Last week, on my way back up from down South, I swung through Western North Carolina to see Grandma. She's now living in an assisted living facility near my uncle, her younger son. It seems strange for her not to be in her own home, a place she lived in for nearly 70 years. Her home was my second home. Although I don’t remember it, I stayed there when my brother and sister was born. I celebrated at least two of my birthdays there. In the picture to the left, taken 50 years ago next week. This is my second birthday. Next to me is my cousin Marie. We both have cakes as we share the same birthday. I also had my sixth birthday there. It was right before we moved to Virginia and my parents were in Petersburg, finding us a place to live. My siblings and I would again stay in Grandma’s home for several weeks the summer I was nine, listening to my teenage uncle (the guy to my left in the photo)wear out “Satisfaction” on his record player while my parents packed up our stuff in Virginia and found us a place in Wilmington to live. Then, for the time I was 12 or so, until I started working at the age of 16, I’d spend a few weeks every summer with my grandparents, helping them out around the house and garden and spending the evenings fishing with my granddad… Her house is filled with memories; this is a memory of staying there on the weekend in the winter.
The second photo is of my family, at my grandparents, on a Sunday, in the summer of '63. I'm the good lookin' kid sporting a bow tie!
Grandmother always planned a great Sunday morning feast. She’d get up and get dressed long before anyone else, putting on her Sunday finest, and then put a full-length apron on over that and headed for the kitchen. The first thing she did was put the coffee on. She always perked her coffee, nothing but the best for my granddad and her family. She then turned her attention to the stove and put on a pan of grits to cook. It would have never crossed her mind to use instant grits. Then she’d fix the biscuits, cutting shortening into the flour, stirring in buttermilk, kneading the glob lightly, rolling the dough out and then punching out biscuits. She’d slide the biscuits into an oven, preheated to 425 degrees, where they’d bake for approximately 12 minutes. And as soon as she slid the biscuits into the oven, she’d begin frying bacon or sausage.
My grandma did most of her work before anyone would wake, but pretty soon the smell of fresh coffee, baking biscuits and fried bacon would fill the house. Such smells are more humane than alarm clocks and we’d get out of bed and began making our way to the dining room. In the winter, when frost were on the window panes, she’d have turned down the heat overnight and we’re hurry to the kitchen as it would be warm from her cooking. Once there, she’d have orange juice waiting and begin to take orders for eggs. “Over easy,” was the preferred choice for my mom and me. We’d both cut up our eggs with our folks and pour coffee off it, slopping the egg and coffee mixture up with bits of biscuits, a technique learned from my mother’s grandma.
Of course, we had to wait; we couldn’t chow down until we were all at the table and my granddad blessed the meal with his usual prayer. He not only thanked God for the food and the one who prepared it, but also acknowledged our dependence upon God for all that we have and asked that his family be consecrated for God’s work. Then we’d dig in, passing around the butter and various jars of jellies and preserves, the salt and pepper. The jam was always homemade, my favorite being grape-hull and pear preserves. The butter was from an old farmer who churned it himself. The butter had been pressed by hand, a flower design on top. The farmer use to stop by once a week, delivering butter and eggs.
We had a big breakfast on Sunday morning because it was an important day. Soon after eating, we’d all dress up in our Sunday finest and head over to Culdee Presbyterian Church for Sunday School and services. First, we’d gather in the sanctuary for the opening assembly. Grandma was often in the nursery, so we’d sit with Granddad, who’d sing loudly and off key. After a few songs and announcements, we’d go off to our various classes, only to come back into the sanctuary an hour and a half later for worship. Afterwards, we’d talk to folks in the front yard of the church, under the big pines. My grandparents friends were all be there and they’d all want to see us: Coy and Martha, Art and Florence, Sam and Lula, Polly and Lionel. After visiting, we’d come home from church and sit down for a big lunch. Gluttony wasn’t a sin discussed much during my childhood. Or maybe Sunday’s feasts were so big because it was an important day, a day of worship and of learning of how God has chosen us for his work in the world.
Last November, when I was home and helping move my grandma from her house, Lionel and Polly stopped by for a few minutes. Unable to drive, their daughter Diane brought them over to say goodbye. I hadn’t seem them in years and Diane, who’s my age, I haven’t seen since those summers when I stayed with my grandparents. Lionel wasn’t doing well, but Grandma and Polly sat on the couch and joked and laughed and carried on like kids. Polly asked my grandma if she remembered all the work they use to do for the church and grandma replied, “I remember all those meals we cooked for the men, we sure made them enough stuffin.”
Grandma told me that Lionel died just before Christmas. Evening is falling on another generation.