Thursday, January 08, 2009

Memories of my Grandma's House

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.


  1. Great descriptions other than the mixing of coffee with the eggs. I could almost smell everything cooking.

    It amazes me that you still have a grandmother when you are old enough to be someone's grandparent too. :-)

  2. I thought I'd had coffee and eggs every way possible - but not mixed together! I'll try that soon.

    I loved reading this, Sage. It reminds me of days spent at the home of my great-grandparents. My greatG was like yours - always dressed and always cooking on her wood stove. She made the best biscuits in the world and had no recipe except in her head.

  3. Coffee- yum.
    Biscuits- yum.
    Bacon- yum.

    Coffee over your eggs? ew.

    I did enjoy reading your memories though. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Amazing how you remember those days so vividly. The photos are priceless.

    I leave here never wanting to make instant grits EVER AGAIN!

  5. Your grandma and mine are one in the same. I am so thankful that my hama has gotten to stay at home and is still cooking at 89. Our family pics look so much like your old black and whites. And it is still a big crowd at Hama's at Christmas. But now we order her not to cook for all of us. At least we can bring a dish now. Her health can't take over doing it.

  6. This is a great post, very well written and full of love. I actually like coffee over eggs. Back in Southeast Asia, I used to go to a "coffee shop" near my office (local term for cheap breakfast place), ordered 2 soft-boiled eggs, a thick toast slapped with "kaya" (coconut jam), and a hot cup of black coffee - Southeast Asian style, which I would pour over the eggs. I wasn't the only one, plenty of people did that. I haven't done that for a long time. Now I'm homesick. And I'm going to do that for breakfast tomorrow.

  7. How beautiful and what a sweet common thread runs through that story. We can all find our grandmothers(or "memaws", as I called mine) in this one. I miss them both every single day.

  8. "Evening is falling on another generation."

    Although it is the nature of life that we fade, so them after us can rise, at the least we have our memory of our days to sustain us.

    Good tale well told.

  9. Murf, I really don't feel old enough to be a grandparent (but I know I am)

    Kenju, I wrote about my great-grandma once--years ago--and she had both a gas and a wood stove in her kitchen and still used the wood stove for baking--I can remember my great-grandfather splitting wood for it and I would collect the wood and carry it to the woodbox. I must of been about six.

    Kontan, don't knock it till you try it :) (that also goes for Murf, too)

    Scarlet, instant grits, oatmeal, rice, it's all inferior.

    Deana, mine had a long run at home, but without anyone close by, both her sons were 3 hours away, it was easier for her to move. The last two breakfasts I've had at grandma's, I've fixed the biscuits

    MH, I must have some Asian blood in me, eh?

    Susie, thanks and I will miss mine too when she's gone, just like I miss my other grandparents and the five great grandparents who were alive when I was small

    the Walking guy, Thanks, memories are powerful things.

  10. Geesh, if you were around to hear Satisfaction at such a young age, I can't fanthom how the Rolling Stones are even breathing!

    P.S. My word verificaton is "fries"

  11. Very vividly you bring out the Beautiful memories.

    The stuff she made was made with so much love.

  12. Do you realize you have a tie on as a two-year-old! Hey, slacker Sage! Where is your coat! ;D

    Around the table I see a sailor, an Austrian, a Bavarian, and one cowboy. Just like all costume parties, some dress and some don't read the rest of the invitation. ;D

    Love it and your photos!

  13. Thanks Ed, that means I'm old, right?

    Gautami, Thanks.

    Maggie, looking back at photos of me as a kid, I must have had on ties more often then than now! I can't remember the last birthday party to which I wore a tie

  14. Man, am I hungry! I envy you these great memories . . .

  15. Oh man. This made me miss my grandma so much. Beautiful memories, Sage, and so well documented, though I too, am having some issues with this coffee in eggs thing :)

    P.S. I see Murf couldn't follow through with her not picking on you resolution ;-)

  16. wonderful post. You have so many cousins

  17. Exquisite remembrances of what seems like last year.. for me.. very similar experiences. treasures.

  18. I love these old stories the best... and you tell them so well. :)

    I'm not going to be trying the coffee over eggs recipe anytime soon, but definitely different and interesting.

  19. Loved this post! Takes me back to eating Sunday dinner at my Granny's every weekend. I miss her- and her biscuits. She kept them warm in the top of the cook stove. Liked your old pics-neat.