My Grandmothers’ Bedrooms

Is anything more intimate and personal than a bedroom?

My grandmothers have both been on my mind this weekend. Starkly different, they were both God-fearing women who had much different but equally fulfilling lives. I never knew a great deal about their early upbringing aside from a few scattered stories shared throughout the years.

Their bedrooms held parts of them they held close to their hearts. Both had small cardboard boxes tucked away in niches, filled with tiny black and white photos of a life before marriage and children and grandchildren.

My maternal grandmother shared her room with my grandfather until she passed away. It was not a room I entered often. It was not off limits, but there was an unspoken veil of privacy that cloaked the doorway.

She had a large dresser with a tilting oval mirror, the surface cloudy as the silver backing broke down. I wonder what she saw in the reflection returned as she stared into the wavy glass?

A hairbrush, comb, and hand mirror laid just on top alongside a glass dish with wide hairpins she used to contain her wispy grey hair.

Beside the dresser stood her foot treadle sewing machine. I am not sure I ever saw her sew anything except the quilts she made by hand. The large pineapple four-poster bed was always made neatly with the slightly faded white chenille bedspread.


My paternal grandmother, seventeen years younger than my grandfather, slept downstairs while my grandfather slept just at the top of the stairs. We often passed through her room to use the small bathroom just off the utility room that adjoined her bedroom.

Until this exact moment, I never thought about when and where my grandmother bathed. There was no tub downstairs and I never remember her going to the bathroom upstairs. But of course, I was a child and most likely never paid attention to such things.

A tall cedar wardrobe stood in the corner where her dresses hung. The drawer at the base of the wardrobe housed a cardboard Whitman’s chocolate box filled with her jewelry. The pop-beads were my favorite. Underneath the liner of the chocolate box was a small black bag that held six well-worn silver dollars, now tucked away in my safe deposit box.

A small shelf in the utility room held dainty shoes with short heels and ankle straps. Hats with netting secured by rhinestones sat on a shelf above.

Atop her dresser sat two antique bubble glass silhouettes framed in gold filigree. Portraits of Blue Boy and Pinkie hung on the wall. In the drawer were flat boxes of delicately shaped stockings which unfurled into the perfectly shaped leg. My grandmother would roll them at the base of her knee.

I have fond memories of applying Absorbine Junior to the bottoms of her feet after a long day. I wonder if she felt the arthritics pangs I now feel myself.

When they were both alive I treasured my time with them, both so wise, so intelligent, so matter-of-fact. At that age, I never imagined feeling the same aging pains they must have experienced.

I never questioned their judgement and their wisdom. I could never imagine growing into such wisdom and undeniable confidence. I cannot imagine they ever questioned their ability to advise and lead as I sometimes do. Did they ever question their wisdom and pray they knew the right things to say?

Was their bedrooms their sanctuary? I am not sure women of their generation thought much about having a sanctuary. Their role was to always be there anytime anyone needed them.

I asked a lot of these strong women and they always delivered no questions asked. I only hope I can show to others even half the strength, kindness, and wisdom they afforded me. I was doubly blessed.


Monday Missive — A Grandmother’s Wisdom

This morning I woke early to a gloriously beautiful day. I walked outside and just breathed in the morning. The range of color reminded me how hard it is to replicate anything that nature produces naturally. Even a camera cannot capture the full range of color as the color correction features try to ‘normalize’ the image.

On mornings like these, reflection is a more gentle process. The myriad of thoughts normally bottled up flow easily to the surface. Today was one of those mornings.

Saturday, the preliminary results of the election settled the dust of the last week around my feet and I could finally breathe. The last two elections and the last four years of the current administration have caused me to think hard about my place and responsibility in this world. The thoughts can be overwhelming so please bear with me.

My network of family and friends are widely diverse. I am proud to have the people I care for comprise such a vivid spectrum. I will always stand up for them and fight for them. I have been rather quiet on these subjects in my blog because I did not want to spend much time being ‘political’ here. I think my walk through the fallen leaves made me realize the things that weigh heavy on me have nothing to do with politics, or at least they should not. My acknowledgement of the history of my life and the hopes for the future are what make up what I refer to as grandmother wisdom. More on that later. Let’s get politics out of the way first.

I made the decision to register a party affiliation just so I could vote in the primaries. I think I may go back to registering as an Independent. In my opinion the two majority parties in our country are tearing apart the very fibers of what we are supposed to stand for. Freedom, equality, separation of church and state to name just a few. I do not dislike either party, but I dislike many of the political ambitions and recklessness of many people associated with both. That’s all I will say here about politics.

Back to grandmother wisdom. I have always felt ill-equipped to fill the shoes of the generations of wise women in my family. They were the backbones, filled with wisdom and experience and had what seemed to me to be all the answers. Now, at a similar age, I understand more about the qualities they possessed than I ever have before. Experience, heartbreak, success, trials, tribulations, defeats and accomplishments all come together to establish a certain wisdom. You do not need to be a grandmother to embody this, you just need to be vulnerable and allow honesty to flow through you.

My friend, Kim has a phrase she uses which has always resonated with me. Allow your heart to break for the things that break the heart of God. Wow. Just read that again. I have seen so much these last few years that has broken me in ways I never talk about here. The tapestry of my family and friends requires me to speak up. For they have suffered and worried about things they should never have had to consider.

Religious persecution. I first saw it after 9/11 when a dear friend who is Muslim came to me in fear and asked me to commune with her. She was shocked when I agreed. She was living in fear. Her parent’s shop attacked and her network of friends disappearing in front of her. I had people suggest meeting with her might be a bad idea. That only reinforced my resolve to do so. I will always love and stand up for her.

