The Farm, Part III

Everyone enters the house via the mudroom.  I don’t think anyone ever uses the front door.  From the mudroom you can go up or down.  First we’ll go up the stairs.

Don’t think that we didn’t slide down those stairs in our PJs a million times.  And, flower print, how many times did I stand on the stairs and wonder how they were able to hang you way up there (it’s called a ladder, dingdong)?  The wallpaper, the beads, the vase, the fallen petals–I have memorized every detail of that picture.

The blue room.  I don’t know why, but it is my favorite room to sleep in of the two guest rooms.  There have been lots of sleepovers with friends and my sister here, staying up way too late giggling–and keeping the g’parents awake.  If we didn’t wake up to the smell of biscuits baking or potatoes frying, then PaPaw had two methods of rousing lazy teenagers.  1) Creeping silently into the room only to crash pots and pans together over our heads.  Or, 2)  Smother our sleepy faces with kisses.  Can’t a girl get a little sleep?  We were up so late watching Love Connection!  So we would reluctantly get up and make our way down to give a hearty “hot breath” good morning to PaPaw, “Gooooood moooornnnning, PaPAHHHHW!”  Right in his face.  We were disgusting, and I promise that I am much more refined now than that kind of boorish behavior.  But that probably explains the pots and pans.

Dear readers, the blue room is also home to a velvet painting–a painting on velvet.  Velvet Horse, I’ve studied you through the years wondering about your moonlit midnight wanderings, hoof-deep in the quiet waters of a rivoletto.  Where have you been?  Where are you going?  Your bare back beckons me…  Shunning Jesus and Elvis for the more sophisticated nocturnal horse, my grandfather’s aunt painted this longtime fixture of the blue room.  I love it!

The pink room.  My daughter’s absolute favorite room!  I’d forgotten that the bed no longer had its canopy and really talked it up to my little princess–so imagine her disappointment upon our arrival to see that it was no longer there (and apparently hasn’t been there for a long time, nonobservant me).

This dresser and hutch used to be in my girlhood room.  It used to seem so towering to me…until I grew taller than it at age 3.  Freak.

The boys slept on pallets on the floor in the pink room–on very familiar colors and patterns.

The clock in the pink room always ticked very loudly.  I used to hide it somewhere in the bed when my friend Cheryl would stay over–because it is super fun to drive her crazy.

The pink bathroom–my NanNaw all the way!  Feminine and every detail thought out.  Pink, pink, pink.

I’ve fixed perms with AquaNet in here, unrolled spongerollers to have the perfect coif to complement my Gunne Sax dresses for church.  I’ve rolled and flat-ironed short and long hair here.  I dressed for my grandfather’s funeral here.

I’ve always loved those crystal cabinet knobs.  And, turns out, I’m not the only one who loves the pink bathroom.  When our family of 30+ people gather for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is always occupied–the perfect outta-the-way privacy potty.

Now let’s head downstairs to the basement–kind of a rarity in Texas homes.  My grandparents hosted church here every weekend for years until they could raise money to build a church (which my grandfather built, too–sorry, can’t help but boast).  There have been parties and church socials here, and this is the place where all of us children, grandchildren and great grandchildren gather for holiday meals.  A piece of drywall covers the billiards table for the buffet, the kitchen peninsula holds the desserts, there is another table for drinks, a kids’ table, and one loooong table for the adults.

I think the original plan was to cover the walls in paint or drywall–but don’t we all have those projects we keep meaning to do?  To me those bare cement walls are normal.  Although, as a girl, I used to steal away to the basement on hot summer afternoons with my grandmother’s latest Spiegel catalog.  I’d flip through the home goods section and decorate the basement as my apartment–I loved doing this!  Every visit I would ask if the new Spiegel catalog had arrived yet.

The basement is equipped with another full kitchen.  There has always been some serious cooking going on in this house so it was needed.  PaPaw usually had the ice cream freezer going on down here…chocolate, if you were wondering.  (Oh, and the fridge in this kitchen is where you could find the cold Dr. Peppers.)

Can’t tell you how much I love this sofa.  I think NanNaw said at one time it was originally white vinyl.  Slick.  When we had a full house, we would push those two facing each other and make a big bed for me and my sister.  One thing about sleeping in the basement:  you better be an early riser because you will wake up when you hear the creaky footsteps of the early rising person upstairs.  Creak.  Creak.  Flush. Creak.  The sounds of the basement.

And while NanNaw and PaPaw have always been the absolute heart of the farm, the animals there only sweetened the deal.  Chow and Teddy, the dogs; Roscoe, Bandit, and Buffy, the cats; Pretty Girl, Snowball, and many other goats; and my dear, dear Jake the donkey.

