The first time I saw my father cry was at his mother’s funeral. I was a little girl and I was crying, too. This was the first big loss of my young life. I loved her so much. It would take years before the memory of her clearwater blue eyes and braided silver tresses did not reduce me to tears.
Grandma Westbrook lived in a simple house in the country, surrounded by acres of pastureland. She never had an indoor toilet. I remember when my dad installed a pump and brought running water into the kitchen. Before that, they had always got their water from a hand pump in the yard. My aunt lived with her. Alice Mae lived there for several more years after Grandma passed, until she, too, died. And with her went a way of life that will never be again.
These were hardy women who sewed their own quilts and dresses and grew their own food. My grandmother was a fabulous cook and my
mom says she taught her how to cook for my dad. And while I say the house was simple, that is by our modern standards. In fact, it was a lovely thing with a full front porch as well as a back one and a small one on the right hand side. It had two bedrooms, a sitting room, a large kitchen, and a dining room. At least that’s what I think they were originally. By the time I came along there were beds in three of the six rooms in their home. There was an amazing feather bed.
Do you know how lucky you are if you have ever slept in a feather bed?
I used to be scared of it because I was afraid I would sink down so far into it that it would swallow me alive and I would never come out.
Many of my favorite childhood scenes were played out at that old place. Outside Grandma’s kitchen door was a grand bridal wreath bush. It was near a sandy spot in the yard where I remember sitting for what seemed like hours digging in the dirt with a metal kitchen spoon. “But not my good one”, she’d say. “Here, take this one.” As a grown woman with my own utensils, I now wonder what was it that made it her “good” spoon? Was it silver, stainless, a just-right size? I wish she were here for me to ask.
When dirt-digging became tiresome, I would strip a branch of its white flowers, all clustered in a circle and play here-comes-the-bride. Other times, I was given a needle and thread and shown some berries I could string. I would sit in the shade of an ancient pecan tree as big as a monster and do that for a while.
Grandma’s house was also free from television, but it was rich in food and dripping with deserts. My favorite were the sugar cookies she kept in a tin on top of the refrigerator, out of my reach. Pies and cakes were right down on the kitchen counter, under a glass dome. The container of cookies would have been safe on the counter, as well. Even if I could have reached the tin, its metal lid was impossible for my small fingers to pry loose. But I can still see it. And her, reaching up to get it for me. I always had to ask, but I don’t remember ever being told no. And maybe that’s the way homemade cookies should be dispensed; it seems the perfect way to teach good manners. (One is highly motivated to be polite when the reward is one of Grandma’s sugar cookies.)
I smell cedar and graphite as she digs in the old chest to hand me a carpenter’s pencil and a Big Chief tablet. The scent of almond and cherries wafts from a glass bottle of Jergens that occupies her dresser. I wonder why Grandma has such odd shaped pencils and I decide they belonged to Grandpa, who was gone before I ever came along.
Now that I am a grandma, I can honor her legacy. I will keep paper and pencil, needle and thread, and cookies in a tin. I will do the things a grandmother does. And I will strive to remember that, most of all, a grandmother should be love. Someone who takes the time to bake and listen, to teach you the names of flowers, bugs, and birds.
Sometime during the last few years, while I was living overseas, the old man pecan tree died or was blown over by a raging wind. I witnessed its absence only lately, during a Sunday visit to their tiny country church. The church is directly across from the old homestead. The home has also fallen prey to time. It was torn down some years ago. And even as adults, I think my brothers and I were all a little sad to see that happen.
But the legacy of love and faith that grew in that home remains. And like the pecan trees my dad has planted over the years to mark the births of his grandchildren, I pray it will continue to grow throughout the generations of our family. By God’s grace and for His glory, may it be so. Amen.