Note to readers: I am rerunning the post below, which appeared in the early days of my blog, in honour of what would have been my Grandma’s 106th birthday today. A former teacher, Grandma was an amazing woman: stoic and proud, and not at all touchy-feely…we knew she loved us because she fed us (I talked about her soft molasses cookies nearly as big as my head in another post)! She sent every grandchild (there were 16 of us then) $2 on their birthdays, and kept up a regular written correspondence with me after we moved 500 miles away. As far as I know, she probably never travelled more than 50 miles from her home in Logan County, Ohio, in her entire life. Here’s a photo of her butter pat collection which was donated to the Logan County Museum after her death:
Original post (March 25, 2010)
My paternal grandparents were great role models for how to live with very little…they lived on a number of small farms in Ohio, raising all their own vegetables, eggs, and sometimes meat. Grandma made all their bread as well, in a huge, dark brown stoneware bowl. Their last farm before Grandpa died was a sheep farm…they also had a couple of goats. This farm had a cold water tap in the kitchen, but hot water was heated in a large kettle on top of the stove. Baths were taken in a copper boiler. The outhouse was a dilapidated wooden structure (2 holes as I recall) where one used the pages of the Bellefontaine Examiner (torn into small pieces) as toilet paper. Every bed had a chamber pot tucked under it for the night. I remember Grandma squeezing the water out of her beige, opaque stockings with the handcranked wringer washer, and the clothesline full of freshly washed laundry. There were at least seven rocking chairs in the house, of varying styles and ages.
To save gas, my Grandpa used to turn off the car, put it in neutral, and coast down the hills (there are a lot in Central Ohio). I remember Grandma washing every piece of aluminum foil and putting it in a drawer to reuse. She was also a string saver. The radio was the only electrical form of entertainment – there was no TV. The shelves of a big cabinet in the living room were stocked with books, board games (Monopoly, Anagrams, and Pit), puzzles (which Grandpa and I did together), and scrap paper for drawing on. On the bottom shelf, Grandma’s diaries (one for each year since the 1930’s) were arranged in chronological order. There was never much juicy information in them, mostly weather and trivia about relatives/neighbours I didn’t know, although Grandma also used to record gardening details: “Planted peas today.” Grandma was the one who taught me how to crochet when I was five, using old stockings for practice chaining.
When I was small, I used to love going out to the chicken house with Grandma to collect the eggs…I still fondly remember the smell of the chickens. We would put the big brown eggs in a wicker basket and carry them into the house, with Laddie the collie following close at our heels.
Another favourite task was going into the garden to harvest…Grandma grew many exotic things not in my daily suburban diet: zucchini and other kinds of squash, cabbage, and little yellow tomatoes shaped like light bulbs. Those were the best: we would pop them into our mouths, where the juice and seeds would explode into a sweet taste sensation! It was my Grandma who used to cut cabbage into slices and spread peanut butter on them for an afternoon snack (I still love that today!).
In the woods near the house, there were hundreds of wild blackberry bushes. I never met a berry I didn’t like, but blackberries are my absolute favourite! For dessert, Grandma would make a biscuit dough, bake it, and then cover it with berries. We’d pour a little milk on it, and voila! – blackberry cobbler! Another treat was her molasses cookies – soft morsels almost as big as our heads which she stacked in round cardboard Quaker Oats containers.
We ate our meals at Grandma’s house on transferware dishes – I remember the square, deep-dish plates of random colours and patterns…I wish I had a couple of them today! Grandma was never much for fancy stuff, but she did have a large collection of butter pats, which was donated to the local museum when she died. She enjoyed showing us her new acquisitions when we visited.
My Grandpa was killed in a car accident in 1974, and Grandma sold the farm and moved to an apartment in town. She still planted a garden, and we still enjoyed many meals at her house. She died after a short bout with colon cancer in 1987.
I never forgot about light bulb tomatoes – last year, we went all over New Brunswick looking for plants, but no one had them! This year, I was very excited to find heirloom seeds for them in the Hope Seeds catalogue (see “Companies I Like” for link). I will plant them in memory of my grandparents. I have a secret blackberry patch that I go back to every summer, and pick berries…I think of Grandma every time we eat them!