A Life in Pictures

If God had intended us to follow recipes,
He wouldn’t have given us grandmothers.
~Linda Henley

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.

Grandma Nellie was born in Kentucky in January 1887. The earliest picture I have ever found of her is, unfortunately, the one in the worst shape, and, of course, undated. I’m guessing she was probably four or five at the time, but that’s just a guess.
The small image at the top of this post came from a larger picture I had not seen until recently, a family portrait of her family taken when she was about thirteen. Her youngest sister, Conie, was born in 1891, so I’m going with the later date on the photo of around 1900. Somewhere between 1891 and 1900, the family moved from Kentucky to Illinois, although I have yet to learn the reason why they moved.

Nellie, on the left, with her younger sister, Conie.

When I was growing up, my family used to say that I looked exactly like how my Grandma Nellie looked in this picture. I knew for sure we had the same light blue eyes. As a child, I had long hair that I often wore in two braids down my back, like she has here.

One of my favorite photos - all the sisters.

I simply adore this photograph, with their beautiful dresses and exquisitely done hair. This photo makes me wish I could enter the moment it was taken, just to listen in on the conversations that must have been going on as they were getting ready. Taken July 1903.

High School graduation

In my stack of family documents, I have the diploma she is holding in this picture.

With her sister, Conie

This photo is another one where I wish I knew the context around it. Were they dressed up just to get their pictures taken? Was it for some special occasion?

Sisters and friends

Wedding Portrait

I have found no other photographs of her wedding, nor any of my grandfather in anything but his later years.

My father was her first-born child. Taken April 1914.

Aunt Edith, Grandma Nellie, and my dad, 1954

This photograph was taken in front of my grandmother’s house. My grandfather died in 1951, and she lived with my father and his sister, Catherine.

Grandma Nellie holding me in her lap.
The last picture I have of Grandma Nellie, taken approximately 1972.


Filed under History, Life

6 responses to “A Life in Pictures

  1. Ma’am, you have a wonderful, fluid writing style that I admire greatly. I am a newcomer to reading you blog, but, as a writing student, I’ve quickly fallen it love with it (although, I believe I am embarrassing myself by telling you this). Thank you.

  2. Your grandmother was beautiful! And what a wonderful story you shared.

    I was fortunate enough to receive a number of pristine pictures of my grandmother and great-aunt (her older sister) from her aunt, my great-grandmothers youngest sister. My great-grandmother was the oldest of nine and the woman with the pictures was the youngest, making her just a few years older than my grandmother.

    I wouldn’t have these if my great-grandmother hadn’t sent so many to her youngest sister, who daughter would in turn pass them to me, her distant cousin.


  3. Douglas, I’ll take comments like that anytime! 🙂 I’m glad you found your way here and hope to see you around.

    Nancy, isn’t it amazing what things get saved? I’m always curious about why some family things made it into my hands and wonder about all the things that probably didn’t…..

  4. What a great photo tribute to a lovely lady! Thank you for sharing your stories and your photos with us. My maternal grandma lived next-door to us until I was about 5. But I still remember climbing over the fence to escape to her house — much to my mom’s dismay. Whoops!

  5. I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

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