To Granny: A Love Story.
March 24, 2014
A VG Serial: Hills of Eden
I met Granny a few months after we moved to Arkansas. She was a pioneer and had lived in the Ozarks for over eight decades. Now, she is gone.
Granny had an insidious growth in her body that they call oat-cell cancer. I don’t know what this is, but it’s very tiny and very destructive. It was draining the light from her eyes, thinning her sinews, and spreading pain through her frail body.
The first time she held out her small hand and cracked a worn smile, I fell in love with her. She was right at home in her rocking chair on the front porch. There were no modern conveniences in her home. No electricity or running water, no telephone or television. And, she had the kind of home that was somewhere near you, near us all.
The house had not been painted in years. The boards were weathered to a silvery gray, and the hand-froed shingles had been patched with cedar over the years. Inside, she cooked over an old wood stove. There always seemed to be a few glowing coals in the firebox, the lingering smells of fresh-baked bread or stewed squirrel, bluegills fried in cornmeal batter. The living room was small, cozy. A potbellied stove sat in its center so that the room was democratically warmed. She had a battery-operated radio so that she could listen to church services and the Grand Ol’ Opry. On the front porch, there was a propane-powered refrigerator. These were the only modern touches to a home lit by lamplight, graced with religious prints on the walls, samplers in old frames.
She remembered the old days with a fine mind full of memories. She reflected on her past with clarity and affection despite the bitter years of drought and economic depression. When she spoke, it was like listening to a brook rippling over stones. Her voice rasped with half-whispered memories, as if she was speaking from the past herself.
She talked of her children, her husband, buried not far from her house, in a cemetery grove lined with massive oaks that shaded the stones, the mounds long since sunken into the loamy earth. There was no dejection in her talk, no rancor.
She had seen life and she had lived it. She knew what the gone days meant, what hardships she had been through and that suffering was often a part of it. Now, she could sit on her porch and look down through the pasture and past the far gate and see way beyond the place where she would live out her last days. Way beyond.
A surviving son lived with her, one of seven children, a man who had been crippled by polio, but had grown up like a weather-gnarled tree, defiant of his apparent handicap. Red, as he’s called, planted their garden, raised the chickens, took care of the two dogs and calf, the forty-year-old mule named Pete. He hunted the game that was part of their diet, and cut their firewood. Under Granny’s careful scrutiny, of course.
Red was a twin. His brother had died several years before, leaving his shadow on the earth around the old place, in the faded photographs Granny showed me one day.
Granny used to give us fresh milk. If it was going bad, she said that it was turning “blinky.” She and Red would skim off the cream to make their butter, but the milk was still very rich. She gave us seeds, as well, in little handfuls, or the vegetables themselves, from which we could extract the seeds and dry them for next year’s planting. She gave us a huge cucumber once, telling us to wait until it “swiveled up.” We did as she said and planted those seeds the following spring. When we ate the cucumbers that grew from the seeds in that “swiveled up” cucumber, they were very sweet to the taste.
Some days Granny wasn’t always up to snuff. When I asked her how she felt, however, she always answered, “tolable well.” I knew she was sick. Still, the smile was there, sometimes forced so much that it hurt both of us.
There is a spring branch that runs through Granny’s place. Sometimes it runs full and rampant over the shale ledges and sometimes it slows to an almost silent seep over the rocks. The water keeps running, though, as it has for many years. Granny commented on it often, took pleasure in its energy. It was a life-giving source for her and Red, and she never failed to give it homage. She was proud of the water and there was always a pitcher full to pour for guests.
Granny has passed on now, but the branch still flows. Now, as I write this, I want to go to her porch once again and look out at that branch, think of her. I want to see it keep running forever now that she’s gone. I want to see it smile as it passes by Granny’s old house on the way to Osage Creek, to the Blue Hole where the children swim. I want to see it smile as it did when she was alive, a reflection, somehow, of her indomitable spirit. For I know what that is out there, shining through the trees, full of sunshine and warmth. Not just a stream bubbling up out of a hidden spring deep in the rocky earth. Not just a trickle of water where deer and quail and squirrel drink, but a smile.
Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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