Saturday, December 15, 2007

A tale of three grandmas

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
1 egg
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.


Jennifer Y. said...


Jennifer Y. said...

Aww...what a sweet post. I am lucky enough to have my Granny (paternal grandmother) and Grandpa(maternal grandfather) still alive, but I miss my Grandma (maternal grandmother) and Granddaddy (paternal grandfather) something fierce.

We would always go to Grandma's house on Christmas and she would stand around while everyone else ate telling us what went wrong when she was cooking...LOL. She would wait until we were all done before she would eat. Funny how that is what I remember most about Christmas at her house...her waiting for everyone else to eat.

I miss her especially around is not the same without her.

I also miss my paternal grandfather...we lost him 2 years ago on New Years Eve in an auto accident...holidays are tough without them.

This year we are all getting together with both sides of the family (paternal and maternal) under one roof. My two remaining grandparents (paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather) will both be there.

Did any of that make sense? LOL

Trish Milburn said...

Hey, Jennifer gets the coveted Golden Rooster. :)

My Mamaw did the same thing about waiting until everyone had eaten before she did. Also, there were so many of us there that the men always got to sit down and eat first, then the women. The kids had to sit at the bar.

Fedora said...

What a lovely post, Trish! Thank you for sharing the memories with us!

I don't have any grandparents still alive, but my husband's maternal grandparents are still around, and it's a treat to have the chance to still visit them and bring our kids to visit with them :)

We always had my paternal grandparents over for Christmas dinner (and several other big occasions each year), and I'm glad we have sweet memories of those occasions to enjoy now.

Joan said...

Congrats on the GR, jennifer y.

Trish, your post was so sweet and you were so lucky to have good memories of your grandparents.

Christmas' growing up are a blur of memories of my Mom's 8 brothers and sisters and my cousins all crowded into my maternal grandparents shotgun type house on Christmas day. More often than not it was miserable due to all the tensions associated with 1,000 people crammed into such a small place.

My main memory of my paternal grandfather was of deteriorating health as he had multiple strokes from the time I was I guess, 7 or so. I didn't know my Dad's mother (she died of colon cancer before he married)but his stepmother, Grandma Lil....she was always laughing and bubbling.

We often went to their house on Christmas Eve. Again, with my Dad's 8 siblings and their kids (I have 63 first cousins) we often got lost in the shuffle. But the time there was always brighter.

Oh, and I remember the Western Auto! We had one up at our local shopping center Dixie Manor. You could get ANYTHING there and Christmas time was so festive. Now, really, how can you beat red bows tied around stacked tires? LOL

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Trish -
My maternal grandparents had died before I was born. It took me a long time to understand that "normal" kids had two sets of grandparents and not just one *g*. Often we'd go to my paternal grandmother's at Christmas. I don't have a lot of Christmas memories of my grandparents, but I remember sitting at the kid's table with my cousins. It was a big thing to move up to the grownups table (like my oldest brother). And I remember finding a medical book that covered sex on my grandmother's bookshelf. My cousin, Jacqui Lou, and I secreted ourselves away and studied it intensely *g*.

jo robertson said...

What a wonderful walk down memory lane with your grandmothers, Trish!

My Mommy Burton (mom's mother)died when I was really young. I remember crossing the Atlantic on an oceanliner from Germany to go to her funeral. My Poppy Burton was the town sheriff and Mommy B. was much beloved.

But my Mommy Lewis (Dad's mom) scared the dickens out of me. She'd raised four sons who were hellions, part of the local Lewis gang, my dad included.

She was part Cherokee, had long black hair down past her hips, black lowering brows and a sharp tongue. I loved her great big old three-story house in the hills of Rush, Kentucky, but man, I didn't dare cross Mommy Lewis!

Still, I'm glad I inherited her high cheek bones LOL.

Helen said...

Congrats Jennifer y he did enjoy his stay in the warmer weather it was nice to visit with him again.

Trish what a lovely post I never knew my Fathers parents but my mothers parents Nanna and Pop were the best we always had big Christmas lunches at their place on Christmas day and my Nanna was the best cook my Pop's birthday was Christmas Eve so we always had a double celebration.
I also had two great grandmothers Grandma and Granny Pike. Granny Pike passed away when I was about 10 but Grandma was at my wedding we lost her when she was 94 2 years after I got married.
I lost my Pop when I was 16 so Christmas always brings back lots of memories of him because of his birthday as well. Nanna passed on 7 years ago 3 days before here 94th birthday.
Christmas always brings back so many memories I always have a bit of a cry but then I remember all the good times we had together and know that they are always with us.
Have Fun

Nancy said...

What a wonderful post! My father's parents died before I was born, so I never knew them. I have only hazy memories of my mother's mom, but her dad, PaPa, was a magnet for me and my sister and cousins.

