I was born outside of my era. Everyone tells me this, and I know what they mean. I do things the way my Great-Grandmother Myrtle did way back in the 50’s. I even like wearing skirts, shirt-dresses, and (gasp) full aprons. My aprons are also not pristine, but stained and threadbare (some of the everyday ones, anyway).
I was blessed to be allowed to stay behind in West Virginia for a month after our annual June family reunion. The rest of the family traveled back to Pennsylvania, but I begged for a chance to stay. My time with “Maw Maw” was GOLD, and I needed to have her all to myself, not share her with my 9 other cousins, my brother, and my sister. Maw Maw raised my mother’s sister, while my mother was raised by Maw Maw’s only daughter a block away down the street in Paw Paw, West Virginia. They were “taken” from their parents (willingly) due to some stresses and family issues, and grew up a block away from each other from age 3 and 4 to age 10 and 11. At that time, my mother returned to her parents home (my grandparents), who had since that time had another son and daughter. My Aunt was left to live with my Maw Maw, but the reasons for that remain unknown to me.
Happily, my Aunt preferred it that way, and I understand why. Maw Maw was just one of “those” people… simple, loving, caring, and giving. She did not have tons of money. She lived very modestly in a 2 bedroom tar paper shack. But what was amazing about my great grandmother was that she was a magnet… a positive force that pulled people in and motivated them to want to be better. Maw Maw and I awoke at 5 am, starting the day’s chores, but by 10am, there were “visitors.” These were people who dropped in; needing a hug, a pat on the back, a kind word. They would start coming into the kitchen mid morning, and the stream of guests would continue until dusk.
The mailman, the neighbor, the church member, and the young man in town from college on a break… these were all some of her random guests, and many others. One could count on that. It took me a while to figure out that the reason we had to make 3 fruit pies so early every morning, and coffee in the pot and the carafe was because Maw Maw would serve them to her “visitors.” Her kitchen was the largest room in the house, and she had one of those ringer washers in the corner, and a black cast iron stove in the other. Her house always smelled of almond and cherries. Her laundry detergent had the delightful aroma of almonds. Her pies were frequently filled with cherries from the tree outside, or from her cold cellar glass canned jars.
I met a plethora of colorful people in that kitchen, for it was there that the guests would sit in ladder backed chairs at her small table and share a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. (She always saved the 3rd pie to serve to Papa, my great grandfather, and as the day went on, the slices got thinner and thinner). I have a few vague memories of meeting a professional baseball player from Baltimore, a famous evangelist, and a very rich business man at that tiny table. All of them sat with their expensive shoes under that drop leafed wooden piece that had dents and cuts and peeling paint all over the top.
I remember the ache in my heart when I would return home to Pennsylvania as a young girl, after spending so many days hanging laundry in the sun, making pies, and harvesting strawberries from the “Door Yard.” I loved my parents, and my siblings, but the time at Maw Maws was treasured. No one could hold a candle to her. If I close my eyes, I can still hear her lovely laugh, see her wrinkled, battered folded hands, hear her singing “the Old Rugged Cross” while hanging fresh sheets on the line. And so, of course I want to be like her… now and always, even as a teenaged girl, I strove to be like her (to the horror of my little sister, who called me a “prude.”
Her humor, tenderness, wisdom and compassion go with me always on my journey. I dream of the day when my own grand daughter will be in my home, sharing the laughs, the laundry, and the visitors. She has taught me how to be a 1950’s woman, and that is good enough for me!