One always felt that a tremendous amount of hard work had just been completed when one walked into my Grandma’s kitchen. Three pies, peach, custard, and pecan sat cooling on the counter. A roast with steaming vegetables had just come out of the oven. Not a crumb could be found on the floor, nothing was out-of-place.
If I was staying alone with my grandparents for a week, most of the main events centered around food. Breakfast was always oatmeal, homemade strawberry jam on toast, prunes, fresh squeezed orange juice, and grapefruit. Nothing was to be turned away. “It came from Grandpa’s garden” she would say. One would never want to disrespect the garden by not eating from it. We would sit at the table for a long time, looking out the window at the bird feeder, marveling at the bright red cardinal and his girl friend who came by for their morning hello, or the sweet yellow wrens, or the ornery blue jays.
After breakfast it was outside for adventures with Grandpa. Grandpa was a collector of broken things. He had old vacuum cleaners, bikes and appliances he had found (in people’s garbage) and he would bring them home and fix them. We would hunt around his meticulous garage and basement for a treasure or two and he would show me his latest project and teach me how a bike was put together or how an engine worked in a car. We might then take the neighbors dog for a walk. Cookie, the next door Collie, was my favorite dog in the world. “Come on, Cook” Grandpa would say, and we would walk over to the baseball fields, back along the evergreen trees, hunting for treasures. We usually found balls. One time we found a big box of poop. I have no idea….
When we got home, it was time for grandma to come out. She would have on her pink, polyester peddle pushers, little white nylon socks, white shoes and a striped top. She smelled like Oil of Olay and dish soap. She would put rubber bands around her pant legs and use laundry pens to stick coupons to her bike basket. I would hop on the latest bike grandpa had fixed and we would bike to Lucy’s house to do a Jane Fonda workout. Grandma had the strongest calf muscles of anyone I ever knew. Lucy lived about three blocks away. She was Grandma’s cool friend. She had all the latest appliances and still worked with her husband as a greater at Wal-Mart and as a hospital volunteer. Lucy would put the Jane Fonda cassette in the boom box and we would do our leg lifts.
After our 30 minute work out with Lucy and Jane we would return home stopping half way at Elsie’s house. Elsie and Grandma were the Swedish ladies on the block. Elsie’s house was filled with Swedish figurines and wood carvings. She was a round lady, with white hair and little beard that tickled you when she gave you a kiss. She had a cat named Putty, whom I never saw. She was the warmest lady in the world.
Once home, it was time for Grandma to fix lunch and time for me and Grandpa to lie in the hammock under the maple trees and watch the sun outline the branches. Sometimes I would read to him. Other times he would teach me about the trees.
Our afternoons were spent picking strawberries at the garden or buying something on sale at the Piggly Wiggly, or maybe if I was lucky, buying new socks and underwear at the mall.
Every evening I would take a bath in Grandma’s pink bathroom, with two inches of water in the tub. I would put my pajamas on and we would watch 20/20 and The Golden Girls. Grandma would click her tongue at the way things were going in the world. Sometimes we would change the channel and find a Shirley Temple movie.
When it was time for bed I always slept right in the middle between grandma and grandpa. Fresh sheets and warm blankets surrounded us.
“Tell me a story about when you were a little boy,” I would say to my Grandpa. He would tell stories about farming and the railroad, about his grandparents and his brothers. I see now they were heroic stories of extreme poverty. He would tell stories about how he met my grandma, and my grandma would lean her head way back, close her eyes,the lines of wisdom deep within her face, and she would laugh.
I would smile at her laughter and fall asleep.
If I could go back for one more day, I would be nine years old, and I would be in my Grandma’s kitchen.