When the air began to get cool and crisp and the pecans began to fall, I knew the time was approaching for the occasion to which I most looked forward each year: The Visit from Grandma and Grandad. Bill and Lena were my mother's parents. They were married almost sixty-seven years (Grandad was buried on their anniversary in 1990). Even today, when I hear the term, "salt of the earth" my thoughts always go to images of them. They were the kind of people who, in their seventies and eighties, were still bringing meals and doing work for the "elderly" in their church! In personality, they were a little like the grandparents on The Waltons. The theme song of that program always brings memories of them. Grandma was always busy working and could sound a little sharp when she spoke and Grandad was quick with a joke or a wink.
Of course, the visits I most remember are those they made to the farm when I was in elementary school. My Aunt Pat would drive them to our house and she would stay for a day or two. It was so exciting to see Aunt Pat. I liked watching her and Mama together as sisters. And Aunt Pat knew how to speak to and play with children. I still have a miniature Strawberry Shortcake figurine she brought me one year. She found out I liked Strawberry Shortcake but didn't have any of the toys yet, so she made sure to bring one when she made the trip to take Grandma and Grandad back to her house.
Aunt Pat and Mama, second and third from left, top
While we were out picking up pecans, Grandma would stay inside, usually cooking. We had a little television in our kitchen and she would keep it on as she worked. I can remember her coming out every so often to tell us about the latest winner on The Price Is Right. This is the show she would complain about and wonder why anyone watched! I also remember her coming out at some point on each visit and announcing the tally of chickens for that year. My mom collected chickens and Grandma would count the total number each time she visited. It always struck her as amusing because she said my mom couldn't stand taking care of chickens as a girl and then she ended up having a kitchen full of them.
Evenings, we would visit and watch television, each of us with a t.v. tray on our laps, cozy in the living room warmed by a fire. On the trays were cracked pecans that we would pick out so the meat could be put into freezer bags for storage. One of the sounds from my childhood is the pecan cracker from Kent's Nursery that seemed to be working without stop during the fall.
Grandad always called Mama his baby girl. She was the youngest of six children. He loved to fish and he was an amazing carpenter and craftsman, although not by trade. When he visited, he and Mama often had some refinishing project to be done. When Mama found out she was pregnant with me, they were refinishing this antique Duncan Phyfe table. Aunt Shirley called my mom one day and said her neighbors were getting rid of the table. The owner kept it in the garage and was throwing his tools upon it! As long as I can remember it was called my table and I loved caring for it and asking Mama to tell me the story of the day she found out she was pregnant with me. Mama's face as she told the story and the scent of lemon Pledge as I carefully polished "my table." It is now the centerpiece of our family celebrations and my daughters help me polish it.
Another year, Grandad and Mama worked on this Hoosier cabinet. It belonged to Mama's best friend, Carmel and when she no longer wanted it, she passed it on to Mama. It had several coats of paint and when they stripped it, they found the copper Hoosier label on the front. Inside, the paper shipping label was still taped to the cabinet wall. Mama took the doors off and had glass installed, so she could keep the doors closed for display. It now holds vintage tablecloths and kitchenware that Mama collected for me, usually at garage sales.
Mickey Mouse cookie jar is reversible; Minnie is on the other side. It belonged to Mama's grandmother and it's from the 1930s. The other cookie jar is from Mama's first kitchen after being married.
This is my favorite picture of Grandad.
I asked my cousin Linda to take a picture of Grandad in his overalls because that's how I always pictured him, and all the other more recent pictures we had of him were in his Sunday best. The only thing about the picture is these were his nicer overalls. I remember him in his striped, engineer-style overalls, bent at one knee picking pecans or bent over a piece of furniture, bringing it to its original finish. I remember the feel of the buttons and clasps and the fabric of those overalls against my cheek as I sat in his lap. I can still hear his voice as he said, "Grandad loves you honey."
Even though I didn't spend time with them very often, I learned so much from my grandparents. I learned about the dignity of work and a job well done, kindness to those in need, marriage, wisdom and faith. When the country song, "I Thought That He Walked on Water" was released by Randy Travis in the eighties, Mama and I thought of Grandad because that title captured how our "little girl" hearts thought of him. He was a towering figure in our minds, full of kindness and love and I still miss him. God gives us so many tiny glimpses into His Glory and the true joy that awaits us one day with Him. In Grandad's lap, I think I had an earthly taste of the happiness of one day being a beloved child in the presence of my Heavenly Father for all eternity.