My mom worked, which was unusual in that era, and I stayed with PaPa after nursery school. He always had pudding in stem glasses in the refrigerator, and I could usually wheedle him into letting me have one at mid-afternoon. He taught me how to "carry" numbers, math being his academic love and his initial vocation, and how to make ice cream floats with ginger ale. I still love ice cream floats (though I never developed similar affection for math), but I can't have them often since the years have taken a toll on my metabolism.

I also hold dear the memories of reading picture books and making bird models with him. We used to draw pictures of stick people and make up stories about them, a practice I consider the beginning of my interest in writing.

I never did subscribe to his belief that Alka-Seltzer would cure absolutely anything (kind of like the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding with his Windex), but PaPa never hesitated to recommend it.

My mother's siblings used to come to our house for Christmas or Thanksgiving because age made it hard for PaPa, who lived with us, to travel. Some years, we had 15 for Christmas dinner. The house would be full of wonderful smells and chaos and people.

Joan, we had a Western Auto in my hometown. The owner's wife was also the Western Union representative! My first bike came from there. Every Christmas, they had silver aluminum trees on display, with rotating color wheels in front of spotlights so the trees turned red and green and gold alternately. I couldn't understand why my parents refused to buy such a cool-o thing for us. There, too, the years have brought a change in perspective. I like my Christmas trees green. Only green.

PaPa died in January of my sophomore year in high school. I recently came across some photos of that last Christmas and was surprised at how frail and old he appeared. He was 88 but never quite seemed so old to me back then. The Christmas after he died, the family gathered for one last time. All us kids were in high school or older, and my cousins probably wanted to spend Christmas at home for a change. Still, I treasure those memories of the gatherings that occurred because of PaPa.

Trish Milburn said...

Okay, I'm back from my RWA chapter's Christmas party.

Joan, you have 63 first cousins! Dang! I thought having 13 was a lot.

Donna, LOL on the medical book.

Jo, your Mommy Lewis sounds a little like my husband's great-grandmother, from what I've heard. She was full-blooded Cherokee and I believe she tended to pack a shotgun around. :)

Helen, I was fortunate to grow up knowing one of my great-grandmothers too. Mamie was my Papaw's mom, and she was this skinny, feisty little woman. When she lost her sight, she came to live with Mamaw and Papaw. She lived until I was in middle school, perhaps my freshman year, can't remember exactly. She was 99 when she died. I remember she broke her hip one time after falling out of a chair. She was standing on it cleaning her bedroom windows. I was like, "Mamie, what were you doing? You can't even see the windows." She used to make my younger sister laugh when she was little by spanking her Pooh Bear. :)

Trish Milburn said...

Nancy, those are wonderful memories of your PaPa. Love the pudding in stem glasses. And bikes are what I remember about our Western Auto. They always had them in the front windows.

Christie Kelley said...

Lovely post, Trish. Unfortunately for me I lost one grandmother long before I was born and the other one when I was five. So I barely remember her.

But I'm thrilled that my boys have a wonderful grandmother (my mother) who they will remember all their lives. It was my mother who save Christmas for us this year. So we'll be up at her house on Christmas. I know my boys will always remember how they couldn't have Christmas at home but Nana saved the day.

Trish Milburn said...

You know, Christie, "Nana Saved the Days" sounds like it could be a children's book. :)

Susan Sey said...

Hi, Trish! I'm so envious of your huge family! Though I'm one of four kids myself, I can count my first cousins on one hand & grew up with only one set of grandparents on the opposite coast. But I loved the joyful noise of my own big family & always wanted to have a bunch of kids myself. Then I started having children of my own & thought, "Yikes. Lots of work here." So now I'm counting on my three sisters to get busy & provide my two kids some cousins so we can have that big family feel without actually having a big family. :-)


mcrowley41 said...

We used to go to my grandparents house right after the holidays. Their neighbors would hide pennies all over their house then set us loose to find them. Man, you were rich if you found ten pennies. It was such fun.

Keira Soleore said...

Trish, loved, loved, loved your blog. I have good memories of three of my grandparents and one only through pictures and word-of-mouth. But the best one is of my maternal grandmother who passed away nearly five years ago. Even when she was rather unwell, she attended my wedding, and she rejoiced in learning of my pregnancy. She gave each of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren at least one of her talents: writing, music, art, cooking, education, caring for other people and community work. She achieved so much in the days when electricity was unknown and motorized vehicles unaffordable. Trish, thank you for reminding me of her so vividly. Can I say again that I loved your blog?

Amy Andrews said...

I only ever had one grandparent growing up, my dad's mum and well, let's just say, she wasn't the warm cuddly type. I feel to this day that I missed out enormoulsy by not knowng my maternal grandmother. My mother speaks about her with such great affection I know she would have been an amazing nana. I actually feel like a part of me is missing because of this black hole in my life.
So it makes me especially happy that my kids have both sets of grandparents alive and well. I so wanted grandparents growing up and they do and it makes my face crack into a big 'ol grin just thinking about how blessed they are.

doglady said...

What a great post! What priceless memories. Congrats on the GR Jennifer! He really loves it at your place, doesn't he?

