Monday, November 19, 2018

Holidays at Grandma’s house

When I was growing up, every holiday involved a trip to Grandma’s house.  “Over the River and Through the Woods” was a song that resonated with me, even though we didn’t have to drive through a lot of woods to get there.  Grandma lived alone on a 40-acre farm in Harrison County, Missouri, in the house where her children were born; Grandpa died in 1938, I believe, so I never knew him.  

My parents and I moved so often, Grandma’s house (and Uncle Leo’s place, right down the road from her) were like a magnet, places that didn’t change much over the years no matter how many times Mother, Daddy, and I moved.  Grandma’s house was like the center of the universe, the place where I felt I was really touching home.  We’d gather there at Christmas, Easter, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving.  Eagleville happened to be at sort of a central location:  My parents and I, and my sister and her family, lived in the Kansas City area after I was twelve.  We’d usually all ride together, the six of us, traveling up old 69 highway through Cameron.  Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Ruby also moved to Kansas City eventually.  Uncle Paul was in Iowa, and my brother’s family was, too.  The other Stevens aunts and uncles never moved out of Harrison County.

Grandma’s house wasn’t all that big, with four rooms downstairs and one big room upstairs.  She only had an outhouse for many years, and no running water in the house.  Later my uncles put a toilet in one of the downstairs bedrooms because Grandma had some stomach issues that plagued her occasionally, and was getting pretty old to have to put on a coat and go outside to the toilet all the time.  However, when we were all there, everybody still used the toilet outside, which was back behind the house.
This was taken during one of our family gatherings.  You can see the smokehouse and Grandma’s little house in the background.  Looking back, it amazes me how many people managed to fit in there.  Good grief, there must have been thirty or more of us at times!  In spring and summer, of course, the men and children would hang out in the yard.  This was back when men wore hats and most of them smoked, so they’d be visiting and smoking, just staying out of the way; the farmers among them would share opinions on what tractors they liked and how the crops were doing, which I found rather boring.  Of course, once I was married to city-boy Cliff, turns out he loved to sit in on that sort of conversation... and years later went totally crazy buying some of the very tractors my uncles were comparing.  However, by the time I met Cliff, Grandma was gone.  She passed on at the age of 77, victim of the intestinal issues she had lived with off and on for many years.  She had never had to check into a hospital until that last illness.

That’s me in the middle flanked by my cousins, Betty and Royce.  The dog was the first in the line of several dogs named Tippy
In inclement weather we kids would sometimes go upstairs with our plates, sitting on the steps or on the floor to eat.  I recall sitting on the steps of the entry porch with a full plate in my lap, too.  

Oh, the smells!  We knew there’d be noodles made by Grandma, and macaroni and cheese brought by Aunt Bernice.  Christmas and Thanksgiving we had turkey, of course, and dressing.  Sometimes Grandma would butcher a hen she thought had quit laying eggs, but then she’d find unfinished soft-shelled eggs inside the bird when she dressed it.  Oops!  Poor chicken wasn’t a freeloader after all.  

There were pies and cobblers aplenty.  

It was always nice to hear the uncles tell me how much I had grown, and hang out with my cousins.  Laughter and much talking filled the house and yard.  There was a proper order to follow when it was time to eat:  First, women with small children were told to go ahead and fill their children’s plates and get them settled.  Then the men; forget all about “ladies first”!  The men led the pack.  I always used to wonder why, thinking maybe it was because they were “the heads of the house”.  I imagine it actually stemmed from the fact that these were farm-raised folks:  The men worked out in the fields in summer and needed as much time in the field as possible when they were planting or harvesting; so they ate first in order to get back to business.  That’s also why I grew up with “dinner” being the noon meal, the big meal of the day.  We weren’t farmers, but that farm background still had its influence.  

Yes, those were good times.  When I hear “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, I’m transported to Grandma’s house as if by magic.  That’s the home of my heart.  I never thought about the fact it wouldn’t always be there for me, but my memories are so very real I can hear the sounds, see the people, and smell the food, even today.  
Grandma never bought dog food.  She just fed her Tippy dog table scraps supplemented by a slice of bread.  This is the last Tippy she had.  It's easier to remember the new dog's name if you use the same one the last dog had.  


Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Christmas memory

I put the Christmas tree up yesterday, a fake tree this time.  We bought it after Christmas last year for about the same amount as one real tree costs these days.  The time has come when we need to get used to cutting costs.  When we bought it I said, “We may never use it, but if I don’t buy this, I’m liable to want a real tree next year.  If I spend money on this, I will make myself use it.  That is, if I want a tree next year.  

Well, I decided to use it.  I figured I may as well put it up early, since there will be no shedding needles.  One of my favorite things about Christmas is the smell of a real Christmas tree; maybe someone will sell me some cheap tree-branch scraps.  Now that I think of it, we have several evergreen trees of various kinds around here:  You don’t smell them in the wide-open spaces outside, but I think I’ll try snipping off a few branches and bringing them inside to see if the fragrance is there.  Even when I lack the Christmas spirit (which I do, these days), hanging ornaments on the tree always sparks memories of my childhood, when Christmas was magical, full of wonderful smells, sounds, and tastes.  

Yesterday I got about four packages of soup bones out of the freezer, figuring I’d cook them in the Instant Pot to make broth.  The Pot had just gotten to the “pressure” stage when I walked by and saw it wasn’t working.  Even if it’s off, the light comes on when you plug it in, but the light was off; it was totally dead.  Cliff and I fiddled with it awhile, then I googled here and there for an answer, found none, and called the number listed on the Instant Pot website.  A lady told me my best bet would be to take it back to Kohl’s and have it replaced.  I’ve only had this 8-quart one since September, so I’m sure it’ll be no problem to get it replaced.  Here’s a thing, though:  I found, in my Googling, that these things often quit working within a year or two.  So, if it quits again and I can’t get a replacement, I’ll be done with them.  I will rely on my old faithful pressure cookers that you set on a burner and monitor closely.  So many appliances these days don’t last very long, it’s disgusting.  Anyhow, I ended up just boiling my beef bones on the stove.  Cliff told me there would probably be a lot of meat on them, as soup bones generally do.  Once the meat was falling off the bones I put the pan in the refrigerator to chill overnight.  This morning I took all the meat off the bones, five cups worth, and froze the meat in one freezer bag and the broth in other bags.  As I was doing this, though, I realized I haven’t made noodles in a long time (I haven’t had breakfast yet, so I’m hungry); it might be good to make a practice batch before I make the noodles for Thanksgiving this week.  I usually cook them in chicken broth with plenty of chicken in it, but beef and noodles would be good.  So I kept some broth out and put some of the meat scraps in it.  That’s what’s for dinner today.  I still ended up with four two-cup bags of beef broth to put in the freezer.  

While digging through the Christmas ornaments this morning, I found an email from my daughter from 1999 that I had printed off.  As well as I can remember, this was when Rachel’s family was living in Carthage, the town my son-in-law considers his home town.  I think it was the year when Natalie, maybe three years old, called us on the phone asking us to come and see their Christmas tree.  On the spur of the moment we decided that if it was that important to our youngest grandchild that we see the tree she was so excited about, it wouldn’t hurt us to drive 100 miles.  Monica was probably five years old... I remember she was showing off her reading skills during that visit... and she was very unhappy when it was time for us to leave the next day.  I will let the email tell the rest of the story.

Neither my daughter or myself have these email addresses any more, so if you wanted to email either of us, you’d be out of luck using the ones here.

That’s it for my morning thoughts.

Yours truly,