Skin color is a perplexing weapon of racism. People of color have suffered greatly in this country of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. I have cried and prayed for not only my family and friends, but those tortured and shot on our streets. I cannot be silent. I must stand up and show up. My private pain has been the public pain of generations.

I look at my grandson and my granddaughter and think about their future. Theirs will always be subject to those who consider the color of their skin first. Their hearts so filled with love, hope, and anticipation. How will the world greet them? Our current climate of isolation in this pandemic has hurt my very core. I cannot hold them and reassure them as I have in the past. It breaks me.

My latest heartbreak was when my daughter told me she and her wife were signing papers and starting the legal process for her to adopt her own daughter. Adopt her own daughter. Can you even imagine what that feels like? It shattered her to ask the courts to be the step-parent of her own daughter. The fear of her marriage being nullified in the coming years angered her, but they are taking steps to protect their child. This is the color of freedom and equality in this country.

When the calls come in from my network of friends and family, I always answer. I may not have the answers for their problems, but I listen and share my experience. I will always be their safe place to fall. For my nieces and nephews who lost their own parents, I will always do my best to be there for them. Always.

I have often felt my own grandmother’s heart was weak, but reflecting, I think it must be strong, because it has broken so many times throughout my lifetime. Thankfully the heart is resilient and recovers, growing stronger and more determined. It is from this pain and experience that wisdom is born.

Yes, there is so much beauty and goodness in the world. I try hard to see it and acknowledge it every day. But life is about balance and I cannot simply wear rose colored glasses and pretend the world is in step with me for it is not. I am stepping up and standing up to be part of the healing we all so desperately need.

This grandmother’s wisdom — look deep and acknowledge it within you. It is time for the healers to come forward. There is much work to be done. It is my hope more people will stand up and become part of the solution that truly provides equality for each of us. And when that call comes in, just pick up and do your best to listen.

It truly takes a village.

Blog, Home

Home Cooking

Day 16

Nothing says home like a meal taken to the table and eaten with those people we love. It is our very identity. Food is such an important part of our heritage and cooking says a lot about our relationship with the people who raised us.

Gardens As a Food Source

IMG_7213My families were great cooks. We grew up with meager means, but heck, I didn’t know it. I thought we had everything. My mom, my step-mom and my grandmothers were great cooks. They cooked simply – everything taken from their environment. We were farm to table before it was a thing.

It started with the garden. Planting a garden was a lot of work. It started in the fall. Often old plant stems were plowed under so they could again become part of the soil. In spring, the soil was turned over (a term for plowing under) and the dark rich earth was brought to the surface.

Planting and tending the garden was everyone’s responsibility. I learned early on how to plant, fertilize, weed and hoe a garden. We did not think of it as work – it was just part of what we did.

Harvest Forward

IMG_7214Once plants were mature, the harvest began. Again, as children, we learned to pick and string green beans at a very early age. Pulling onions, ‘hilling’ potatoes, picking cucumbers and tomatoes was just part of the routine of growing up country.

We had a small grape arbor where we grew the most amazing concord grapes. Those were picked and turned into jam and jelly and even a little wine – which we were never allowed to touch. Thinking about it, I can close my eyes and picture the bees swarming around the fallen grapes and tasting the warm grape right off the vine. It was divine!

We sat on the porch and shucked corn, snapped beans and sorted potatoes. It was a communal time of conversation and just getting the work done. After we were finished our jobs, the preserving started.

Mothers and Grandmothers

I came from a fabulous line of amazing cooks. None ever used a recipe, but I have watched them cook more times than I can remember. In late summer and early fall we ate fresh vegetables but it was also time for ‘putting up’ food for the winter.

Tomatoes were canned and turned into tomato juice. Fruits were turned into jellies. Cucumbers were turned into pickles. Beans were canned. Beets were pickled and potatoes were put into the cellar where they would stay cool for use all winter.

My paternal grandmother made grape jelly. I was always fascinated by the paraffin wax she melted and poured on top to seal the jelly from any contaminants. I used to sneak behind her and put my fingertips in the hot paraffin and then, once cooled, pull off my fingertips in utter amazement — fingerprints and all! My maternal grandmother made apple jelly from a pound apple tree in her front yard. It was so clear you could see right through it.

Recipes? What Recipes?

Recipes were few and far between. There were some that may have been clipped from a magazine or some were written if acquired from a neighbor. But, for the most part, all the ‘know how’ was in their heads. They cooked, they tasted and they served the most amazing meals.

IMG_7229I do have my maternal grandmother’s recipe for ‘Angel Biscuits’ but mine never rise high and fluffy like hers did. She made the BEST ‘Angel Biscuits’ I have ever tasted. She also wrote down her ‘Fool Proof Piecrust’ recipe for me — but I think I might be a fool!

I cook much the same way, although I do love cookbooks. I have a few favorites that I consult over and over again. Tonight I tried a new recipe. It turned out well, but I am already thinking about how I would alter it. That’s just the way we learned to cook.

My son recently asked me to cook for him on his 40th birthday. He asked for flank steak and mashed potatoes. It was one of our staples when my children were growing up. I bought flank steak because it was cheap – not so much anymore folks! It is his memory of the comfort food that he is after, not so much the food.

The Legacy

Both my children are good cooks in their own right. They both cook for their families frequently. My daughter makes THE BEST meatloaf ever. I am not sure either of them really use recipes much, but this I know — they are building memories and a lifetime of comfort for their children.

And that makes me proud.

“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.” 
Laurie Colwin