Still Grandma’s Girl

Because they never owned a car and never learned to drive, someone made a special effort to bring Grandma and Grandpa – my father’s parents – to the celebration of my third birthday.

Generally, we traveled to their home for Sunday dinners or holiday celebrations: a thirty-five mile trip to a modest frame house in one of south-central Iowa’s tiny coal-mining communities. Why the routine was broken for this occasion I can’t say, but I cherish the snapshot: my only image of this improbable couple.

Born in Sweden, they traveled to America as strangers on the same ship. After meeting and marrying in Minneapolis, they moved to Iowa, struggled through the Depression, raised six children, and delighted in their grand-children. Then, they were gone.

Loving but taciturn, Grandpa preferred time in his workshop to front porch socializing, although he welcomed the presence of grandchildren, and I joined him as often as I could.

Along one edge of his work bench, chisels and awls marched in formation, arranged by height. Secured to a wall, saws, axes, and an adze gleamed in the faint light, rust-free and ready for work.

A small cubby held tacks, nails, and screws in assorted tins, while close by the unlocked door, a small cigar box contained a scattering of nickels and pennies, as well as packs of cigarettes and matches.

In those days of penny candy, the contents of the cigar box represented a fortune to a child. When I asked — very casually and with studied disinterest — if the money was his, Grandpa said it had been left by friends who’d stopped by for a smoke.

Decades later, I realized the truth. Those ‘friends’ were strangers: men riding the rails; men stopping off where they hoped to find a meal, a day’s work, or perhaps even a cigarette; men who contributed what they could to ensure a smoke for the next man off the rails.

Grandpa, my dad, and the workshop ~ ready for company

While the men busied themselves in the back yard, the women clustered on the front porch, stitching smiling radishes and dancing tomatoes across acres of cotton sacking.

While they worked, I snapped beans, sorted thread, or wandered off to indulge myself in a long-standing family ritual called Checking Out The Pantry. Long and narrow, lit by a single hanging bulb and lined with shelves that climbed higher than any child’s sight, Grandma’s pantry was a marvel.

On the right, jars of home-canned vegetables and fruits, jellies and jams, spiced crabapples, and luscious bread-and-butter pickles shimmered in the dim light.

To the left, Saltines and gingersnaps snuggled up against cupcakes and rolls from the Omar man. Jewel Tea premiums — pie plates, pitchers, and baking dishes — shared shelf space with store-bought cookies and homemade pies. A footed cake plate with an aluminum cover sat next to my favorite kitchen tool — a glass whipping bowl with a combination lid and beaters that belonged to any child patient enough to whip the cream.There were fennel and caraway seeds for limpa bread, tins of sprats, and bags of salt for preserving cod or making ice cream.

The rule for the house was the rule for the pantry. Children were to look, but not touch; we rarely snitched a cookie without asking, and we never picked up a figurine in the living room, or rearranged the colored glass bottles in the kitchen window.

But life with Grandma entailed more than “just looking”. In her mind, any child with time enough to stare into a pantry was a child with time to help out — especially with cleaning.

Dish-washing, dusting, and sweeping were part of our daily routine and didn’t qualify as cleaning. Serious house-cleaning took place according to some mysterious schedule that was impossible to predict. Grandma could clean with the best of them when she put her mind to it, but she often had other, more interesting things on her mind. Still, when the spirit moved and she declared, “Time to Clean!” the process was a wonder to behold.

Spring and autumn were dedicated to window washing, rug-beating, curtain laundering, and porch-painting. With windows thrown open to air the house, neighbors could track her progress by the scents: fresh lavender for the drawers; Spic-N-Span for linoleum; lemon oil for furniture, and vinegar for glass.

In winter, a different kind of cleaning took place. Between Christmas and the first days of the New Year, Grandma set aside dusting and sweeping for a project terrifying in its scope.

While Grandpa fled the house and neighbors gave her a wide berth, Grandma went to work with a zeal that reminded my father of Sherman’s March to the Sea. She inventoried every closet, emptied and rearranged every drawer, looked under every bed and sorted through every piece of paper and clothing in the house, seeking the forgotten, the unused and the unnecessary.

