Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go...
I think this time of year is when I remember my two grandmothers the most because Christmas was always the day when we went to visit them both. Even though my grandmothers only lived one county away from each other, I cannot remember a single time when I saw them in the same place together. Perhaps that was because one didn't drive. Perhaps it was because they might never have even met if not for my parents getting married. I'm not sure. But my happiest Christmas memories revolve around these two women.
My paternal grandmother was Grandma. She died when I was 10 (27 years ago), and I still remember the night my other grandparents came to tell us about her passing. We didn't have a phone at the time (I know, hard to believe), so the nursing home where Grandma was a patient called my maternal grandparents instead. But let's focus on happier days with Grandma. She was a tough woman, and if she were alive now I suspect my adult self might see that she was a bit crude. But when I was a child, she hung the moon and spoiled my sister and me rotten because we were her only grandchildren. She lived in this tiny house in rural Kentucky that had an enclosed back porch with a well in it. She didn't have running water, so she hauled water up from that well with a bucket. That's the house at the right as it looked a year or so ago. The little side porch is now open, and I guess the well has been closed off. My memories of her have their shadowy beginning at my grandpa's funeral when I was 5. I don't remember much about him other than him dying and he was old (he was born in 1889 and was 20 years older than my grandma).
Some of the best memories revolve around her good cooking and Christmas. Prior to Christmas, my dad would take her to town to do her Christmas shopping, typically at the old Western Auto store, which had toys, and probably the Dollar General Store. I grew up in a small town with the nearest Wal-Mart 23 miles away. The Dollar General is still there, but even the building that housed the Western Auto is now gone. But even with limited shopping options, Grandma always got my younger sister and me plenty of toys, clothes and other goodies. And she loaded down the table with slow-cooked green beans, mashed potatoes, homemade chicken and dumplings (I used to love eating the dough raw as she rolled it out), banana pudding, and other delicious dishes I've since forgotten. She'd make plenty so we always ended up taking a lot of it home with us to enjoy in the days after Christmas.
While I don't recall seeing Grandma all that often, I got to visit with my maternal grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw, a lot more since for the first 12 or so years of my life they were our next-door neighbors. Or maybe I should say our "across-the-holler" neighbors. We lived on one hill, and they lived across the creek on the next one. Papaw would stand on the porch each afternoon and wave at us as we walked home from the school bus, and sometimes I could see Mamaw out in her garden picking vegetables she would can by the quartsful. Christmas at their house was a much busier affair because they had 15 grandchildren as opposed to two. Consequently, each of the grandchildren only got one small thing. That was okay though because I enjoyed the big family gatherings and sampling all the potluck dishes. While Mamaw was also a wonderful cook, everyone pitched in because it would have been a chore to cook for around 25 people. Memories of Mamaw's cooking ran more to her canned pickles and how she could make something from nothing. I guess that came from raising seven children during the Great Depression. (That's the family in 1948 in the photo. Mamaw was taking the photo, but Papaw is the guy in the back and my mom is the little girl at the far left on the front row.) I also remember making mashed potato sandwiches on white bread at her house, and how my sister and I used to cut up cold bananas in these blue tin bowls Mamaw had and pour chocolate syrup all over them. Yum! Mamaw was also a wonderful quilter, and I could kick myself for not learning how to quilt from her when I had the chance.
There are funny memories, like the one my sister reminded me of recently. When Mamaw got older and her arthritis worsened, someone got her the Clapper for her lights. The only problem was that she didn't ever clap loud enough to make it work. :)
Since Papaw died when I was in high school, Mamaw was my only grandparent who lived long enough to see me get married. (She's at the far left on the front row of my wedding picture, and yes, I have some big honking glasses on. Wow, am I glad glasses are more attractive now.) Thus, I have the most memories of her and miss her the most. She was a sweet, quiet lady. When I was 24, she had a stroke that landed her in the hospital. She lingered for a month, and my mom visited her every day. She wasn't only her mother, she was also her best friend. It was hard to think of losing her. But Mom eventually realized that Mamaw wasn't going to get better, so she went to the tiny chapel at the hospital and prayed about it, saying that if it was time for Mamaw to go, it was okay. That night, Mom had a dream in which she saw the hallway of the hospital that led to Mamaw's room. Papaw was walking down the hall as if he was going to get Mamaw. The next day, Mamaw passed on. I can think of Grandma and Grandpa without tearing up because I lost them so long ago that I'm too far removed from the pain to remember much of it. But I tear up every time I tell this story about Papaw coming to get Mamaw.
Now that I no longer have grandparents living, I focus all my "grand" affection on my husband's grandmother, Mom Mim. (That's her at the right with one of her great-grandchildren, my husband's cousin's little boy.) Like my grandmothers, she's a great cook. After I raved over her jam cake last Christmas, she sent me the recipe. For every birthday and anniversary, she sends sweet cards. And I think she was as excited about my first book sale as I was. I think she might have told everyone in her hometown, and it's quite a bit bigger than mine is. We'll see her in a couple of weeks for Christmas, and I already know she'll come with her crocheting bag in hand. She can't sit still without crocheting something.
So do you all have any wonderful Christmas memories with your grandmothers? The Banditas would love to hear them.
I got this recipe from a former co-worker after she made and brought these to work one day.
Pistachio Cream Cheese Fingers
1 cup sugar
1 cup margarine or butter, softened
1 (8-ounce package) cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour
1 (3 3/4-ounce) package instant pistachio-flavored pudding and pie filling mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 ounces (3 squares) semi-sweet chocolate or 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon shortening
In large bowl, beat sugar, margarine and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; beat well. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In medium bowl, combine flour, pudding mix, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to cream cheese mixture; mix well. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 1 hour for easier handling.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. Shape teaspoonfuls of dough into 1 1/2-inch fingers. (You may want to wet your hands to prevent the dough from sticking to you.) Place on prepared cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 9 to 12 minutes or until set. Cool completely. In small saucepan, melt chocolate and shortening, stirring constantly until well blended. Drizzle a small amount of chocolate over each cookie. Allow chocolate to set before storing. Yield: 8 1/2 dozen cookies.