Tuesday, December 27, 2011

To grandmother's house for birthdays

When writing about my grandmother I left out an important part of her life, her front porch. While the "first family" has Camp David, at Grandmother's house, you had the front porch, complete with the swing. The porch was where you went when you needed to talk, or needed some quiet, or needed to try to catch a breeze, because the kitchen was hotter than he**, where you waited on the rest of the company to arrive, where you had heart to heart talks, where you shelled peas or peeled potatoes, or snapped beans.

Grandmother's house was really close to the highway and at first the highway was only two lanes and you could sit out there and watch the traffic go by at a fairly leisurely pace. People would honk and wave as they made their way to and from town. Eventually it became a four lane highway and the traffic was considerably heavier, but that never deterred her from wanting to sit out there.

If she was expecting you, you could almost expect to find her there waiting. The best was to surprise her and drive up while she was sitting on the porch, especially if you brought lunch with you.

The swing had just the right creak that could lull you into a peaceful trance. It was the same swing that my grandfather would sit on and his pet chicken would come up and sit on his knee. The swing was definitely the favored place to sit as the rest of the furnishings on the porch was a wide variety of chairs that had found there way out there for one reason or another.

The front yard was huge and covered with a variety of concrete statutes, which were a favorite for grandmother. There were concrete squirrels and deer, and angels, and gnomes, toad stools and chickens, and a few rabbits.

If you met grandmother, you might wonder how she was even able to make it. Her back was so curved, her legs were blue from varicose veins, and she could barely hear thunder, but I really cannot remember her ever complaining about anything. She was so content in her life that people found themselves envying her. Her success was never financial but instead in the love she shared with everyone.

If you met her once, she knew you for life.

If you supplied her with a service for any length of time, your whole family became part of hers.

If you married into the family, you would always have a place at her table.

Your birthday was as important to her as hers was. She never missed a birthday and as long as her money allowed, there was always something in your birthday card. She completely ruined birthday cards for me because I always open them expecting to find some money. I love to include a $1 in birthday cards whenever I remember.

Grandmother also had a tradition of starting all the granddaughters a hope chest. The cardboard box was filled with a matching set of jelly jar glasses, a couple of cuptowels, and other must haves for the kitchen. When my sister and I chose college rather than marriage out of high school, I think she was convinced all hope was lost that we would ever use our hope chests. OK, so mine did end up being a hopeless chest after all.

The other favorite place for grandmother, after the porch, was her kitchen. You never had to worry about having something that was half cooked, as she had a habit of cooking the fire out of everything she fixed, including her coffee. I think the coffee pot was always full and at a full boil at all times. She enjoyed drinking her cup of coffee by pouring it into her saucer to cool it off and sipping it from there.

So while it is Christmas time, I have to write about her birthday parties first.

I think the parties grew the year she turned 80 but it could have been earlier than that. It was somewhere around that time that she made the newspaper for taking a motorcycle ride at her birthday celebration.

Christmas was more about the inner family, but her birthday was wide open to all the relatives, friends, adopted families, and everyone else that wanted to wish her well, which included some rather colorful characters.

The celebration was in the front yard and all the tables in the house and any extras were laden with more food than could be consumed in a week, even with the huge crowd that would show up. One year a very distant cousin came on down after all the bars in Dallas had closed. The pounding at the door was way too early but my sweet mother and Auntie Dora got up and let the cousin in. The two of them never turned anyone away and even though it was incredibly early they were the ultimate hosts starting that pot of coffee to try to rouse the rest of the crowd. We managed to ignore it but their kindness was repaid with enough tall tales from cousin to last the rest of us with stories even today. There was also the year the cousin who worked at La Bare showed up with his buddies but it didn't matter who you were or what you did, Grandmother loved us all and the fact that you would come to wish her a happy birthday was all she needed.

When I had brain surgery all those years ago, Grandmother was not able to be there, but as soon as she could she had to see me and see that I was all right. She had my senior class picture hanging on her wall and she would stand there and tell me, with tears in her eyes, "you don't know how many times I looked at that picture of you hanging on the wall." For the rest of her life she would say this to me and I knew that even though she was not physically in the waiting room, she was with me in spirit through all I went through.

OK I have written too late again and will have to postpone telling about Christmas another night.

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