Karin Larsson at the Linen Cupboard - Carl Larsson

She was by nature a saver, frugal and self-sufficient, but she also believed that if we hadn’t used it, looked at it, or remembered it in the past year, we didn’t need it. If we’d forgotten the existence of a toy, someone else should play with it. Unused items could become newly useful in another home. Was there a knick-knack no one enjoyed? It might bring joy to someone else.

Of course her definitions of ‘useful’ and ‘necessary’ were remarkably elastic: akin to William Morris’s dictum that there should be nothing in our homes that we “do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Boxes of rarely viewed photographs, letters written during the wars, greeting cards from grandchildren, and postcards from friends in the old country always were saved. Worn towels, outgrown clothing, lace trim from old bed linens, and fabric scraps were saved and transformed into quilts or rugs. The enormous roasting pan stayed. Wooden barrels stayed. Buttons and bias tape stayed.

But unclaimed dishes from a year’s worth of church dinners? Costumes for dolls that had been broken or given away? Unread magazines? Outgrown shoes or broken mirrors? Their fate was sealed.

In the end, very little was thrown away and very little more was given away, but Grandma entered each New Year knowing precisely what her house contained, and precisely where to find it.

Looking back, I’m not surprised the family rolled its collective eyes when Grandma began her battle with clutter. But she was determined to maintain her annual ritual and, since I was available during Christmas vacation, she often pressed me into service.

We spent hours working together: shoving and carrying, lifting and rearranging. No matter how tedious the labor, no matter how frustrating the hours I spent working rather than playing, when we were done I felt a bit lighter myself, as though all that excess, all those unnecessary accretions had been a burden pressing down on my own young life.

And that, I suppose, was her point. In the end, the unnecessary and the unwanted turn out to be burdens, and it’s always best to enter the New Year with as few burdens as possible.

As each new year begins, memories of my grandmother and her routine never fail to surface.

For years those memories have caused me to do my own cleaning of closets and drawers – looking things over, sorting them out, making decisions with a certain sense of urgency, as though Grandma herself might suddenly step through the door, ready to judge my efforts.

This year, with so much sorting and digging and dispersing already behind me because of my move, household clutter isn’t an issue. But freed from the need to sort through possessions, I find myself pondering a new possibility: what would happen if we approached life itself as Grandma approached her house? What if her lessons about the unnecessary, the useless, and the unwanted have broader application?

Like most people, I have a lifetime of preconceptions accumulated in the corners of my mind. There are a few prejudices that could stand a good sorting, not to mention a few irrationalities.

Some tendrils of laziness could stand to be pruned, and those small grudges that litter our lives like crumbs on a carpet would sweep up easily enough once we began. If a light film of anger dims the world’s light, it would take almost no effort to wipe it away: only a bit of will, and a little energy.

Standing at the end of one year and looking toward the start of another through my grandmother’s eyes, I already feel lighter. It’s good to clean house.

Comments always are welcome.


161 thoughts on “Still Grandma’s Girl

    1. Thank you, Becky. Whenever I write about my childhood, however directly or indirectly, I always remember the wry words of Flannery O’Connor: “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” I think that’s so: especially if we take the time to ponder our experiences. I’m glad you enjoyed this — happy New Year to you.

  1. Linda, this is so beautifully written with so much love- it really is a grand tribute to both of your paternal grandparents. I bet that you are very happy to have either inherited your grandmother’s traits or simply absorbed them from observation. I wish I had the same habits but alas, I do not. I have managed though of late, to get stuff into storage bins. These were all things from my sis’s house and some things are family heirlooms but now I must sort through all the bins and either trash, keep, or donate. They await my culling. I did manage to rid myself of an antique dresser, an antique chest and 4 chairs. I gave those to some friends who were thrilled.

    Last by not least, the pic of you is precious. It should be framed.

    1. She was the only grandmother I knew, as my maternal grandmother died when Mom was sixteen. But she was quite a woman. She was the one who convinced me that green and blue do belong together, by taking me outdoors and showing me the green trees against the blue sky, and the one who probably was responsible for keeping me unaware of my favorite aunt’s somewhat checkered past.

      I’ll admit that I’ve vacillated a bit over the years between Grandma’s wisdom and my mother’s tendencies. She and my dad both were serious collectors — dad preferred stamps and coins, while Mom stashed boxes of china and glassware, especially Depression glass. I ended up a china collector, as well as an online seller, but that’s over with now. I still have many of my favorite pieces, but I made myself get rid of a good bit before the move.

