Friday, June 3, 2011

Taste a little of the summer

Some years back, Greg Brown wrote and recorded a wonderful, folksy song called, Taste A Little of the Summer.  I really love the lyrics, which go partially like this: 
When I go see Grandma, I gain a lot of weight,
With her dear hands, she gives me plate after plate.
She got magic in her, you know what I mean,
She puts the sun and the rain in with the beans.
She cans the pickles, sweet and dill,
And the songs of the whippoorwill,
And the morning dew and the evening moon,
I really got to go and see her soon.

Cuz the canned foods I buy at the store,
Ain't got the summer in 'em anymore.
You bet Grandma, as sure as you're born,
I'll take some more potatoes and a thunderstorm.

Peaches on the shelf, potatoes in the bin,
Supper's ready, everybody come on in,
Taste a little of the summer.
Grandma put it all in jars.
Grandma had a large vegetable garden on the farm. Though she likely never heard the phrase organic gardening, she used only manure to make her soil rich and fertile.

I'd go out to the garden with her to pick green beans for dinner, listening to the plink-plunk sound of them as they hit the bottom of the aluminum kettle, and then quieting as the kettle was filled to the brim. We'd carry the beans into the kitchen, after cleaning our muddy shoes on the boot scraper kept by the back door.

From Grandma's garden, I learned that potatoes grew under soft mounds in the ground and you had to dig them up. In the city, Mom just bought them at the store.

Grandma preserved all her own fruit, vegetables and pickles in Mason jars. They were stored in the fruit cellar (they said cellar; we said basement), all lined up in an orderly fashion, like treasures, on wooden shelves. Cases of pop were kept in the fruit cellar as well, so you could always open a cool bottle.

She'd open up a jar of peaches at mealtime, put them in a large bowl, and serve them with a “sauce spoon.” A sauce spoon was larger than a tablespoon and more rounded. I would love to have a sauce spoon like Grandma had.

Her dishes were Fiesta ware. Now they’ve made a comeback and you can buy reproductions quite cheaply. Grandma had the economics of this beat, however, as hers were free. Premiums in boxes of detergent.

Grandma made a chicken dinner for fifteen look effortless. Here is her recipe.

The recipe looks pretty simple, I know. 

But, first, Grandma had to find the chicken running in the yard (I think they knew what was coming), catch it, use her little axe to wack off its head, and then before she could prepare it for baking, pluck its feathers and clean it. Until then, the poor hen just ran around in circles with no head.

Grandma made her own bread, kept in a blue speckled canner on the kitchen counter. She made raised doughnuts, and the best homemade butter you can even imagine. Remembering the creamy saltiness of it makes my mouth water.

For the dog, Butchy, she made Johnie-cake out of cornmeal. Cut in large squares, covered with leftover gravy, if there was any, she'd bring it outside where Butchy would be salivating from the aroma coming from the kitchen. The oven was heated by burning corncobs.

I only saw my Grandma cry once.

Uncle Marvin had enlisted in the Marine Corp. and went off to his tour of duty. We were there one summer when he was home on leave. But the time had come for him to return to Camp Pendleton. As he left the farm and drove down the long dusty driveway, Grandma stood by the road watching him go, wiping her tears with her apron.

~ A mother’s love. ~

And she stood again by the road as our summer vacation came to an end and it was time for us to leave the farm. We watched from the back car window and could see her waving until we were down the road, around the corner and well out of sight.

~ A grandmother's love. ~

My grandparents,
Charles and
Christina Steffen
When I look back on those summer days visiting Grandma and Grandpa on the farm, I realize just how rich those experiences were. We couldn't know then the valuable lessons we were learning.

My dear grandparents were the most loving people I've ever known.  Full of faith, character, integrity and conviction.

.... And at night, when the house was very quiet, Grandma could be heard softly reading the day’s devotion from Portals of Prayer to Grandpa before they turned out the light and retired for the night.