There is a such thing as donkey love.  They are so sweet–though he was playing a bit coy with me this last time.  He has squired many burritos with Sweetie and Rachel (his daughter with Sweetie, ew).  These days he and Sweetie are separated because NanNaw doesn’t need any more donkeys–but the way they met was so romantic. So, because you haven’t read enough here today, here is the story of how Jake and Sweetie met, circa TPH 2008:

I never knew what wonderful pets donkeys could be until my grandfather gave my grandmother one, Jake, for their anniversary many years ago. Romantic, no? Sure beats a dozen roses any day.

Jake is a teenager–maybe even close to twenty years old now. He lived amongst the goats until one year my sister thought he needed a mate, and so we all pitched in and bought Jake and my grandparents a gal donkey for Christmas–a foray into the animal kingdom I shan’t forget.

The jenny arrived at my grandparents’ house while all the extended family kept NanNaw and PaPaw occupied in their basement. We tied the shy donkette to a tree until we could reveal her after Christmas lunch. It was about that time that a gust blew in and downwind to Jake’s pen. The first molecule of the jenny’s scent landed in Jake’s nostril. Bam!  His head bolted up from feeding. He pressed is flared nose headlong into the wind and sniffed feverishly. Desperate brays followed. And then the sweat broke out.

It wasn’t long before Jake’s whole body was drenched–as if he had been caught in a downpour. He frantically looked for a way out of the fence. Attempts to escape left him scratched and tangled in the barbwire. There was no denying the look in his eyes as his gaze locked onto the jenny, “That..ass…is…mine.”

What were we thinking when we finally put the defenseless donkette in the pen with Jake? I don’t know because what followed was nothing short of animal rape. Seriously. My family and I stood there with mouths agape and eyes wide as Jake rode her like the Pony Express. He mistook her “nice to meet you” for “I like it rough,” and he bit her ear until it split and bled. Dangerously my uncles and PaPaw rushed to her rescue while the womenfolk desperately tried to shield the innocent eyes of the minors.

But to make a long story short, Jake and the jenny named Sweetie have settled into the comfortable routine of monogamy. No more sweaty tumbles. No more ear biting. In fact, things might be considered kind of humdrum. Sweetie coyly whispered to me recently that she ordered a sexy nurse costume just to spice things up a bit.

Meanwhile I found out that Jake isn’t so faithful to Sweetie as I thought. Turns out my PaPaw loans him out to any and every two-bit hussy in a 15-mile radius. Just a week ago as I drove my grandmother to church, she pointed to a donkey in a neighbor’s field, “That is Molly–one of Jake and Sweetie’s babies. Dan is trying to breed her; but when we leave Jake up here for months, it never takes.”

“Hmm. Well, NanNaw, you think that just maybe she doesn’t want to have sex with her father?”

My grandmother chuckled and said, “Well, maybe so.”

“Is that even genetically okay to do? ‘Cause I’ve lived in the mountains before.”

But, yes, Jake and Sweetie have lots of children now. The youngest is just two months old and a sweet fluff of donkey love–a burrito supreme.

Thank you so, so much for indulging me this week as I showed you around the farm.  So many memories…waterskiing, sliding down the pond dam in cardboard boxes, riding a tarp tied to the truck while my PaPaw drove all us around the yard (if that ain’t hillbilly, I don’t know what is!), running errands with my grandparents, eating nachos on Saturday night, listening to such great stories, pouring through old photographs, listening to the night sounds and chirps of the country…I could truly go on and on.   NanNaw and PaPaw, what a gift you have given to me and all of your children.  I love you eternally.

Me, in a sweater I found in an upstairs closet, and sweet NanNaw–take her advice, girls, “If the shoe fits…buy it in every color.”

The Farm, Part II

It used to be that corn, potatoes, squash, okra, cantaloupe, watermelon, and peas grew in this field.  Mmm, my favorite meal at the farm is the Vegetable Meal.  Fried okra, fried potatoes, fresh onion-tomato-and-jalapeno slices, pinto beans or black-eye peas, corn bread, and a big bowl of cantaloupe slices–it’s what I always request when I come to visit.

And here it is:  the kitchen, the kitchen, the kitchen.  The.  Kitchen.

My grandfather built this house with his two hands.  He told me when we last ate together in this kitchen that he had always wanted to do all the electrical in his house one day–and this was his chance.  He also did all the plumbing and built the kitchen cabinets with his son.  Only the appliances and floor have been replaced in the last 31 years.