      I wish I had more photos of my grandparents, but we just weren’t a photo-taking family. I’m not sure why. It’s one of those mysteries that’s impossible to sort out now, since anyone who might know the answer is gone.

  2. That is the story of my own background as well as that of Helvi. Perhaps it is the Nordic gene that refuses to die. My own mother with six children had to be frugal and yet not skimp on a little gift when she thought it desirable. Helvi came from a family of nine children.

    Her father, who had worked in Canada for a few years in order to save enough to buy out the farm from his siblings back in Finland, married when he was forty-five.

    I now have some sorting to do myself since Helvi is no more to guide me along. You are also right that it would be nice if at the same time, clear out wrong ideas and prejudices from the past that keep on niggling and tugging away. It might be a slow process for me.

    A great post, Linda. Food for thought and those lovely memories of your grandparents; all the way from Sweden.

    1. There were a few members of our family who headed to Canada, too. They worked in Saskatchewan for a while, and then decided to go back to Iowa, where it was warm. I have a few photos of some of them: boys playing marbles in the dirt, the men next to sodbusters, and my mother’s cousin Tom with his gun, his dog, and a brace of birds. I suspect some of their experiences would be akin to those of Helvi’s father.

      After going through the sorting process any number of times, I’ve learned that, in the end, it’s memories that establish worth. Some of my most precious possessions might well look like trash to someone else, but to me they’re priceless. On the other hand, I’ve let some things go without a thought, despite their monetary value.

      Speaking of the connection between memories and grandparents: my coffee table is an oak chest that my grandfather built. As the family grew, the dining table no longer sufficed, so he used the wood from the old table to build the chest. He was clever enough to leave the markings from under the table visible on the inside: a wonderful bit of history.

    1. I’m glad I grew up when I did, and with the people who formed my family. Those years had their problems, and none of us in the family was perfect, but the lessons I learned were invaluable: the best kind of inheritance for a child.

  3. What a wonderful post to close out the year! It brought back memories of standing in pantries in old farmhouses, staring in wonder at the high shelves filled with canned fruits and vegetables. I didn’t know about the Omar Man or the Jewel Tea Man. We had local variants of companies that delivered all sorts of foods and necessities but those two never found their way on to my radar.

    Thanks for a very interesting read.

    Have a peaceful New Year, Linda.

    1. I think there were several (or even many) companies like Omar and Jewel Tea around the country. Thinking about it now, it occurs to me that one reason they stayed regional probably was transportation; it was more difficult in the 40s and 50s to maintain a nation-wide sales force and distribution network. In any event, the Omar Man was a favorite. Along with bread, he had doughnuts and cookies and pastries, and any kid with a nickle or dime could sneak a treat before dinner.

      I think a lot of people are hoping for a more peaceful year, even though events currently aren’t trending that way. If nothing else, we can create little oases of peace in the midst of the chaos — it’s not always easy, but it’s not impossible.

    1. Thank you, Derrick. You may or may not remember me commenting on your blog that my grandmother’s name was Ella. Now you’ve seen her — a little older than your Ella, but just as memorable!

  4. I enjoyed the wonderful images your words have created of your grandparents and their world. Gets me thinking about those who have gone before in my own family and the ways and wisdom that they passed down.

    1. It occurs to me now and then that the way our forebears passed on their knowledge and wisdom is also worth considering. My grandparents helped to shape me because we spent time together: often working, sometimes playing, and sometimes just enjoying one another’s company. When I watch families in restaurants today, with each person’s attention consumed by their individual ‘device,’ I can’t help thinking that the cost of our technological progress may be outweighing the benefits.

      In any event, I’m glad this reminded you of your family, and your own sweet memories. Here’s to 2020, and the creation of even more good memories.

  5. What a fantastic story and couple for you to have as role models – no wonder you’re the sweet person you are today!
    Enjoy the new decade, Linda!!

    1. They were quite a couple. Grandpa was a coal miner, until a slate fall in the mine put an end to that. It was the reason he never allowed his sons to work in the mines. As for Grandma, she made the best boiled coffee in the world, and firmly believed that fruit pie with cheese was a proper breakfast food. I still have the sugar bowl and creamer that sat on the breakfast table, and use it regularly. Sweet, indeed!

