part of the country by the Blue Ridge Mountains, just like my Grandma and Grandpa were.  Out-of-towners keep arriving here.  Taxes go up.

    The garage, barns, sheds and fields are all hunting grounds for bits, pieces, and parts to sell.  We pull out the steel, aluminum, copper and iron, pile the truck full, and haul the load to the junkyard.  It takes a whole weekend with four of us working.  We get dirty, greasy and our clothes have to be thrown away on Monday.  It’s hard work, but sometimes we make as much as three hundred dollars.

     I found a tricycle today, a small red one.  It was in the back corner of the tin roofed shed, the one that butts up to the smoke house.  I was surprised to find the trike.  I hadn’t known it was there.  I reached out and touched it, then pulled it toward me.  It was sturdy with its hard rubber wheels, red steel frame and the black plastic pedals still intact.  The handlebars had some rust, but the rubber hand grips still held fast.  I think it may have been my toy.  I remember riding one on the front porch, in the yard, on the driveway, and around and around the kitchen.  I was a big girl riding that bike.  Today, when I found it, it looked so small.  I wondered how it ever held me.

     When I rode the tricycle, my imagination traveled. In my mind, I pedaled the ten miles to the lake at Boar’s Head Inn.  I carried a long plastic Sunbeam Bread bag full of crusts for the ducks. I was alone, and brave. I understood not to get too close to the water and to watch for cars.  

     Earlier that year, my Mama had introduced me to the Mallards.  The birds were wild and could fly away anytime they wanted to, but they weren’t afraid, and came right out of the water and waddled up to us for a handout.  When the bag was empty, they wanted more and chased us to the car.  We laughed, jumping in before the ducks could pinch our behinds. 

    At my make-believe lake, ducks didn’t pinch. They came and sat on my lap, letting me feed them.  They even followed me home.

     Later in the day, I’d climb aboard the seat of my tricycle, place my sneakers on the hard black pedals, lean back, with my arms straight, and strain my legs, pushing my way up the hill in the yard past Grandma’s lilac bush to a flat place overlooking the driveway below.  That spot in the yard was my Afton Mountain. 

     There’s a picnic area on Afton Mountain two and a half miles on the other side of Waynesboro. Grandma and Grandpa took us there when the heat of town was sticky.  The cool shade in the mountains made lemonade taste better.  A flat ledge of rocks hung over the Shenandoah Valley. When we sat up there, dangling our legs over the edge, we could see for miles.  Houses and cars looked small enough to pick up and move around.  I imagined I could gather all the people I loved close to me by moving their houses next to mine.  From that vantage point, it would be easy.  I would just have to be careful not to tilt the buildings, keeping the people and furniture from sliding out the front door.   I could put a fence around all of us, with a gate that locked.  We could go out at night, playing hide and seek without being scared. 

     When it turned dark outside, I brought my three wheeler indoors.  The kitchen was big enough that I could ride circles without bumping into anything.  Grandma sat at the table shelling peas, while Grandpa cleaned his fingernails with a pocket knife.   The faster I went, the dizzier I got.  Sometimes, Grandpa would reach out and stop me, saying,  “Whoa Tump, not so fast.  If you lose it, you might break something.”  I knew he didn’t mean furniture or dishes.  

     When I got too big for the tricycle, my Mama bought me a two wheeler.  I forgot about the tricycle.  This afternoon, my two boys walked into the shed to collect more junk.  They pulled out an old push lawnmower, a truck bumper and a galvanized wash tub with a hole in the bottom.  They saw me standing, looking at the tricycle.

     “Who’s was that?” Ben asked.

     “I think it might have been mine,” I said.

     “It’s still in pretty good shape considering how old it is,” Ryan said.

     He made me laugh.  “Yeah,” I said, “considering how old it is.”

     I lifted the tricycle, handing it to Ryan to put with the rest of the scrap.  Neither of my boys knew the history of the toy.  It didn’t mean anything to them.  Ryan picked up the washtub in his other hand and began carrying the two pieces to the truck.

     As I turned back to the shed, I thought I heard my Grandpa say, “Whoa Tump, not so fast.”

     I called Ryan back and took the tricycle out of his hand.  I put it back in the corner where I found it.  I think it’s supposed to stay there. It seems that neither Grandpa, nor I are ready to say goodbye just yet.

Sugar Snaps

May 28, 2010


 Grandma and Grandpa used to sit on the front porch shelling peas.  Grandpa went to the garden and picked;  everyone shelled.  I called myself helping.  It seemed to take hours to shell those peas.  I’d pop open the end of a pod, run my fingernail down the crease between the halves and scatter out five to six peas into the white enamel colander, the one with the red ring around the edge.  Those little green balls rolled around in the bottom of that colander for a long time before we shelled a “mess”.  Sometimes, there were eight peas to the pod, on a rare occasion there were nine, and once, I remember eleven.  Grandma and Grandpa talked about that particular pod until the butterbeans came in.  “You remember that pea pod with eleven?” Grandma would ask.