NanNaw is always up before you putting the coffee on, starting biscuits and gravy, or setting out the cutting board for toast from her homemade whole wheat bread.  Good memories are smelling the bread cooking and then seeing pans of rolls cooling on the table.  Sometimes NanNaw gave me the job of taking the stick of butter and swirling it atop the rolls still hot from the oven.

I can see PaPaw sitting there with his signature dining style.  He sat closest to the refrigerator so he was always willing to grab something for you if you needed it.  Sometimes I’d catch him sitting at the table by himself, enjoying a snack:  a glass, cornbread, and the milk jug.  It was rare for him to go a day without his cornbread.  In fact, when he and NanNaw were teenagers and just friends (she didn’t go by “NanNaw” back then, ha), she hitched a ride with PaPaw’s father to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to get a permanent.  She bragged how she had made biscuits that morning for her parents and siblings.  PaPaw’s father replied, “Well, Johnny doesn’t like biscuits, he likes cornbread.”  Or something like that.  I know NanNaw will correct me if I’m wrong.  Anyway, PaPaw’s father must have known they were meant to be together.  And, later, for years and years NanNaw would make a dozen cornbread muffins every single morning just for my grandfather:  six for breakfast and six for lunch at work.  Every morning for years.  And she had five kids to feed, too.  But she also didn’t have blogs to read either.  Joke.

Now she has grown vegan grandkids and great grandkids coming to visit begging her to please have one of her chocolate cream pies ready upon our arrival.  It was a hard decision amongst us to have the chocolate or the coconut, but “could you please make us the chocolate pie?”  And we arrive and she has both.  I swear I saw a glint of evil satisfaction in NanNaw’s eyes when my five  year old daughter said, “I’m vegan!” as she was shoveling a heaping spoonful of whipped cream in her mouth.  There were good, sweet memories with every bite; and I’m so thankful that my children can experience the comforting flavors of my own childhood.

My husband begs me to learn how to make pinto beans like my grandmother.  Like I haven’t tried!  I asked her this last time, once again, “Okay, is it just oil and salt?  And you just let them lightly boil?”  How can I not get this?  Those hands of hers are so soft, strong, and always, always, beautifully manicured by herself.  Oh, and they give amazing back scratches, too–almost as good as my mommy’s.

All the weekends and summer weeks here, the sitting and the chatting, the eating, and if you could say something to really tickle my grandfather, there was nothing better than watching him have a good laugh.  I miss that so, so much.

And, I have logged some serious hours in those orange chairs playing Skip-Bo, Phase 10, Uno, and Spinner–or whatever the Saturday night game was.  It’s always more fun when NanNaw’s younger sister Aunt Dorothy is in town.  She can outplay you any day of the week.  “Ooo!”  I can just hear her say it.  Two years ago it happened that my oldest son and I were there the same time as Aunt Dorothy–five year old against 70-something year old in Skip-Bo.  It was a spirited game with Aunt Dorothy’s climactic misplay of her 6, which my son still talks about to this day.

In the mudroom is a phone, but not just any landline.  This phone used to hang in my grandfather’s childhood home–a long, long, short kind of party line deal.  Thing is AT&T or Bell didn’t hook this thing up back in the late 30s, early 40s.  This kid did.

A boy of 13 years, my grandfather strung up his small town with telephone wires and installed telephones in the homes.  But service didn’t come cheap–he charged all his customers 50 cents a month.

But the phone isn’t just a sentimental decoration.  It works!  It is connected to the phone out in PaPaw’s shop.  It was a good way for my grandparents to communicate to each other when he was out there working.

The laundry room is where I would hear the clank-clank of PaPaw’s Big Smith overalls flipping in the dryer–that is, until he started drying his overalls out in the shop to spare “Mama” the noise.  This is where we come to wash up after loving on the donkeys or before meals.  NanNaw’s bras always hung on the doorknob to dry–but I haven’t seen this in recent visits.  She must be getting modest with how she delicately cares for her lingerie.

I also gave PaPaw his last haircut in this room.  I’ve given him a lot of haircuts over the years–an unfussy super-short ‘do, since he was bald on top.  I remember kissing him on top of his head after I finished with the clippers that last time, not wanting it to be the way it was.  It had been an effort for him to walk down the hall to sit for his barbershop appointment–that same strong man who had waterskied well into his 70s.  He was so handsome.

My grandparents’ bathroom always fascinated me as a girl with its facing mirrors, infinity style.

Their bedroom is known as the peach room.  NanNaw has a separate closet just for her shoes–and for years she had magazine photos of Tom Selleck hanging in there.  Not sure whether those are still there or not!

