Call – Opelika-Auburn News
The kids love to hear grandma
spin yarns about her grandmother
Mama and I have six great grandchildren. We love for them to
come to see us, and we are usually glad to see them leave. The older ones are
fascinated with stories that mama can tell about her childhood. Grandma Dean
can reel off story after story about her mother’s mother and the hard times
folks endured back kin the good old days.
I enjoy her stories too, especially the
ones about her Grandmother Emma. Emma raised nine children in the backwoods of
Tallapoosa County, Alabama. All of them lived into their nineties until all
that lard Emma fed them finally put them in the ground. Too much fat will kill
Cool water in a creek near the house
served as their refrigerator. After all, the only running water they had was
the water that ran by in that creek. Indoor plumbing was only a dream. Like most families they had a well worn path
to the outhouse. Pouring in a sack of
lime occasionally helped only a little with the nauseating stench.
When the cows were milked, the milk
was poured into earthenware jugs and carefully placed in a shaded, shallow
place in the creek where it stayed until mealtime. Other items, like bottles of
“soda water” and other perishables were also cooled in the creek. The water was
clean and safe enough to drink. At least
they believed it was safe.
Butter and buttermilk were obtained
not with money but with muscles – churning the milk in those old churns that
are now on sale in every flea market. Churning was one of the chores assigned
to Emma’s girls. The older boys were spared from churning; it was their job to
care for and feed the livestock. Younger lads would sometimes take their turn
at the churn but they always grumbled that it was
Grampa finally grubbed enough off the
land to buy Emma an icebox. No longer were they forced to walk back and forth
to the creek. The only trouble was, the ice soon melted. Now, instead of trips
to the creek, they had to make frequent visits to the Ice House in town to
purchase blocks of ice. Naturally Grampa complained about how expensive it was
to own that icebox.
Years later, not long before she died,
Emma swapped her icebox for a fancy refrigerator. Her wood-burning stove was
another matter. She continued cooking on it until they put her in a nursing
home. She simply did not trust those electric stoves.
Emma had her doubts too about the
refrigerator. She and Grampa had used a smokehouse for years. They were sure it
tasted better than that “store-bought” meat. When the men killed a hog, they
took the meat to the smokehouse while it was still warm. There it was salted
and stored away for the curing. My wife remembers hearing Emma’s children say
that they used black pepper, red pepper, and molasses, along with plenty of
salt, to cure the meat. Of course the smoke also helped.
Emma never bought three pair of socks
for five dollars at Wal-Mart. Instead she knitted socks for the whole family
with her own knitting needle. When a hole was worn in the socks, Emma patched
the hole with her busy needle.
Flour was sold in large sacks in the
old days. The sacks sometimes had a colorful design on them, pretty enough for
the sacks to be made into cute dresses for the girls. That custom lingered on
for many years; my wife can remember that she and her sister also wore flour-sack
Grandma Dean feels a strange kinship
with Grandma Emma. She can imagine her sitting by a winter fire, cooking and
sewing for her large family, and telling stories since there was no television
to watch. Dean enjoys her fireplace in
our home. She has refused to let me change to gas logs. She likes to sit like
Emma once sat, pondering life before burning logs. A fire mesmerizes her soul,
inspiring her to imagine life as it was so long ago for her kin.
Most of us would like to make the
world a better place. We can, but only if we recognize that our legacy reaches
back many centuries, all the way to the folks who made the first wheel.
Countless generations have come and
gone, each leaving a precious deposit of memories and achievements. The
progress of civilization depends upon each of us doing what we can to make life
better for our heirs. We are stewards of the past with the opportunity to add
to our rich heritage.
One day I hope to meet Grandma Emma
and sit on a cloud for a hundred years listening to her stories about churns,
ice boxes and hard times. I am indebted to Emma because my wife inherited some
of her genes. Dean’s strengths suggest that she and Emma would have been good
friends, and goodness knows the stories they might have shared around a roaring
fire on a winter evening. +