  6. What a wonderful post and memories of your childhood. Hope you have a Happy New Year in your new home and 2020 opens up with a host of new possibilities and shared nature observations.

    1. I do love the turning of the year. Even though it’s quite arbitrary — life isn’t going to be much different on January 1 than it was on December 31 — having a marker is useful. I’m ready for it this year. The Christmas tree and decorations are put away, and all that’s left is a bit of picture hanging and true cleaning. By the time the weather clears on Friday, I’ll be able to go back to work with everything in order. It’s been a while!

      I already have photos of two of my neighbors — I think you’ll enjoy seeing them.

  7. Too bad you don’t have more photographs of your grandparents. I have a large collection of photos of my big family over the years. Most are now digitized and shareable with other family members. I enjoy trips down memory lane and making connections between them and genealogy I discover. In the month before Christmas I dug through a large stash of photos from more recent years that accumulated downstairs. Many got scanned, sorted, and sent to their original owners as attachments or in the mail.

    PS: I still use Spic-n-Span at times.

    1. We weren’t a picture taking family, for whatever reason. In fact, with one exception, I’ve never seen any photos of my parents or my aunts and uncles as children, and there are very few of them as adults. My real treasure is a very large photo of my mother at six months. It’s in one of those old fashioned oval frames with convex glass; she’s bundled up in a fur-trimmed outfit and looks like a little Eskimo.

      There’s an old hotel in a small town about two hours from here. I stop by from time to time, and every time I step inside the lobby, it smells exactly like my grandparents’ house.It’s a combination of old wood, linoleum, and possibly even Spic-n-Span — one of the nicest combinations in the world.

  8. Your post is a lovely, well written (as usual) memory of your grandparents and days gone by. It made me remember my grandparents who also never drove a car and had to relocate during the depression for work. They had their “ways” that seemed very old fashioned. My favorite memory is the candy cupboard. Yup, two whole doors with shelves full of candy really made visits sweet.

    1. Oh, my. A candy cupboard! We had a couple of candy dishes to select from, but a whole cupboard must have seemed like a furnishing straight out of childhood heaven. I think it’s hard (and maybe even impossible) for so many younger people today to conceive of what life was like during the depression, if they think of it at all. Those years shaped our grandparents and parents as surely as our families shaped us.

      1. Did you see the Norman Rockwell exhibit at MFA? It goes through the depression to WWII. I pointed out to my adult children how hard their grandparents had it and maybe things aren’t so bad now.

        1. I’ve been so out of touch for the past couple of months, I didn’t even know the exhibition was there. I’m glad to see that it’s showing through March. It’s one that I’d like to see. It’s an intriguing way to group some of his paintings, and I think the re-imagining by contemporary artists will be interesting.

  9. I don’t know what I can say that hasn’t already been said above. This is a wonderfully warm essay, a snapshot of yours and your grandmother’s lives.

    I especially liked the detail about the box of pennies and cigarettes. It reminded me of my aunt who lived near a railroad track. She always made extra sandwiches at noon and put them in a box on the porch for the those who rode the rails. I know now what I didn’t know back then is that guys who rode the rails would leave a “sign” of twigs and stones near the tracks that would be a code pointing towards the houses where they find a friendly handout.

    1. It’s interesting to look at the ‘dictionaries’ of those signs. I suppose the most famous was the symbol of the cat: a sign that a kind woman lived nearby. Railroad tracks ran right behind Grandpa’s workshop; there was a small dirt road, a ditch, and then the tracks, so there were probably more men passing by than I knew.

      In Fairmont, Minnesota, there’s actually a monument of sorts to those men. Here’s one of the photos I took when I visited there in 2011. I wish I could go back and take some better photos; it was a very interesting spot.

  10. A wonderful post Linda. The photo of you with your grandparents is priceless, but even more so the memories you have of your grandmother. The cleaning ritual at the start of the New Year is so obvious, and yet I had never considered doing the same. I journaled, made resolutions, but nothing so concrete and actually useful like cleaning house. What a good idea to start the year a little less burdened—whether it’s physical or mental clutter.
    Happy New Year Linda. I will look forward to more of your lovely writing and insights.

