Sunday, August 16, 2015

At Grandmother's House

My grandmother's kitchen had an enormous pantry. A walk-in closet for your canned goods and spare cooking pots. It had it's own door. My house did not have a pantry. We had cabinets. And stainless appliances. Grandmother had an avocado green oven. When it was cold, I'd walk into the kitchen and the oven would be wide open, heat pouring from it to warm up the room.  Her table was small and square. It was a work table in a kitchen with very little counter space.  

Summertime, I learned to shell peas, snap beans and make deviled eggs at that table. Grandmother would sit in one of her dark dresses, with the smock-type apron on, working on a bowl full of something green. Meals did not make themselves at Grandmother's house. Vegetables, at least in the summer, did not come from the can, jar or freezer.

I can't recall if there was anything pretty hanging on the walls. Grandmother hung a large mirror over her sink. Mom said to check her hair, I say to spy my brother coming up behind me to snap me with a towel. Next to that was a National Geographic map of the solar system. On a shelf to the right of the sink I'd find the jar of Tang - the orange juice of the astronauts. And because she was a grandmother, she also had strawberry Quik. We only ever had the chocolate kind at home.

Inside of Grandmother's kitchen, I was taught to help prepare food. I learned the rhythms of cooking and life. Vegetables had to be washed, trimmed, snapped, shelled, shucked, peeled, chopped.  Dealing with vegetables was all about action verbs and in the moment. Inside of Grandmother's kitchen, I worked. There was no dishwasher, save the grandchildren. We'd stand at that enormous white enameled sink and wash every glass and every plate and every spoon. By hand. With a sponge and hot water and set them, one by one, on the slanted, rippled drain. Water would sluice back down into the sink. Even to today, captured somewhere in my nostrils, is the pungent sharp smell of hot dish-soap and plastic cups.

Summertime at Grandmother's meant an enormous family reunion at the Leonard house. Complete with Aunt Didi's ham biscuits, Grandmother's corn pudding, and juicy sliced tomatoes. There were deviled eggs with a sprinkle of colorful paprika. Potato salad. Macaroni salad. Old ladies in dark dresses with blue or apricot tinted hair set in curls. Some women still wore their hair in old-fashioned buns, like my great Aunt Grace from down Mecklenburg County.

I was the youngest child - apart from little Stevie - and he didn't count because he was little and a boy. I either had to keep up with my older siblings and cousins or go sit with mom. Or I'd simply head to The Magnolia Tree. A tree so big at the front of Grandmother's house that six cousins could be up it at once and there was still room for more. It was shady and cool beneath that tree, shelters by the large tough dark green leaves that were brown underneath. We'd hear "Don't climb that Magnolia" behind us as we headed straight up her branches. I rode my first horse on the limbs of that tree. Possibly my first dragon. I certainly fought my first Civil War battle there, and ruled my first tree kingdom.

I wonder what my siblings and cousins would remember about going to Grandmother's? Probably something completely different than me. What are your strong memories of summer and shelling peas? Of white rail fences to be climbed on and pecan trees to run under? Were you chased out of the house by parents who wanted to actually speak with another adult and wasn't there to entertain the children? Was the TV either off limits or simply not considered an option when there might be horses to be seen? Tell me!


  1. What a sweet post, Marjanna! :-) Sad to say that I'm not sure if I've ever actually shelled peas, lol. My favorite summer memories revolve around playing in the creek at Lubber Run Park in Arlington, catching fireflies at dusk, and dancing barefoot on damp grass. Sigh. I love summer! Thanks for sharing your memories, and reminding me of my own. Hugs!!

  2. Catching fireflies. That's a good one. I was trying to think, do I say firefly or lightning bug? We had all kinds of creeks through our neighborhood - complete with crayfish and salamanders (I wonder if they were actually skinks. Isn't Skink a good word?). Before the worst of the pollution ran rampant through Bethesda & the Potomac River and swept them all away.

  3. Such an awesome walk down memory lane, Marjanna! Your post hit a chord with me! I was fortunate to leave close to both of my grandmothers. One always had Fla-Vor-Ice Popsicles in her freezer for us cousins. So fancy! In late summer, my other grandmother would peel and slice bushels of apples. She would give me the bruises to snack on long before I could hold a paring knife. Mmm! McIntoshes! They're still my favorite apple. And is it any coincidence they happen to be the same apples grown by the family of a particular character in one of my books? Hmmm... These important experiences created by our grandmothers stay with us. Thanks for sharing yours and inviting us to remember ours!

  4. As writers, we hear "write what you know" and I think, what do I know? Then I start harvesting from those visits with Grandmother or down on Uncle Charlie's tobacco farm where I learned to create hospital corners under Aunt Matty's direction because both the top AND bottom sheets were flat sheets. Where I ate those lush purple grapes from their back yard, big and round and juicy with seeds. Where we rode in the back of Uncle Charlie's pick up - as many cousins as were there for a visit, sometimes just 4 of us, sometimes 7 or 8. Where I sat in a pew in the church that was built by my ancestors, with plaques acknowledging some family member from generations past under stained glass windows, each pink pane thick at the bottom from age. We do carry these moments with us, Nichole, in our bones and drafts and voice.

  5. Summers at Nana's meant nights of really loud crickets and bright, bright starlight, stars so close you could almost touch one if you just reached high enough. Of dancing through the water sprinkler, exploring the junk in the barn, and having breakfast out on the enclosed stone patio with the cool, cool floor. It meant laughter and hugs, fun and good food. And always feeling welcome, even when you drop by unannounced. Wish a friend. At dinner time. Summers at Nana's rocked.

  6. It sounds like a carefree time, Keely. To be yourself, accepted and loved and welcome.

  7. Marjanna ~ You evoked such lovely memories that had me going back to my own childhood memories of times spent at both of my grandmother's homes in PA. Thank you. A trip down memory lane for those pleasant memories is always a welcome pass time and well worth the effort. And, you come across as decidedly Southern in this post. I would have never thought it. But, it's true ... says the Yank in the bunch. Loved it. Loved the sense of Southern charm you tapped into. Lovely post. Thanks for sharing. <3