Her house was not a fancy one nor did it have collectibles and such. She had eight children of her own and life had been very hard since Grandpa died when they were all still young. There were no frills on the curtains or woolen rugs to warm the floors. Grandma had one coal heater in the center of the house and we all stayed as warm as could be there. It was an old wood-framed house with a porch that circled nearly half way around it. A huge walnut tree grew in the back yard as well as a yellow pear tree we all took turns at throwing rocks at. There was a giant fig tree on the way to the outhouse that I sat in nearly every day during the summer and ate my tummy full of sweet juicy figs. An old empty barn sat at the back of the lot and of course it was off limits to all children if they were able to catch us wandering in that direction. Of course knowing that it was off limits made us ever more eager to see just what was it and we took turns making trips to investigate all the rooms even the upstairs loft.
There was no running water only a very deep well from which we drew water up in a wooden bucket. It was so cool and delicious on hot days. Granny poured it into a bucket and placed a dipper for us to drink from. We all took turns never giving a thought to the word “germs”. I often wondered what was in that well besides water but Granny would never allow us to get close enough to take a peek. She said the angels came while we were sleeping and sprinkled sugar in it to make it sweet just for us. Somehow I think she must have been right for it was much sweeter than any other water in our little town.
Breakfast consist of cornmeal mush and a glass of milk. I watched as Granny put on a small pot of water and brought it to a boil. She then sprinkled ever so lightly cornmeal until it became creamy and bubbled just a little bit. Our bowls sat on the small kitchen table waiting for our portion and a spoon full of fresh from the cow butter. I can almost taste it now as I think back to my childhood years. Then there were Granny’s homemade biscuits that were filled with jelly for dessert. The biscuits left from breakfast were placed in the buffet wrapped in a towel for afternoon snacks. Granny drank coffee from her cup and saucer but we were not allowed to have any. She told me it would make my skin turn dark and that would not be appropriate. So she allowed me to sip what was left from her cup making sure it was only a sip left. I dreamed of the day when I could have my own cup with lots of sugar and milk.
The floors were wooden and Granny bought vinyl rugs with all sorts of designs on them. They covered almost all of the floors and she kept them mopped daily. There was the kitchen, her bedroom, and the living room. The coal stove was in the bedroom. The rooms were very small but just big enough for Granny, me and my two cousins. We stayed with Granny while our mother’s worked. Most of the time we played outside in our playhouse made from old cans, bottles and a few pots that were discarded. We swept the dirt floors well with straw brooms and used broken utensils to prepare our make believe meals. Polk Berries made our purple juice which we knew not to really drink. We often had purple stained hands for days at a time.
The living room was the biggest room and rarely ever used. It was for company you see and we were not at all company. I remember the wicker sofa, straight chair and rocking chair because I loved to rock in it. A fireplace provided extra heat if someone came to visit. Tables with silk scarves and pictures of family members sat next to the walls. I remember a big picture of Grandpa over the mantle. He was young when he died of a heart attack and was a very handsome man with dark black hair. I really believe Granny missed him terribly.
Then there was the red and white piggy bank that sat upon a cedar wardrobe. Each time Granny had change she would put it in the bank. I wanted to hold that pig but Granny said it was made of clay and would break easily so I didn’t get a chance to hold him. However one night when I spent the night we hear something fall and it was pitch dark in the house. Granny got up to see what had happened and the pig had fallen off the wardrobe and broke into hundreds of pieces. Boy there must have been thousands of pennies in that pig. It took us a long time to gather them all back up. I don’t know what happened to the pennies since the pig was gone.
Granny dipped Railroad Mills snuff and she was very secretive about doing so. I watched her pull her bottom lip out gently and put a pinch between her lip and her teeth. She kept a round spittoon and she emptied it daily. One day I decided to sneak a dip for myself in secret of course. I was careful to pull out my lip just as I had seen her do many times. I reached into the small tin can and took out a good sized pinch putting it inside my mouth as she had done. I didn’t remember however not to swallow the snuff juice and in a matter of minutes I was not feeling well at all. I could not tell Granny what I had done. I just knew I was going to turn grass green and died so I crawled under her bed hoping someone would find me after my demise. No one could spank me after I had died for doing something very foolish. By the time I was found and I was found; I was sicker than a goat that had eaten a row of blooming garlic. I had suffered enough and no spanking was given. There was no other snuff in my mouth from that day until today.
