Family history weights heavy on today’s garden
by Ronella Stager, Columnist
Jul 13, 2011 | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Readers of this column often tell me that they always enjoyed reading about my dear grandmother, Ma, and our grandfather, Pa, but especially they liked to read about Ma.

My sister and I were both very, very close to her and dearly loved to go to that old house on their small farm in the country. Ma lived a simple life doing the things that all farm women did at that time. Her house was not pretentious and, though the rooms were large, there weren’t many rooms. But oh, what a pleasant place, always immaculate and always smelled so good. Ma loved order in everything, including every part of the house, her chicken houses and her gardens. I loved to go through the many drawers of her linens, her handkerchief collection, her quilt pieces, etc. and it was entertainment on rainy days. The only stipulation was that I should put it all back as I had found it. My sister and I were nine years apart so were not at Ma’s at the same time. But we share impressions and agree on Ma’s great influence which would make Ma smile if she knew that.

The old wide plank floors had to be swept each morning, the beds made, everything in its place before her day started. Her kitchen was a treasure trove to me. Coffee beans had to be ground the night before on an old hand grinder attached to the wall and I loved doing that. At five years old, I could measure the right amount of coffee beans. Her stove was a very old wood stove, small but oh, the things she could cook on that stove. She made many different kinds of wonderful cakes and pies, knowing just how hot the stove had to be and without a thermometer. Everything at her house tasted much better than at home.

It is hard to capture on paper the essence of our wonderful Ma but she was a pretty old woman and had been a pretty girl. She wore her hair in a bun on her neck. She was as immaculate as was her house. Each day, she changed her dress to a freshly starched and ironed dress and when she could, she quilted or shelled peas or snapped beans and spent as much time in the old porch swing as she could to catch the breezes coming off the neighboring hill. I remember that she always smelled of lemon soap which she bought from the “Raleigh man” who came once a month.

Ma loved beauty in all forms, from her many flowers, her beautiful quilts, and the sprays of peach blossoms or, in winter, the berry branches she called “buck berries”. She made crepe paper flowers for her table. She didn’t have wall paper in her kitchen so she pasted pages from a wall paper book to her kitchen wall and my sisters and I each had our favorite page of flowers. I have never seen or heard of anyone else who did that. She had no kitchen cabinets so she put shelves on the wall on each side of a window and covered the shelves with muslin curtains. She made the shelves herself and by herself.

She sewed all her clothes and was a wonderful seamstress. She even made all Pa’s underwear and some of his pants. Even though there was never much money, she always ordered a new dress and hat, and sometimes shoes, from the Sears catalog. She always had a few old hens and eggs to sell to the “huckster” who came by weekly. That was her spending money. Pa grew wheat for their flour and some to sell to the miller. He also took corn to the miller to be ground into meal for them and some to sell. He raised tobacco as a cash crop and corn for the animals and some to sell.

We didn’t know they were poor because they lived so graciously and had such a bounty of food from their industriousness. Pa could make brooms from broom sage he grew, molasses from the cane he grew and he could resole shoes, cane chairs, and so many other things.

They had a big orchard, a plum thicket, blackberry bushes, a cherry tree and a damson tree. He gathered walnuts, hickory nuts, hazel nuts and grew popcorn and peanuts. Ma canned, dried and preserved everything. The old cellar bulged with all her filled jars until I found a big copperhead lying beside the jars. Then it all went to the attic with Pa and me trotting in and out till it was all in the attic along with sweet potatoes and peanuts hanging from the rafters. In the attic were trunks from dead relatives, a violin, guitar, a bass violin and a uniform from the Spanish American War. What a wondrous place to prowl through.

They bought very few things from the nearest grocery store about four miles away. They had lard from the hogs Pa slaughtered, chickens, a few turkeys and some ducks. There was always hams, bacon and shoulders in the smoke house. Not all poor people lived as well and as graciously as they did so we didn’t know they were poor.

But the most wonderful thing about our Ma was her love for us. She was free with her hugs and lots of kisses and never, never fussed about anything we did. She encouraged us, praised us and loved us unconditionally. That was our wonderful Ma.

Please call with questions or suggestions at 270-522-3632. Thank you so much for your encouragement.
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