Life is all a matter of relativity. As a young widow with three children I thought I had at times a very hard life. But recently certain events within my family brought me to think about the two generations that came before me and my grandmother and grandfather who lived on a farm in Ohio. If I really want to be honest, comparatively, my life, even in the worst of times, was a piece of cake. And I am ashamed to think I might have had a hard row-ever.
Enduring several miscarriages, my grandparents wound up with 10 living children to take care of. So, basically, in those days, my grandmother had the care of 10 children while Grandpa did ‘manly- head-of-household’ duties.
She and my grandfather lived on a farm and not only did she make all of their clothes, she cooked for all the family and farmhands, and on top of that made fresh bread daily. I still remember the flour sticking to her broad-knuckled hands as she wiped them on her apron, cleaning them between each kneading.
She did the seemingly endless farm and family wash by scrubbing on a washboard anchored on a big galvanized wash tub and then hung the laundry out on the line propped up by a pole in the middle to keep the weight of the wet wash from dragging the clothes to the ground. In the winter the clothes would freeze dry and the freezing temperatures made the sheets whiter than white, infusing the towels and clothing with the clean smell of God’s open country air. In the summer sheets would often be laid out on the green grass allowing nature’s bleach, the chlorophyll and sun, to take out any stains. Grandma knew how to make the tools of nature work for her.
Once the laundry was dry, folded in baskets and brought into the kitchen, Grandma would iron all of the family clothes and sheets with a heavy solid iron heated on the kitchen coal stove top that today I would be pressed to even lift once without complaining.
She planted the vegetable garden every year. I remember helping her hoe the straight rows between the beans, lettuce, and strawberries. I can still see her bending over with her stovepipe bonnet huffing and puffing going about her work. I loved helping her pick strawberries ( one for me, one for the basket) and wondered while I filled my basket how she could gather pea and bean pods by folding up the corners of her long apron to make a sack for the pods.
But, I think, looking back, the best part of the day was when Grandma would let me tag along to the chicken coop in the morning to gather eggs. She taught me how to gently remove the eggs from the nests. I still remember how warm they felt as I caressed them in my hands before placing them in her basket. Sometimes I couldn’t resist putting the warm eggs against my cheeks so that I could feel their warmth on those chilly farm mornings.
“Here chick, chick, chick, chick, chick, chick, chick, chick.”
I can hear her soft voice calling her chickens as she lovingly allowed her grandchild to awkwardly throw handfuls of feed on the ground and sharing my excitement at watching the chickens run and peck, peck, peck, gobbling up their day’s nutrition.
The last memories I have of her and me together, my sweet grandma, is my sitting by her bedside after school and reading her the jokes from my Weekly Reader. Her gray curly hair pulled back in a pompadour style bun, her head resting on her pillow, she would quietly laugh as though she really liked the comfort I was trying to give her. Even in what would be her last days, Grandma was still working for her family. Giving me her last ounces of love.
My grandmother and those wives and mothers of her generation are the epitome of the adage of what they say, ” From sun to sun, a woman’s work is never done.”
Love you Grandma. I haven’t worked nearly as hard as you, or been loved as deeply as you, but, all things considered, life has been good to me and your other grandchildren. I think you would be happy to know that.
Copyright Sandra Hart 2014. All rights reserved.