This brings me to the Black Draught, the laxative every child was to have at least once a week to keep us healthy. Granny tried to mix a spoonful of sugar with it but nothing helped. I gagged and Granny put her hand over my mouth to be sure it went down and not out. I cursed that laxative from a child until the heaven sent Fletcher’s Castoria came along. It wasn’t good but its syrup made a world of difference to us small fries. The laxative takes us to the outhouse near the barn. It was made of wood with one door and a tin roof. Inside was nothing but a Sears catalog and two holes for out butts to side on. My butt was too tiny so Granny had to hold me up there to keep me from falling through. I just knew some monster was going to grab my tiny bottom and pull me down into the pits of hell at any time. Then came the Sears catalog and I guess you know what we did with it. We had no soft toilet paper so we had to make do with what we had. By the way it was the last years catalog for I was still preparing my Christmas list from the new one. Something I always enjoyed doing. Every list I made is still at the North Pole under some frozen mountain of snow, don’t you know?
We were poor but everyone around us was just like us. I suppose we knew it but it was the normal thing back then. Few people had a great deal of money in the 40’s. Granny was never poor to me. She had no bank account for she wore her money. She stitched herself a small square purse out of cotton and pinned it to her petticoat. This way no one knew where it was but me. I suppose she figured if they wanted her money that bad they would have to knock her out to get it.
Granny always had a big garden filled with peas, beans, tomatoes, onions, squash, peanuts, and cucumbers. If we got hungry about noon, we would pick a tomato and head out for the buffet for a biscuit to go with it. There were no Pepsi’s or cola’s of any kind. You had to choose from water, ice tea or milk. I always opted for the ice tea because she made it really sweet. If we were really good she would bake sugar cookies or baked peanuts for us to eat. I can almost smell those peanuts when she took them out of the oven.
Granny lived to be 83 years of age and I miss her to this day. I was so blessed to have a grandmother that was kind and who loved children. I pray that all children might have a grandmother who takes time out of her life to make memories with her grandchildren. Those memories are like flakes of gold and each one is etched in my mind forever.
Grandma’s Biscuit Buffet!
I stayed with my Grandma cause Mama had to work at the mill.
It was Grandma who had the responsibility of keeping my tummy filled.
We drew our water from a well with a bucket that lowered down.
I would suspect we were not the only ones to do this in our town.
Grandma drew the bucket up with cold water from deep down in the ground.
We all took turns drinking from the dipper which was dented all around.
She made biscuits only once each day and she put them in the buffet.
A biscuit and some homemade jelly was breakfast for the day.
We didn’t have a toilet just a wooden building she called the ole outhouse.
Needless to say it was a two seater and often visited by a mouse.
My hinny was too small and I was afraid to sit upon the seat.
So Grandma held my hands my hinny for to keep.
I had two cousins that Grandma kept too.
We made a playhouse from old bottles and pans that were broken into.
I was Miss Loney and my cousin was Miss Froney.
I know this entire story sound a great deal like baloney.
We had one giant pear tree that grew the most delicious pears.
We spent the afternoon throwing rocks at them but Grandma didn’t care.
I remember the most beautiful one was right up at the top.
I threw rocks all day until I watched that pear hit the ground and land with a
Then we come to the Black Draught tale and oh I hated it.
She would pour it in a spoon and we would pitch a fit.
This stuff was made of devils dodo, I really do believe.
She said it kept us healthy not once noticing all our gags and heaves.
Then we have the Peach Snuff that came in a little tin round can.
She put a pinch under her lip, this I could not understand.
So I decided I would sneak a pinch and do just like she did.
I forgot to spit it out and I turned green as grass under the bed where I hid.
I just knew for sure I was going to die.
No one could save me now and I be gone in the blink of an eye.
Hours passed and finally I sneaked past Grandma running for the ole outhouse.
This time I wasn’t even fazed by the thought of a skinny mouse.
The Sears Roebuck catalog made good for many things.
It was the Christmas toy book and also toilet paper unlike that of noble kings.
After all those years at Grandma’s she holds a special place in my heart.
She was the first one to tell me about Jesus and a piece of God’s precious work
Written by Sybil Shearin
All Rights Reserved
Question: What did Grandma put between her lip and her teeth?