My paternal grandfather died young (50) when I was @ 3 years old. I don't remember very much about him, but I do have the two dolls and the teddy bear he gave me for my first Christmas. The teddy bear, Bernie, has been all over the world with me. I have some wonderful pictures of myself with him. They tell me he doted on me and I treasure that. He called me his little Welsh elf (Pamela means "elf" in Welsh), but he was third generation British descended from Pennsylvania coal miners. My paternal grandmother, Nana, was Welsh. Her mother, Elvira, spoke Welsh in their home. My Nana bought me my first typewriter so I could take it with me to England. I was nine years old and told her I wanted to be a writer. We did not get to spend many Christmases with her until we were teenagers. She would come down from PA and we always had a great time. She would make treacle tarts, maids of honor, corned beef and cabbage and a great Christmas pudding. Now my maternal grandmother, Mawmaw, lived in a house very much like the one you described, Trish. No indoor plumbing until I was 12 or so. There was a huge dogtrot down the middle of the house. The cousins all slept on pallets in the dogtrots and the adults got the bedrooms when we all gathered at Mawmaw's. I remember going to the outhouse in pairs because NOBODY wanted to go out in the dark alone. Imagine a line of little bodies stretched out on pallets made of handstitched quilts and covered up with more quilts. Christmas meant Japanese fruit cake, Lane cake, homemade divinity, chocolate pie, nana pudding. Chicken and dumplings from scratch. I am making myself hungry! All of my grandparents are gone now, but I do have lots of wonderful memories.

Christine Wells said...

Lovely post, Trish! My grandparents are all dead now but I remember lots of great things we did when I was a child. I'll never forget one Christmas, when my very uptight grandmother became slightly squiffy on pink Vok and lemonade. Dad told her it was pink lemonade. I'd never seen her happier or more relaxed. That was a great Christmas:)

Trish Milburn said...

Susan, afraid my sister is the one providing grandchildren on my side of the family. I'm firmly in the no-kids camp, though I do enjoy being the cool auntie. :)

mcrowley41, that penny game sounds like so much fun!

Thanks, Keira. Your grandmother sounds like she was a sweet lady.

Amy, so sorry you weren't able to know your nana. Because my dad was born when his dad was 50 and his mom 30, he never knew any of his grandparents.

doglady, those are such wonderful memories about Bernie the teddy bear and the typewriter. Very heartwarming.

Trish Milburn said...

Christine, LOL on the pink lemonade. Hee hee.

Joan said...

Gosh, Christine my maternal grandma could have used some of that "special" pink lemondade.

As someone else said, she was not the warm, cuddly type at all.

Caren Crane said...

Oh, Trish, what a beautiful post! The only grandparent left in my or my husband's family is my maternal grandmother. She was the youngest of her ten siblings and is the only one still living. "Little Annie" is still a tiny, pretty woman and, at almost 88, still has parts of her hair that are dark (not black, as it used to be, but darker than the white). She was a very young mother and very young grandmother. We are so blessed to have her still.

She spent three weeks with my mother recently, but insisted on going home before Thanksgiving. She still lives in middle TN and none of her children or grandchildren (or great grandchildren) live there. We cannot convince her to move to NC, though we keep trying!

I hope we will have another Christmas with Grandmama before it's too late. For now, we make special grandmother memories for our children by taking them to my mother's house every Christmas. They will have many years' worth!

Trish Milburn said...

That's great that your grandmother is still so independent, Caren.

MJFredrick said...


My paternal gma is still living, but she's in CA, and I haven't seen her in a couple of years. We email, though ;)

My maternal gma was one of my best friends. We shared a love of books and TV. She would have been so proud that I contracted two books this year. I dedicated the first to her.

I was telling my son the other day that she loved this time of year. He said, "You say that about every time of year." He's right. She loved the change of weather in the fall, what she called "sweater weather." She loved the festivities and food of Christmas. She loved the change of season in the spring. Easter was her favorite holiday. And she loved summer because we were off and she could spend more time with us.

I was very lucky.

Cassondra said...

Trish, so sorry I'm late to comment. I loved this blog post. I especially liked seeing the old pics.

That old house is wonderful. So much like the ones all around me here in Southern Kentucky. On my mail route I see these for five hours each day. And I always wonder about the stories behind the houses and the people inside. A lot of the people I get to know a bit, and during holidays I see them surrounded by cars parked in the yard and along the road and up and down the driveway and I know the family has come home for a meal with the matriarch or patriarch of the family.

It's clear to me that that person is often the one who sort of "holds the family together." I don't have any of my grandparents now. I never knew my paternal grandfather, my dad's mother died when I was a little girl, but I remember her. We called her Mother Murray. My maternal grandparents were like second parents to me. In losing them, we lost a lot. Now I seldom see the rest of my family and we've all sort of gone our separate ways.

Grandparents are gifts. So glad you are getting to enjoy an extended set.

Trish Milburn said...

Mary, glad you came by to share your memories. I thought of you and your grandma as I was writing it.

Cassondra, there are a lot of those types of little houses all over Kentucky.