     “Yep,” Grandpa said. “eleven, hard to believe.  I remember one time when I was a kid, we opened one with thirteen, never matched that one.”

     Our sugar snaps are in now.  We planted the seeds at the end of February and have watched them sprout, climb and bloom.  On Saturday we gathered a handful, thinking there wouldn’t be much of a crop. I was sad because they are my favorites and I look forward to them in the spring.   Last year by this time, we had put up freezer bags full.

     On the way home tonight, the sky was full of storm.  Clouds puffed and billowed to the West. The heat and humidity hung around my shoulders when I got out of the car.  I had clothes on the line and wanted them in before the shower.  I heard thunder as I unclipped the towels, washcloths and tee shirts. 

    When storms gather clouds, dark with wind and rain, everything on the ground seems brighter.  The sugar snaps caught my eye, their blooms, extra white, their vines that bright spring green.  I hurried over to the garden and found pods hanging, ready to be picked.  I ran inside and traded the clothes basket for the colander.  

     I don’t like thunderstorms, never have.  I’ve dragged boys off baseball fields, run from the beach, leaving bags, umbrellas and sand shovels behind, and stayed in my car for half an hour to wait out the lightening rather than dash in the house.  Today, thunder rumbled and I stayed in the garden to pick.  I was quick about it, keeping an eye to the distance.  I hadn’t seen lightening, and the rain was holding off.  As I rounded one row and started back toward the gate, picking the other, the first fat drop of rain fell.  I kept gathering.  The booms of thunder were coming closer, and then the distance lit up with lightening.  I left my row and ran back to the house  as the rain began in earnest.

     I had the white enamel colander full of peas.  I took them to the front porch and sat in Grandma’s rocker to wait for the storm and my family to arrive.  You don’t shell sugar snap peas.  You snap off the stem and bloom ends and pop them right into your mouth.  That’s what I like about them, they’re quick and easy. There’s no time for all that sitting and shelling these days, what with a forty hour work week, children to haul to sports and school events,  and sleep to catch up on.

     For now, sugar snaps are perfect. Maybe when I retire, I’ll plant some Alderman peas, those are the seeds my Grandpa  sowed.   I can sit on his same front porch and teach my grandchildren how to shell a “mess” of peas, tell a good story and dream of finding that elusive “thirteen” peas in one pod.

Where the Poor People Were Buried

April 25, 2010

My Grandpa was in the hospital.  He was real sick, coughing up blood and phlegm. They let my Grandma in to see him, but I wasn’t allowed.  I sat quietly, like a good girl, in the waiting room right next door to where he was.  I listened to him cough and heave.  I listened to my Grandma cry. After a long time, she came out wiping her eyes under her glasses with a tissue.

 “We’ll come back again tomorrow morning,” she said.

We got in the car and left.  Grandma’s eyes were red and she just drove, not saying anything.  I watched as a boy on a bicycle, a lady pushing a baby stroller and an old man walking a dog passed by. We headed up the mountain.

We went to the family cemetery a lot.  We visited the dead more than we visited anyone living. Our family cemetery was a pretty place, at the top of a winding road on Monticello Mountain. The tall black iron gates were never locked when we got there and it seemed like not many people other than us visited. Our car always sat alone, parked under a Cedar Tree near where my uncles and sister were buried.

 We were up high and could look over into town and see the tall steeple of the Baptist church, the red Texaco Star at the gas station and the hospital where everyone went to die. I wondered if when our relatives were still living, they could see the cemetery out of their hospital rooms, if my uncles pointed out the window and said, “I want that spot right there under the shade tree,” or if my baby sister said, “put me right there near that statue  of the angel.”  I wondered if Grandpa was looking at us now.  I waved to him, wanting to let him know we were here, wanting him to feel less lonely.

Monticello Memorial Gardens was kind of like a park, but without the swings, slides and duck pond.  Flowers sprouted up from all over the ground, some were real and some never died, blooming in February when snow was on the ground.  We walked carefully at the bottoms of the graves so we didn’t disturb the ghosts that were sleeping under the ground.  Sometimes the trees dropped dry, brittle sticks onto the grass rectangles covering our relatives.  We picked up what the tree shed and threw it over the fence.  I wasn’t allowed to run in the cemetery,  pick the flowers, or talk too loud.

 Grandma got out of the car and I followed her.  She didn’t bring flowers like usual. She only had her pocketbook on her arm, and the balled up tissue in her hand.  We stopped at the foot of my Uncle’s graves, her sons, her only boys.  She stood there a long time, just looking at their headstones. She twisted and twisted the tissue in her hand like she was trying to wring the tears out of it. 