    1. You’ll see that photo again, as it’s part of a different sort of history that began with my mother and father, in the mid-1930s. I’ve been threatening to write that tale for several years, and just haven’t gotten around to it, but time’s a-wastin’, and I’d best get after it. No one else can write the story.

      I think my history with my grandmother is part of the reason I rolled my eyes when Marie Kondo showed up on the scene. I’ve never been able to pinpoint what it is about Kondo’s method that seems off the mark, except that it always reminds me of the Cheshire Cat: more and more and more disappears, until there’s almost nothing left. Maybe it’s a sense that she treats possessions only as possessions, and not a means to maintain memory, or create a loving environment.

      In any event, I’m down to mostly mental clutter at this point, and ready to move into the new year. If I’m lucky, I’ll finally be able to do at least a little Texas traveling this year, and that would please me no end. Happy New Year to you — I hope you feel a little less ‘walled in’ as the months pass!

      1. To me, it seems such disrespectful treatment of the precious possessions from our past; but particularly to replace them with the sawdust-an’-glue garbage that passes for ‘furniture’ these days… Give me something with some ‘history’ any day!

  11. Linda, are you a doppelganger? I read your essay and knew it nearly by heart. I called to Debra and read the story to her. She had the very same experiences with her Grandparents. Her fondest memory was hanging out in the shop with her Granddad. I built shelving in the pantry for her canning habit. I do love the bread and butter pickles. I noted your comment about your move. Are you still on the coast or have the hills called out to you. My favorite memory of living in Portofino was of you working on Mike and Karen’s boat Wanderer, in your own world, listening to music as you sanded ( NOT the party boat playing Mustang Sally for the 10 millionth time) I still cannot listen to that song today. Best wishes for the new year. Ken

    1. My move was one of the shortest I could imagine — from one building in my apartment complex to another. I’m on the ground floor now, rather than the third, which may be useful in the future. I only wish I had the money to retire and move to the hill country — I’d do that in a minute. But, it’s not in the cards, so the coast-and-boats it will be. If I work it right, I may make the Guiness Book of World Records as the oldest living varnisher.

      I wonder sometimes what today’s kids will remember as they age. I hope they’re having at least some of the same experiences that we had with our grandparents and other family members. Spending time with technology is all well and good, but those devices don’t leave the taste of bread and butter pickles, or the smell of sawdust — let alone Spic-n-Span or lavender.

      It’s always a delight to have you stop by. Best wishes to you for the new year — let’s hope it is one marked by 20/20 vision!

  12. So much of this made me think of my own grandparents–the canning, the workshop, the beautifully orderly house and more. And I’m doing my own reflecting today. Yup, sometimes the mind needs a bit of rearranging and a cleanse. Beautiful post!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. In a way, it’s almost a variation on the old aphorism Mens sana in corpore sano — except Grandma would have phrased it “A clear mind in a tidy house.” Beyond that, I’m a firm believer that connection with the realities of the concrete world around us — through gardening, cleaning, cooking, walking — does help to keep us grounded and happy. I love my computer and the worlds it opens up, but real engagement comes through our senses, and many of our best memories lie there. Happy New Year, and every good wish for a sense-able year!

  13. My grandparents were all gone by the time I reached the age of 10, but some of the memories you share here parallel mine. Oh, and the mention of Jewel tea brought back reminders of items that my mother had. Every year after the Christmas/New Years holiday is over, I get that urge to clean out, clean up, and donate unused items. It’s a good tendency to have.

    1. I finally got rid of all the Jewel Tea items Mom had, except for one covered casserole. On the other hand, I have Grandma’s Universal Cambridge range set with the bittersweet pattern. Well, had. The big salt shaker got broken, so I got rid of the pepper and just kept the grease catcher. I do love the pattern — it reminds me of the wild bittersweet that grew along the fencelines.

      I love New Year’s day, and the weeks that follow. There’s a strong sense of a fresh start, and even though we never can have (and might not want) an entirely blank slate, sorting and starting over is stimulating.

