My grandmother had the brightest wash the neighbors all would say,when she hung her sheets on a wire line in the breeze of a summers day.
From the edge of town they looked to me as they flapped and snapped at the fold, like Ottoman Corsairs cruising the seas in search of Christian gold.
I had an imagination that was fed by the books I read, at the end of the day when the house was dark, with a flashlight in my bed.
Hidden under the same sheets that impressed the neighbors so, I had hundreds of friends and adventures, and places I could go.
I traveled with Buck in the Yukon, mushing through the snow, and Hawkeye, Chingachgook and Uncas were friends I got to know.
I got chills when I read Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. That led me to Shakespeare, “By the pricking of my thumbs”.
That was pretty tough going for a kid not in his teens, and I was in India with Mowgli and the “Man Who Would Be King”.
I confess that some books could bring me to eye stinging, heartfelt tears, and others brought to my childish mind, dark and sinister fears. Sometimes after reading some gothic terror tale, grandma’s banging of pots before daylight was music to my ears.
And as I listened to her preparing to take care of her family’s need, I thought of the difference between she and I; she never had time to read.
The eggs we had for breakfast were from chickens in the coop and the water for the glorious laundry was rainfall off the roof.
Water for drinking was hauled each week from a well some miles away, and there was in her house no convenience that we take for granted each day.
There was no flushing toilet which we cannot imagine today. The out house was just outside the barn about 50 yards away, and going out there in blizzard or when it was forty below meant accommodation in the house that folks today can’t know.
It wasn’t just water that had to be hauled but others things as well, and the necessities of life back then for us would be like a living hell. My grandmother took care of all those things simply because of need, and the difference between she and I was she never had time to read.
My grandfather became an invalid as a relatively young man, and I wondered if she was bitter, or angry at God’s plan. Her life was spent in caring for a man who could hardly move, and I wondered if that caring could dampen down her love.
I can’t say if she was happy and I can’t say that she was sad, she just took things as they came whether they were good, or they were bad.
I believe her only relaxation was playing Whist or Hearts or Parcheesi. The only time I saw her sit and not move was on Sunday’s for an hour. Lawrence Welk was on TV.
She had some interesting ideas that I would never contradict; rubbing your finger nails together would help your hair to grow and smelling Tiger Lilies would make you very sick.
She was terrified by mice. Snakes would make her quake. During lightening storms she would pace the house like a watch man at the gates.
She taught me the Lord’s Prayer in German and then in English too. She was adamant about not lying and that every word be true.
“A penny is a penny” she would say, and you better wipe your feet. When she called you in for dinner you better be washed and ready to eat.
In my memory I see her standing with a bread pan full of dough and she pounded it and kneaded it until it was just so. Then she set it aside and we’d watch it rise until she baked it in a wood burning stove.
When she died I took that bread pan as a memory of her skill. I can’t set it on a table because the bottom has been pounded out of shape, and I can’t bake bread anyway but I keep it still.
Every time I see that pan I remember the work, the pounding of the dough that she would knead, and I would think of the difference between she and I; she never had time to read.
Warm buttered buns right out of the oven dipped in a cup of strong coffee, is a gourmet treat I would have never known, unless she took the time to teach me.
She was the mother of my mother and of three other daughters as well. She taught them how to cook and clean and bake and even sew. She lost another child in labor and saw things we’ll never know.
Her claim to fame was the laundry and the table that she served, and the time she spent in a huge garden with vime and vigor and verve.
That garden was the center of her life the whole year through. Fresh vegetables in the summer and canning in the fall, retrieval of the produce from a cellar in winter and she managed and planned it all.
Her children all had children and those children had children too. The young ones probably never wonder about a grandma they never knew. If I had a chance to teach them the things I think they need, I would tell them their life was made possible by her, and she never had time to read.