A giant lump of dough dropped onto the table with a thud. I looked up over the table edge. It seemed like a soft mountain to my eight year old eyes. “Wow, Grandma.”
She smiled at me. “Be the biscuits laddie. Ya kin hep me kneed’m.”
My grandmother never lost her Irish brogue. Because she was nearly deaf, her ear was not trained to the language of the new land. As a little boy I loved both the sound of her voice and the adventure she offered in the kitchen. Most of my early years were spent in my grandparent’s home while my parents were busy running between military bases.
I jumped up on a chair and started to reach for the dough.
“Git ya down and wash tim hans, ya not be touch’n da dough tillest ya do.”
Dutifully, I went to the basin and hopped up on a stool and held my hands under the spout. With a quick motion my grandmother pumped the handle twice and a rush of ice cold water suddenly burst onto my outreached hands. I quickly rubbed my hands together along with a chunk of pumice soap. She gave another quick pump and another gush hit my hands like a power rinse.
“Cleanliness be next to Godliness.”
We laughed and played with the dough for what seemed like a whole morning. I listened to her chatter, talking to the dough and the old stove. Even the pans had names.
My grandparents had no television, so my summer-morning-visual entertainment was often in the kitchen - watching my grandmother. She danced as she cooked. She was like a great ballerina floating from stove to cabinet to pantry. All the while, pots and pans were steaming, as she said, “talking.” It was a magical event.
At various junctures she paused and took the lid off of a pot, dipped a long handled wooden spoon into the mixture, tasted, and then declared, “Needs a pinch.” After adding a bit something special she tasted mixture again. “Ahhh, tis fit.”
Some days we went into the yard and caught a chicken, she would whack the chicken once with a knife, and then minutes later into the house we went with the headless chicken; and then almost immediately, she would start pulling off the feathers – somewhere along the line boiling water came into that process. Often an aunt or two was involved preparing the bird.
Around noon, a dozen farm workers invaded the house. The men all stopped outside the back door and cleaned their boots. And then, using an outside pump, they washed their hands before entering the dining room. I stayed behind in the kitchen with my grandmother. She ran in and out of the dining room carrying plates and bowls.
At some point, I heard the room noise stop and my grandfather’s gentle voice asking the Lord’s blessing. My grandmother would stop for a moment and bow her head. If I was standing near she would grab me and hold me tight at her side. Then the parade started again.
When everything seemed settled in the dining room she put together a plate for me, and then sat opposite of my chair and fanned herself with her apron. However, she didn’t sit for more than a few seconds.
When a voice from the other room called, “Blanche,” she would be up and running again. The next course was always a colorful array of deserts; pies and puddings, carried in by the tray load.
Finally, the room emptied, and my grandfather walked out to his chair on the front porch. My grandmother then began the process of cleaning up dishes. All of the plates were scraped into a bucket; it was my job to take the bucket out to the hogs.
“Don’t ye open da gate, dat ol sow be mean. Jes pour de slop from dis side.”
When I got back in the house there would be a big slice of chocolate pie waiting for me.
The years flew by and my grandparents joined the Lord’s table during my college years. Now it seems, I am a grandparent. In a few minutes my own grandson will be here visiting me. I think maybe I get some flour and shortening out and make some biscuits and maybe a chocolate pie.
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