NanNaw wanted for years a little sunroom off the back of the house.  Finally at her 80th birthday, PaPaw, along with their sons and grandsons, built the little sunroom she always wanted.

The living room was always after-hours central.  We would watch Love Connection together at night, or my sister and I would take turns rubbing their feet after a long day of serving up food and fun for us.  Before the family got too big to fit in here, we would have the Christmas gift exchange in the living room.  PaPaw liked to take well-deserved naps in his recliner here, as well.

He could play the best Mark-Twain-making-ruckus-in-San-Francisco-saloon piano music you ever did hear!  Every weekend he played the piano for church.  There is nothing like singing the gospels while thinking a saucy barmaid may sidle up at any moment.  He had a song for any and every occasion or thing a person said.  There was always a song…and always played by ear.

I’ve eaten in the dining room maybe twice or so.  Mainly it is where the homemade fudge and pralines and peanut patties are kept at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  If you are sneaky enough, no one will notice if you quietly slip in and lift the plastic wrap for just one piece of candy before it was officially served.  It won’t hurt anyone.

Thank you so much for your kind comments about this very personal place for me.  Thank you also for sharing your own special memories about your own grandparents.  Grandparents are wonderful treasures; and really while these series is about my own, it is a celebration about all of ours, those who have passed on and those who are thankfully still with us.  I hope you’ll come back for the final tour.

The Farm, Part I

Growing up I couldn’t understand how my friends could have grandparents who lived in the city.  I thought all grandparents lived on farms where the fun and adventure never ended.  My grandparents had been suburbanites but moved to this piece of Texas heaven when I was a tot–it’s all I remember as their home.  I could certainly brag all the live long day about the talents and special qualities of this man and woman, but I won’t…well, maybe just a little.  He:  kind of a genius–seriously–funny, and generous.  She:  a sharp wit, organized, and serious down-home cooking skills.  When my husband and I talk about the kind of people we strive to be in life, we mention two couples.  One couple, our friends Greg and Rachael; the other, my grandparents.  For both couples, their doors are always open to whomever is standing there, accepting, kind, generous.  That’s how it has always been at the farm.

The drive to the house is long.  I’ve been up and down it a lot on foot, but mostly I’ve traveled it straddling a Kawasaki or Honda dirt bike–or if someone else called dibs on the fast ‘cikles, as my grandfather called them, I puttered down the road on my grandmother’s pokey blue scooter.  PaPaw kept all the bikes oiled up, gassed up, and sparkplugged up for all us punks who wanted to Evil Kenevil it for the day.  And if that weren’t enough, he would plow trails for us through the tall grass or in the woods.  City gramps can’t do that.

Before my grandparents built their retirement home on the farm, they built a little two-room cabin.  The bedroom and bathroom are upstairs and the kitchen and living room are on the bottom.  There is only an outdoor staircase between the two.  I only have vague memories of their time living here.  After the main house was built, the cabin became a storage building and a place where the magic begins for my NanNaw’s bread.

My grandfather’s antique gristmill lives on the bottom floor now.  He used it to grind wheat berries and dried corn to make flour and cornmeal for my grandmother’s baking.  The deep freeze is here, too, where NanNaw stores all the bread she makes–these days about 9 loaves a week–for the family to take home when they visit.  I took 6 loaves (greedily) when I was there last week–but only because I don’t get my fix as often as the rest of the Texas family.  They understand, I hope.

I took this photo on my visit to say good-bye to my grandfather.  It had only been less than a month since I came for our last normal visit, but he had declined rapidly.  He was thin and most comfortable to stay and sleep in a recliner in the living room.  It makes me sad that this room looks ready for him to operate the gristmill with two chairs ready for a friendly chat with a neighbor.

Upstairs was like you left the farm and entered a pink Shangri-la.  PaPaw might have been a farmer and machinist by day, but NanNaw made sure he was swaddled in pink at night.  Most of the room is empty now, however vestiges of the pink remain.

Though now sun-bleached to a pale blush, the nightstands that flanked the bed were covered in pink faux fur!  How awesome is that?  Go, NanNaw!

Beyond the cabin is my grandfather’s shop.  I know the smell well inside.  This is where he fixed motorcycles, cars, trailers, boats, tractors, and made stuff out of metal.

He died in January, but the calendar shows the last time he was in his shop.

Metal shavings and curls–things I associate with special men in my life.

Thank you for indulging me.  I’ll take you in the main house next.  See you then.

A Ranch Original

In the rancher next door to the painted house lives Mrs. L.  She and Mr. L built the house in 1954, and she lives there still.  She is 90 years old and a good neighbor from another era.  She bakes cake for new neighbors and bakes for those of us on the street for Christmas. 