            1. Twas already done. Went searching and found them during the original conversation; ). But they weren’t very good photos, so thought I’d have a gander at your pic anyway… No worries; )

        1. Oh, no; now I see that it’s a (very fancy!) version of a ‘fat can’, lol
          But, speaking of which, you’ve brought back (likely more than one; ) relative’s collections of S & P Shakers marching nearly across the top of the stove…

  14. I loved this, Linda. I could almost smell the Iowa countryside as you were describing your grandparents. The self-sufficiency skills of our ancestors should be rescued and be put to work decluttering our minds. I think remembering how they went about life can teach us a great deal. I wish you a very Happy New Year and thank you for making 2019 more interesting through your writing.

    1. If I were to describe a primary difference between my grandparents and many of today’s younger generations, I say it’s the difference between an active and a passive approach to life. To take what may be the most obvious sign of the difference, the obesity epidemic isn’t only the result of easily obtained fast food; it’s also a result of a passive life, with too many hours spent in front of some sort of screen. Less obvious to the eye is the non-development of problem solving skills. Can you imagine a thirty-something woman who’s never sewed on a button, and didn’t know how to do it? I met one recently. I still can’t get over it.

      A happy New Year to you and yours, John. Whip those words into shape!

  15. Oh man I could definitely stand to go through our house in the same manner each year! The problem is that what I think can go, Dr. M wants to keep, and vice versa. Ha! Ah well, maybe I can tackle one room at a time & at least see what’s what.

    1. When two people are involved in the decision-making, it can become exponentially more difficult. I suspect Grandma and Grandpa had their own arrangement; he let her handle the house, and she stayed out of his workshop. I know that when we were attempting to downsize when Mom was preparing to move, it was a struggle, because she wanted to keep everything. For a while, we had a storage unit in our life, until I pointed out to her that, given what we were paying in monthly rent, we could give it all away and re-purchase whatever we missed. That finally did the trick.

      It is amazing how much can be accomplished by starting small. Never mind a room — even a drawer or a cabinet at a time can make a difference. For example, I had no idea I had decades-old road maps tucked away. I like a paper map, but it’s good to have one that actually shows all the roads that have been built in the past twenty years!

  16. What a wonderful remembrance of your grandmother and how she lived her life plus the way that some of that remains in how you live yours. As you wrote about her inventory and decision making I immediately thought of your recent thinning out for your move. You must have thought about her as you thinned your possessions. As well, her tale is a good lesson for us all as we embrace the new year. Grudges and anger never made anyone’s life any better. Yes, a good goal for 2020. Happy New Year, Linda.

    1. And….after posting I realized that I hadn’t commented on how more simple life was back then. Without as many distractions it was easier for folks to concentrate on keeping a house, doing the little things that made life pleasant…and in hard times, endurable…, were more hands-on with raising the family, and most all enjoyed basic needs filled rather than needing more of unimportant possessions as we do today. We’ll obviously never go back to those times but if a little more of that came into modern society I think it’d be a good thing for all. It was nice reading about your Grandma, all your fond memories of those days. And, not in the least, what a delight to see adorable little Linda enjoying your birthday. But, it looks like you didn’t blow out your candles.

      1. I’m not sure I agree that life was more simple in those days. Even setting aside such realities as disease — scarlet fever, diphteria, measles, polio — and the poverty that lingered after the Depression, even the most basic tasks of life were complicated. For example: doing the laundry required heating water, carrying it out to the yard to fill the tubs, making the soap that was used. I certainly remember when Grandma’s laundry tubs were exchanged for a washing machine, and the neighbor’s ice box for a refrigerator. There was rejoicing, believe me.

        As for distractions, it seems to me that many of today’s distractions could be eliminated without any serious consequence. I’ve made some of my own choices, and while I understand that living without social media and the 24/7 news cycle is considered (1) an affectation, (2) anti-social (3) inexplicable, or (4) flat crazy, so be it. Knowing what’s going on in the world, and responding to it, are important. Obsessing over what a dollar-and-click driven media offers up isn’t. Grumpy, aren’t I? At least I don’t yell at the kids to get off my lawn.

        I’ve never thought about the fact that those candles on the cake are burning. I think that’s a hunk of ice cream sitting on my plate, but it looks like the others have cake. I wonder if they relit the candles in order to take the photo? It just might be.

