When I was a young child, we loaded the car – a huge silver four-door Ford – and set out for great-grandma’s house in the country. It was not an impressive house, just one of those simple and sturdy farm houses built in the 1880s that dot the countryside throughout Kansas. Its not the architecture that I remember so much as the smells and the tastes that were familiar to those visits.
Most memorable was a trip to the outdoor cellar. Great grandma, in her sturdy home-sewn work dress, would raise the giant white cellar door slowly. Us kids would carefully peer beneath waiting for her to knock down the cobwebs and make the first assessment of uninvited guests that may be lurking below. The pungent earthy smell of a dark, damp storage crypt attacked the senses as we descended the stairs with guidance from a small flashlight beam. Great grandma would then carefully collect a few jars and shoo us back up to the daylight. Our reward was hearing the popping sound when she broke the seals and getting to sneak a taste of the green beans hours before they would be served!
There were a couple things that certainly were off-limits to those under the age of 10 while visiting. Touching the giant loom that overwhelmed the small living room was top on the list. If we were lucky, she would take a moment to demonstrate for her young audience. Second on the list was the upstairs bedroom that contained the circular lye cakes used for clothes washing. There was no doubt that we would indeed be touching these before we ever exited the car on our visits. Just a one-finger touch, and just for a second with breath held.
Before our visit came to an end, we could always count on great grandma to make a cold coffee for us. What is now considered a trendy drink was in 1975 a symbol of being a grown-up five-year-old. Frankly it tasted disgusting. I’m fairly certain it was instant coffee crystals dissolved in tap water straight from the well with no ice added. But we drank every last drop with enthusiasm as watched us smiling.
When the family moved Anna from her farm house near Winifred to the nursing home many years later, most of her possessions were distributed to her children and grandchildren. Even years later than that, her daughter Dorothy who was my grandma, was moved to an apartment with her possessions being downsized and outsourced to her children and grandchildren. I ended up with a poem encased in a beat up frame with a home-made cloth mat. The poem is entitled “To Mother’s Apron Strings”. It has hung in my kitchen since then and has both sentimental value and thoughtful meaning. I’m sure this framed poem has been witness to many years, many changes and many stories. And likely, many great meals…