If God had intended us to follow recipes,
He wouldn’t have given us grandmothers.
I’d like you to meet my paternal grandmother. Grandma Nellie lived in the same small town I grew up in, just across the length of the town from my house. I could see her house out the front window of our house. In fact, my mother and I would watch the barn behind her house every weeknight. As soon as my mother saw those barn doors close, she would head into the kitchen to put the final preparations on dinner as that signaled my father was done for the day and headed home.
I have only vague memories of Grandma Nellie. I remember her house, surrounded by farmland, barns, grain silos, and gardens. The old horse trough in front of it that had an old pump. The chicken coop door that I spent hours hammering nails into while she babysat me. Her refrigerator, filled with homemade treats and home-canned foods. The old pot-belly stove in the sitting room, next to her rocker, and the couch with her crocheted afghan across the back. Her dresser, holding the box of powder and antique glass perfume bottle that smelled of lilacs. I remember how strong her arms were. And spending lots of time sitting at her kitchen table watching her cook.
The stories I most remember about her involved cooking, as that’s where she spent a lot of her time. I, of course, always wanted to help, and she was patient enough to let me, even though now I realize I caused more trouble than I actually helped in any way. One of her prize canning recipes was the one for her pickled beets. I did not like them, but they were the most beautiful color. Their juice was vibrantly scarlet. I loved the color so much she would save me all the leftover juice so that I could fill the sink with water and soap bubbles, pour in the juice, and play with a mound of scarletly-pink bubbles until they disappeared. My hands would be stained pink for days! One very memorable time, she indulged my whim to help her fry some liver for dinner, not anticipating the abandon with which I would toss the floured piece into the cast iron skillet of hot oil. She scrambled for a bucket of ice to cover the burns on my arm before shuttling me into the pick-up truck and driving me uptown to my parents, who were attending a meeting at the church. From the time in her kitchen, I learned the best way to roll biscuits, how to make an amazing white gravy, and the recipe for pumpkin bread that I still use today. I was only eight when she passed away.
As I’ve gone through the first round of family photographs and started organizing them into family groupings, I’ve found a mix of pictures of her, so I thought I’d share some moments of her life as I’ve discovered them.
A life in pictures.