        1. I am not always the best with my choice of words, but by simpler I mean a less complicated life with challenges that are more basic. Of course I was not ignoring disease and less convenience. We have a better chance for a healthy life these days and social inequities are being addressed.. And yes today’s distractions might be easily dismissed if people weren’t steadily being programmed that those are important to a happy life. I agree with your sentiments towards the news cycle and the drive for clicks so not all that grumpy…or maybe we are both grumpy. I don’t yell at the kids to keep off my lawn either, but I am tempted to place a sign telling people to pick up after their dogs. :)

          Whatever was on your plate, you look pretty happy about it.

          1. Well, I saw a hopeful sign yesterday. It was gray and gloomy, but I decided to have a walk anyway. The nature center closest to me was closed because of the holiday (it’s city run) so I went to the other side of the lake to explore a place where a friend often walks. On my way, I passed a home that had a large pile of oranges in an urn near the curb with a sign attached: FREE oranges! Take some! So I did. I haven’t seen anything like that for some time, except in the country.

            The oranges were good, too. I’m going to take a “thank you” sign over and tape it to the urn this morning.

            1. I am sure they will appreciate your note. I doubt many people take the trouble despite taking the oranges. We see similar things here at times. When we decide to reduce, moist often e give to the local survival center. But sometimes we put the stuff out at the end of the driveway with a free sign.The survival center works better at getting things to needy people than the end of our driveway but we’d rather give away than tag sale.
              The grocery store where I shop, as well as the Trader Joes and Whole Foods contribute food to the Not Bread Alone program which offers free lunches on Saturdays at a local church. And I have just learned of some groups in local towns that are part of a “Neighbors” movement. The first was Village Neighbors and now I heard of our town having a similar group. The idea being that we volunteer to help older folks continue to be able to age in place. By joining folks have the added benefit of knowing that , should they need help in the future, it will be there for them also. Amherst won’t get off the ground until March or April but I will probably join up and help folks. While I was recovering last year, actually the year before last since it is now 2020, many people from Mary Beth’s church and exercise class dropped by with food. Others came by and split kindling for us or stacked fire wood in the garage. My employer and co-workers chipped in as well. We really felt connected to our community in way that we hadn’t before. It wasn’t the best way for that to happen but was one of the bright notes.
              People can be a disappointment often enough, but encouraging is a good description for your experience and ours also.

    2. I did think about her, but not until a few people had said things like, “What a pain all that sorting and packing must be.” When I realized I was enjoying it, I also realized the enjoyment probably was rooted in my time with her in those early years.

      It occurred to me recently that figuring out which mental clutter to tackle first might be easier this year. After all, we’ll have the benefit of 2020 vision, which might allow us to see the world — and ourselves — more clearly.

  17. What a remarkable and thoughtful post, Linda. I loved the memories. With your word magic, I could “see” them — both of them — almost as clearly as real life. Your grandfather sounded like a great guy and your grandma a wise woman. I had to smile. Much of my childhood was spent at my grandparents’ farm where I learned to bake, watched the canning, (and like you, admired those jars in the cellar!) and picked the fruit and veggies. It was a magnificent experience and while it’s hard to believe any of it could stick, much did.

    As I’m going through another basement flood and a kitchen redo, I am looking at what “needs to leave” my space. It’s hard — I don’t separate easily. But it’s good indeed and yes, a lighter feeling, to fill those bags for charity.

    Here’s to a beautiful new year. One with exciting possibilities and opportunities. And feeling light!

    1. Don’t you think we can learn a good bit about our grandparents by observing our parents? That certainly was true for me. My own father was most like my grandfather, and my favorite aunt was most like my grandmother. As for my mother, being left in charge of her family at age sixteen after her own mother died shaped her in ways I never understood until very late in her life. I suspect you’ve discovered some of the same dynamics as you’ve done your genealogical research.

      I hate to hear that your basement’s acting up again, but you have to be happy about the kitchen re-do. Did you get the oven repaired? Or was that the catalyst leading to greater plans? I hope it goes well, and isn’t too much of a hassle. It’s a new year, so a new project sounds like just the ticket!

  18. “a lifetime of preconceptions . . . a few prejudices . . . irrationalities . . some tendrils of laziness . . . those small grudges . . . a light film of anger” — how well I know! And will remember to quiet, since so well put above.

