My Grandparent’s House

 I didn’t have far to go to visit Grandma and Granddad since they lived just the
next house down from ours.
It was just past the barn about a country block away.

The little white house had a circle drive in front with irises growing all along the fence.
On one side of the house was a cornfield and on the other side there was a garden,
clothesline, and fruit cellar.  Almost everyone had cellars to keep vegetables
in and it was also a safe place to go if a storm came up.

The fence around the house was made of woven wire, “to keep the varmints out” Grandma said.
The old iron gate opened to a path that led up to the house.  The path led between two
old cedar trees that I didn’t like because stickers fell from the trees onto the pathway
and they would stick my bare feet in the summertime.

There was a front porch that led to the front door but nobody ever used the front door
unless they were strangers.  Everyone else used the kitchen door on the side,
next to well where the old pump stood.  Grandma didn’t have running water in the house
and we sometimes had to save a little water in the bucket to prime the pump.
Grandma would pour some water down the top of the pump while pumping the handle
very quickly and the water would then begin to fill the bucket.  The bucket was kept
on the counter in the kitchen with a dipper.  I always drank from the place opposite
the handle because I thought nobody else would drink from that spot.
Unfortunately, in relating this story, I found out that others had the same idea
and were doing the same thing, so we all shared germs after all.

As you came to the back door, there was just one step consisting of a loose board
over cement blocks that made the step into the kitchen.  We never locked the doors back
then unless we were going to be gone for a week or more and even then relatives and
friends knew the key was inside the cement block under that board.

The kitchen was very small with just enough room for the essentials.
There was a kitchen cupboard with a flour bin and a washstand on one side of the room and
a wood burning cook stove on the other side.  The kitchen table sat beneath the window
overlooking the yard and the garden in the distance.  The table was never empty.
After a meal, a large dishtowel made from a flour sack was draped over whatever
didn’t need to be refrigerated.  There was a pretty glass spoon dish, a sugar bowl,
and a frankoma cookie jar that was never empty under that cloth also.

When I visited Grandma I always had either a cookie or she would make bread and sugar for me.
This was just a slice of bread with sugar sprinkled on top. Grandma would first dip the bread
very slightly in bacon drippings from the skillet so the sugar would stick.
(We didn’t know about cholesterol back then, we just enjoyed our bread and sugar.)

Grandma had a precise way of doing everything.  A dishpan was used to wash the dishes
and then there was another pan to put them in after washing them so they could be scalded.
She insisted that all the dishes must be scalded to kill germs.  Grandma had been a nurse,
and she had always had a vendetta against germs.   I can’t help wondering why
nobody every worried about that old water dipper though.

It wasn’t unusual for Grandma and Granddad to have a quarrel now and then, but it never
amounted to anything much except to them I suppose.  One day I came in to get my daily
cookie allotment when I noticed two kettles of soup beans cooking on the stove.  I asked
Grandma why she had two separate pots, thinking maybe she was having company.
Grandma pointed to one pot accusingly and said, “That one is your Granddad’s pot.
He thinks he knows more about cooking beans than I do”, she said adamantly.
I quickly made some excuse and decided I wouldn’t stay for dinner that day.
I wasn’t about to be appointed judge of whose beans were the best.

My Grandparents didn’t have any modern conveniences, nor did they seem to want them.
Sometimes Mom would try to talk them into modernizing the house but they never
wanted it done. They lived in very small two-bedroom house; they pumped and
carried water from a well and had no indoor plumbing.

Grandma did things the old-fashioned way.  She cooked all of their meals
on a wood-burning cook stove and she washed either on a washboard
or her wringer washer.

Grandma even curled her hair with an old-fashioned curling iron.  It was a
small instrument with handles similar to a pair of scissors, and there was
a little more to it than just plugging it into the wall like we do
today because it used no electricity.
I loved to watch Grandma curl her hair.  She would put the business end of the curling iron
down inside the tall chimney of a kerosene lamp so the iron would heat.
There was an art to getting the flame just right by adjusting the wick properly.  When she
thought the iron was hot enough, she would test the curling iron on combings of hair
from her hairbrush.  This way, she explained to me, you wouldn’t get it
too hot and burn your hair.

Grandma did not cut her hair so it was very long, coming down much further than her waist.
She would comb her hair, taking the back section and forming a bun toward the back
of her head.  The front part of her hair was what she curled with the iron.  She would
take a small portion of hair and curl each piece by winding it around the hot curling iron
and when she was done it would be curly.  She would make her hair fuller at the front
where she had curled it and then take the end of the front portion of hair and twist it
and secure it around the bun she had already fashioned.

I think of all the conveniences that we have today and yet my Grandparents were
probably happier than most people these days.

There weren’t any computers or microwaves but there were books and newspapers to read
and chores to do.  Grandma did have a radio but she didn’t listen to it very much. She seemed
to think that radio and television were mostly “just so much nonsense” and judging from
much of today’s programming, her words were prophetic.  Sometimes the radio would be on
when I came to see her and she would walk over to the radio and say sharply, as if the person
speaking on the radio could hear her, “Now, that’s just about enough of you… you’ll be quiet now!”
Then she would turn the radio off with a decisive flair.  Grandma always preferred having
a real live visitor to whatever happened to be on the radio. Some of the programs I remember
her listening to were J. Harold Smith’s Radio Bible Hour and Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club.
On every program Don McNeill would say, “Each in his own words, each in his own way,
let us bow our heads and pray” and then there would be a time of reverent silence.

One of the greatest things about Grandparents is that they always seem to have time for you.
Grandparents help to instill values and they give us a strong sense of family and the importance of it.
They are living links between generations and they keep us informed of our “roots” through
photographs and stories.  It is especially important for children to have a sense of connection
to the past and they can begin to sense their own unique place in their family history.
My own grandparents played a very positive role in my life as they talked about what was
right and what was wrong.  They taught much with their stories but they taught more
with their lives.  Many times I would come into the dining room and find Grandma sitting
quietly reading her Bible or find Granddad out taking care of a sick animal.
Through watching them I learned many of the important things in life.

Some Grandparents today think that they have to buy expensive gifts for their grandchildren
or take them to exciting places, always trying to entertain them in some way.
However, as I look back, it wasn’t anything that my Grandparents did for me or where
they took me that I remember the most, because my Grandparents didn’t have much
in the way of material possessions or money.  The gifts they gave me were mainly love
and their availability.  It was the fact that I consistently knew where to find them
and they were always glad to see me.

Pamela R. Blaine
© April, 2003.

Click Back to Return to Index of Stories