Mrs. L agreed to a morning on her back patio to let me ask questions about the 50+ years she has spent in her home.  When she and Mr. L moved in 56 years ago, theirs was the only house on the street.  They had moved from the other side of town from a traditional two-story home.  Mr. L gravitated to this contemporary, new style of ranch homes.  While Mrs. L preferred a more traditional look, she looked forward to one-level living with small children.  The new ranch was in “the country” and had no phone lines.  But they did enjoy milk delivery in the morning until about 1956 when service stopped.

With the new house came the need for new furniture.  Mrs. L picked out new living room and dining room furniture–all of which remains in her house unchanged to this day.  When I asked her what she thought about people today who want to change their furniture at each new trend or at the onset of boredom, she replied, “I’ve always been contented.  I’ve always liked it so why change it?”  Some things had to change, however, because they were old or “weatherworn and beaten,” like some beloved window treatments.  Over these, she lamented, “Lord, I loved those drapes.”

Most of the floors are covered in carpet, but, indeed, there are hardwood floors underneath.  According to Mrs. L, waxing and maintaining the wood floors was back-breaking work.  When everyone started putting down carpet in the late 50s, she decided she needed carpet, too.

There was always plenty of work to do around the house with 3 boys.  Mrs. L starched and ironed all the clothes, underwear, sheets, and pillowcases.  Dinners for the family were homemade–beans, pork chops, dressing, cobbler pies, hamburgers and steaks by the outdoor fire pit.  Sundays were special with one of her jello molds.  She calls herself “just an old country cook.”  She had to make her own chicken broth since it was not available in a can, and she had to buy a whole chicken fryer to cut up herself.

“We ladies today have it easy, don’t we?” I asked her.

She replied, “Oh, honey, Lordy, Lordy!”

Being a wife and mother is hard, she acknowledged, any time–but in a different way.  Women today have help from their husbands, she explained, and they can send their children to kindergarten-which wasn’t the norm when she was younger.  She praises her husband for working years and years daylight to dark to provide generously for his family, but he never diapered one of his boys.

“So he didn’t help out around the house?”

“No, ma’am!” Mrs. L said with a hearty laugh.

As her sons grew older, Mrs. L spent her time volunteering at their school and at the hospital.  She worked in a snack bar where she served homemade food.  Bridge was also a favorite pastime; although she oftentimes felt guilty for playing with cards, considered a sinful item by her father.  And she felt she should be more constructive with her time.

Mrs. L also enjoyed gardening and participating in the local Garden Club.  She has developed her own impressive boxwood garden in her backyard.  Consisting of over 150 boxwoods, the garden is the culmination of over 40 years of rooting the boxwoods from cuttings.  Every single boxwood started as a cutting in her side rooting garden until she could transfer it over to the formal garden.

The bathrooms still have the original tile that Mrs. L picked out in 1954.  Maroon, pink, and grey.  “I don’t know why–I hate grey,” she told me, reassuring me that we all have our decorating missteps.  When I told her that grey is so popular right now, she said, “Lord, here I was wanting to get rid of it!”

When her boys left home, she felt the loneliness of the empty nest.  She worked at a campsite where she “worked like a man.”  And, later, she sought employment in the hardware department of the local Sears.  Mrs. L was a regular customer there and another salesperson encouraged management, “You ought to hire this woman–she owns about every tool we sell.”  Hired!  And she worked for the Sears hardware department for 18 years and “enjoyed every minute of it.”  She continued, “I always got good reviews, and it’s because I worked hard.”

These days Mrs. L enjoys the company of lots of visitors to the house she has made home for 56 years.  She usually has a loaf of banana bread, corn bread, or one of her delicious pound cakes fresh from the oven.  Once I stopped by to give her some homemade cookies and I came back home with warm banana bread.  She is so generous and always has a smile.  I sometimes ask her, “Oh, are my kids too loud outside when they are playing?”  And she always responds, “I love it–it reminds me of the sounds of my boys playing when they were young.”

I loved getting the stamp of approval from Mrs. L when we did our exterior redo.  I had hoped that she wasn’t too attached to the way our house looked over the years.  Turns out, she never liked the color of the siding with the red brick on the side of the house.  She likes it much better now that it is all grey.  It has been so interesting also hearing about the way our house has evolved over the years.  She recounts all the previous owners and when and what renovations they did to the house.

Many thanks to Mrs. L for sharing her history and home with me and the readers here.  I wish I could serve up to each one of you a slice of her pound cake with this post–for just a taste of how sweet she is.