OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS
I had come back to this place of my birth to attend my 50th high school class reunion. Poignant memories crowded my mind. As I stood on Stewart’s Lookout surveying the town, a rush of unexpected adrenaline filled my body as I drifted back in time.
Come back to the 1940s to visit my grandmother. Their’s was known as the mill house because it was right next to the flour mill. My grandfather was a millwright at the flour mill until his retirement. Upon his death many years ago, he was the oldest living millwright in the United States. Technology has eliminated that profession.
The house is always a welcome sight. The front porch where, in the summer time, a swing hung from the ceiling. The swing always sported a lot of soft, green cushions which tempted you to take a snooze. You could often find Grandmother sitting in her porch rocker watching the people pass, and sometimes they stopped by the railing to talk.
My grandmother was a diabetic back in the days when the only way to control your diet was by eating gluten bread. Every baking day when she made all the homemade yeast rolls and cookies for everybody else, she made herself gluten bread.
Now let’s go inside. The parlor is on the right and was reserved strictly for very important company. The overstuffed furniture was maroon mohair. Hanging on the wall was a huge picture of a little girl and her dog. Corky, the family dog, was never allowed in the parlor. A board made just to keep him out stood in the doorway.
The family used the sitting room. It was oh, so comfy. Grandmother sat in her rocker by the front window, with the large Philco radio sitting on an end table in the corner. Underneath the radio she kept her knitting and crotcheting material. Many times I held my hands out so she could wind her yarn in a ball. As a small child I could never quite figure how she managed to get her large spools of crotchet thread through that tiny hole in the top of the can.
Behind the rocker sat the big coal stove with the asbestos square under it, and the smoke pipe going out the chimney behind it. Next to that, almost hidden from view, was Granddad’s Morris chair. He could often be found catching 40 winks, basking in the heat from the coal stove when the winter winds shook the house. In the corner beside his Morris chair sat his big roll top desk. Whoa to the grandchild who touched anything on that precious desk.
The dining room, like the parlor, was used only for state occasions. The family and boarders ate at the big round kitchen table. The kitchen was a homey place for a child. Over by the window by the back door was the kitchen sink, complete with a pitcher pump on the drain board. The food was kept cold in the icebox in the window, with ice the iceman chipped from big chunks in his wagon.
Cooking was done on a wood-burning cook stove. Grandmother was a good cook. Money was scarce, but food was always plentiful. A typical Sunday dinner was stewed chicken with dumplings. Her dumplings were so light they melted in your mouth. She thought one time she could pass off rabbit as chicken, but nobody fooled me. I had seen the dead rabbit the boarder shot lying on the kitchen cabinet.
The window in the alcove by the stove was always blooming with geraniums, even in the winter. In front of the window sat the treadle sewing machine with the ironing board upright beside it. When I was very young, my grandmother would heat the flat iron on the cook stove, and teach me to iron the handkerchiefs. “Remember, always keep the selvage edge of the hanky inside” was the admonition I often heard. Today I still can hear those words when I fold my hankies.
When Grandmother got tired, as she often did in the afternoon, she would lie down on the daybed sitting along the far wall. There was always a green cover on it which Grandmother made on her trusty treadle machine. She liked green. All the swing cushions were the same material.
The cellar way was the most intriguing place in the whole kitchen. There were two railroad lunch buckets hanging there. You remember the kind. . .aluminum, round, with a handle over the top. One contained sugar cookies and the other ginger cookies. Snitching cookies between meals was a no-no, but it was so much fun snitching them without getting caught. I didn’t like ginger cookies, but I certainly did like sugar cookies. Snitching ceased after the time I heard Grandmother coming. I was in such a hurry to get away from the cellar way, I reached my hand in the wrong bucket, and was forced to eat a ginger cookie.
I stayed with Grandmother when my folks were away. I used to get up early in the morning, go downstairs, spread peanut butter on two or three of her yeast rolls, and go back to bed to eat and read. That stopped when Grandmother found crumbs in the bed.
Granddad wasn’t home very much. After he retired, he became a peddler, and was on the road until he had to come home to restock. Touching his peddler suitcases was absolutely forbidden. My granddad was short in stature, extremely deaf, even with hearing aids, and he had a big moustache, but he also had a temper like a banty rooster. When he spoke you listened. But no matter when it was you went to see Grandmother, she was always there, and always ready to give hugs.
My dad looked like his mother, and I look like my dad. As long as I live neither one of them will be dead.