Monday, September 1, 2008


We loved going to our dad's parents house. Usually we would go two-by-two for a week each summer. Grandma was a wonderful cook--homemade soft rolls, chocolate cream pie... everything she made was so good. And, she had a cookie jar. She made sun tea and Koolaid. She planned ahead and tried to dazzle us.

We would play pinochle at night on the back screened porch, and sometimes in the backyard if grandpa had sprayed for mosquitoes and it was too hot inside. We weren't allowed to play cards at home. Mom would dig out and discard all the playing cards grandma would send home with us.

Grandpa worked as a foreman at a seed company. That's a place that gathers, cleans, bags, and stores seed corn and soybeans and other stuff. There were warehouses with cotton bags stacked as high as a house and higher. They had conveyor belts and after hours grandpa would send us up the conveyor and back down again. When we were brave enough he wouldn't stop the belt and we would drop onto the bags. Then we would run, jump, hide and let our imaginations run wild. We would whoop and laugh until grandpa had enough. Then he would put nickels into the Coca Cola ice chest and and treat us each to a cold one.

Our days with grandma were simple and unique. We would walk into town--two or three short blocks--pick up the mail at the post office and visit Meacums Market for a few provisions. Sometimes grandma would drop an article off at the Bowen Chronicle. Something gossipy or about the Methodist church ladies, or just a blurb that announced that Oren and Dessie had out-of-town guests visiting. If she was in the mood to visit a friend, she would let us wander into the Dry Goods Store. They had the neatest stuff. Chinese finger pulls, clickers, paddle balls, and the best--bean shooters for those spare beans we had stuffed into our pockets at the seedhouse. No one ever lost an eye, but we were warned, repeatedly... I don't think grandpa and grandma worried about it, but every other adult felt the need to admonish.

Grandpa came home for lunch most days and grandma did a full meal. Some days we packed a lunch and hiked out to the Y for a picnic. Not the YMCA or the YWCA. The Y was a place were the 2-lane highway divided forming a Y shape. Kind of like a rest stop with a picnic table. My sisters and I tried to take a picnic to the Y last summer, but the highway has been "improved," and there is no Y. We found a picnic table next to the Methodist Church.

Afternoons we laid around and read our Augusta Public Library books and eavesdropped on grandma's telephone calls. They had a wooden crank phone and a party line. There were ears burning in Bowen as grandma and her friends never let anything slide by. I remember one day NC and I must have been particularly obnoxious because grandma sent us outside and locked the door so that we couldn't get in. Eventually she came to the door all combed and polished with fresh lipstick and a suggestion of something fun we could do.

Sometimes we walked along the railroad tracks and worried about trains. Grandma must have known train service was scarce. We climbed the fire escape at the old high school and talked many time about climbing the water tower that shadowed the backyard.

Sometimes there was a county fair and we would ride the Ferris wheel. Grandma was terrified, but we could usually talk her into it. Grandpa ran the concession stand at the local baseball field and was usually good for at least one treat per game.

One time we got to ride a hay wagon and help with the harvest. If they could find someone with a horse, we got to ride. Grandma loved cemeteries so many weekends we drifted from town to town and read the funny epitaphs. The Eastman's were from southwest-central Illinois. Grandpa drove us by their mansion. They were the original Eastman Kodak people.

Grandma would take us visiting. It was boring, but she liked to show us off. Marion and Isol lived next door and Isol's sister Viola lived in the most falling down unpainted house I had ever seen. I don't know whether she was poor or just complacent. They were from Scandinavia. I don't remember their stories. Marion died when I was quite small. He is just a shadow in my memory

Isol's house was even tinier than grandpa and grandma's. She had a voracious weeping willow that bordered grandma's front yard. Grandma hated that tree. She would sneak around and trim its branches when she knew Isol was away.

Grandpa built the first treehouse in an apple tree in the side yard when JA and GJ were about 8 and 9. AJ, a boy cousin, was visiting from Missouri or Arizona. It was a wooden box with no lid. Just big enough for three small children. Later he took a reclaimed wooden door and fit it across an almost horizontal branch on the apple tree. We spent hours and days in those treehouses. I don't remember sleeping out there. Still later grandpa built a playhouse with small salesmen's samples for windows and a Dutch door. He used it for storage in the winter, but it was ours the rest of the time.

There was always a bag or tire swing, and later grandpa made several platform swings. We rode on the trike years later than was age appropriate. There was a scooter and a wagon and we burned up the one long sidewalk.

I just barely remember having to go out to the barn for the toilet facilities. I hated outhouses. I was still very young when they added an indoor bathroom. The barn became the two-story garage. Grandpa worked on and displayed his vast butterfly collection in the loft. And, after grandma's sudden death in 1971, he hooked a hose up to his car and killed himself in that garage.

We were shocked, yet not surprised. He couldn't live without her. My parents had brought him along when they visited my Navy officer husband and I in Norfolk earlier that summer. There was a palatable cloud of black grief that hung over grandpa. His usual dry wit and quick sense of humor had completely evaporated. He wasn't my grandpa.

They buried him before they even called me in Virginia to tell me he died. He waited until his Social Security check came, cashed it, and left the money on his dresser in their bedroom. It was a very hot August and he had been dead for a couple of days. The mortician gave dad a cleaner and he scrubbed down the garage floor trying to eradicate the smell of death.

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