 She looked up at the sky and asked, “Why Lord? What did I ever do to have them taken from me? And now this, why?” 
I held my breath, waiting, but the Lord didn’t answer.  Grandma  turned around and walked back to the car. I trailed along behind her. We forgot to visit my sister’s grave.
We didn’t leave town to go home either,  like I thought we would.  Grandma drove to the foot of the mountain, past some stores and houses. We stopped at a small square brick building with a flat roof. It had Hartman Memorials carved into a strip of concrete across the front, above the door.  I thought it looked like a sad little house, parked in the middle of tall gravestones. Its front yard was covered in gravel and a few weeds grew up between the rocks. We had driven by it before, but never stopped.  I was surprised when Grandma parked the car there.  I was used to going to our family cemetery, but not to this new place.  

A man stepped out of the little house when we got out of the car.  He smiled at Grandma and stuck out his hand.  He took my Grandma’s hand in his and when her tears started again, he patted her hand.

“How can I help you?” he asked.

“I have to pick something out.” Grandma said.
“Do you want to look around out here first?” he asked.

“No,” she said, “I know what I need.”

Grandma went inside the building with the man who had on a suit like my Grandpa wore to church on Sunday. He didn’t look like my Grandpa though. This man was round, sweaty, had little eyes close together. His tie was crooked and his shoes were scratched and dusty.  Grandpa’s shoes shined so bright they almost hurt my eyes to look at them.  This man looked “shifty.”  That’s what my Grandpa would have said.  I didn’t get too close to him.  I stayed outside to look at the headstones. Grandma said, “Don’t you run off now, I’ll be right inside.”
This cemetery wasn’t very big and the stones were sitting close together, not in neat rows.  Some had carvings of roses, lambs, or hearts slipped together like paper chain links.  The monument’s faces were shiny and reflected mine as I looked into their hard grayness. None had names or dates like the gravestones in our family cemetery.  I felt sorry for the people who were buried here. They must have been poor people. They had headstones with no names.  There was no grass, no flowers.
I wondered why my Grandma stopped here, why she was talking to the man in the sad little house.  I wondered if my Grandpa was poor. I hoped not.

Break’s Over

January 11, 2010

 Ben went back to college today. He’s been home since the first week of December.  I forget how much his presence changes the dynamics of our family.  He takes on responsibility that doesn’t usually fall on the shoulders of a college student.  Ben cleans the house while he’s home and keeps it that way, washing dishes, scrubbing floors, toilets and tubs.  He makes his little brother clean up after himself and won’t let him leave dirty dishes under the bed. Ben did some of these things before he left for college, but not to the extent that he does now.  I think maybe he’s finding his own sense of organization and wants it to rub off on the rest of us who aren’t nearly so organized.  Our homework is to keep the house straight until Spring Break.  We will not succeed. Our grade will be a paultry D+.

    Ben makes plans for us when he’s home.  He scheduled family dinners with grandparents, making sure that the get-togethers were held at each grandma’s house so he could enjoy their home cooking and attention lavished especially on him.  He chose the menus, Country Ham, creamed potatoes, green beans, sweet potato casserole, corn pudding, homemade biscuits,  iced tea and pound cake at Grandma T’s,  Barbeque Spare Ribs, scalloped potatoes, tossed salad, pickled beets, homemade yeast rolls, lemonade and egg custard pie at Maw-Maw’s house.  The boy knows how to pull on the “I’ll do it” strings of his grandmothers.

     Ryan cried when Ben left.  The two of them wrestle, beat on each other, yell, fight over video games, laugh, joke, play together in the snow and pile into Ben’s car to ride for fast food and scope out girls at the mall. Ryan hangs out with Ben’s friends, all college age, and they accept him like he belongs to the pack.  There is six years between the boys, but they are closer than any two brothers I know.  Their Great-Grandmother would be proud. She encouraged them to “love each other,” because “one day they would be all that is left of the rest of us.”  Ryan got the “work hard” at school pep talk from his brother, because “College is fun and Mom and Dad aren’t going to send you if you aren’t going to study and take it seriously.”  Ryan said, “ok,” but rolled his eyes.

     While he was home, his Dad changed the oil in Ben’s car, put in new brake shoes, and wiper blades and had the bucket of bolts inspected.  Bruce ordered new tags and registration and checked the spare tire for air.  In return, Ben chopped and stacked some wood, helped deliver several loads of mulch and compost and helped bleed the brakes in his Dad’s truck.  I think they’re even now.

     As for me, I got heaping helpings of hugs from the bear of a boy. I’m tall and he towers over me at 6’6″. I have to stand on tip toes to hug him around his neck. His body takes up whole rooms of space. His smile warms cold places.  As old and as big as he is, he continues to crave body to body contact with his family. We learn all over again, how close we are when Ben comes home. 

     Every semester, I look forward to him coming home, but after 3 a.m. foragings in the refrigerator, keeping his little brother up way past bedtime on school nights, unending telephone calls from his girlfriend, and lectures on housekeeping, I look forward to him going back to college. He’s been gone seven and a half hours now and I can’t wait for Spring Break. March is a long way away.