    About the “bit of will, and a little energy,” here’s hoping!

    Your moving recollection, the whole beautiful story, has helped. Also, it makes me think of MyDear’s grandmother,


    1. I had hoped that my little tale would stir some memories for others; I’m glad it did for you. As for my little list, I neglected to add envy — perhaps because it’s more of a struggle for me than anger or grudges. In fact, my mother used to become quite put out over my inability to hold a grudge. Three days was about my limit. Then, it no longer seemed worth the energy, and I’d just let it go — even when she wasn’t ready to.

      That struggle between knowledge and will is an old one, and hard to deal with, as most of us re-learn during this season of sincere new year’s resolutions. Here’s to strong will and increasing energy in the months to come — whatever comes.

  19. What an excellent and delightful read on a new year’s morning! Vivid memories, this post is so inspiring Linda! I enjoyed this thoroughly. Thank you and Wishing you a fabulous 2020! Best wishes!

    1. Thank you, rethy. It’s hard to believe we’re into a new year — and a new decade — but so it is. I’ve enjoyed your postings in the past year, and all that you’ve introduced me to. I recently shared Sarojini Naidu’s “Coromandel Fishers” with a friend; it’s become one of my favorite poems.

      Here’s to a happy, healthy, and creative 2020 for you and yours!

  20. A poignant post for the end of one marking of time and the beginning of another. I wonder, you must have thought about your grandmother plenty with your recent move? I like the idea of real and virtual clearing of clutter–we could all use some of that. Wishing you a meaningful and healthy 2020, Linda. Thank you for your wonderful blogs–I’ve so enjoyed reading you and look forward to another year of lovely essays!

    1. Grandma did come to mind as I was sorting and packing, but in a rather oblique way. Now and then, someone would commiserate, saying, “Oh, it must be such a pain to have to do that.” Thinking about it, I realized I was rather enjoying it, and that recalled the pleasure of helping out during those end-of-year projects. Obviously, memory can be tricky, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there were times when I wasn’t so eager to help out, but helping Grandma was far more interesting than making my bed and helping with dishes at home.

      I’m really looking forward to 2020. I knew I was ready to move on when I had the Christmas tree and the other decorations put away well before New Year’s eve. You have quite a year ahead of you, too. I glanced at your post about your sister-in-law’s move, and the opportunities that’s going to open up for you. I’m anxious to read your post more closely, and to follow the developments.

  21. What an amazing feat that is: an annual inventory and clearing out of an entire house. We did a little of that this year— a small but growing accumulation of good-for-someone-else was carted away. How right you are that the mind is lightened. It’s the papers that I dread…. Happy new year to you, friend, and best wishes for a healthy mental clearing out.

    1. It’s only recently occurred to me that one reason such an annual ritual would work more easily for my grandmother is that they didn’t have nearly as many possessions to start with. Things did collect, but she tended to be fairly well organized, and the huge closet where she kept her sewing “stuff” would have been her biggest challenge. She not only sewed, she quilted, embroidered, crocheted trim for bed linens, and so on. Six inch lengths of rick-rack never were tossed — they’d be used for doll clothes.

      Sorting through papers was a bit of a chore when I moved, but I did lay my hands on some things I’d assumed were lost forever. In the end, I decided I didn’t need any of them, but at least I know now what happened to them!

  22. How fortunate you were to have such grandparents and all those childhood memories. I did not know my grandparents well.

    Instead it was my father who showed me the value of cleanliness and my half sister who demonstrated an uncluttered home. And my mother who always had her “nose in a book,” inspired a love of reading, kindness to others and to find humor in all the ups and downs of life.

    Thankyou for reminding me of all this in your remarkable post.

    1. Well — and you have your best friend, too. It’s really wonderful that you two still have each other. As for kindness and humor, those are among the best gifts in the world, although it’s always nice to have a book to fall back on when kindness and humor aren’t quite up to the task of dealing with life. I must say, your good sense of humor always has seemed evident, even when you were having to cope with just getting around.

      One of the best things about the coming year is that we’ll have opportunities to shape others in the same way our families shaped us. That’s quite a gift, too.

  23. Only one grandparent was still alive by the time I was born. Still, I caught a glimpse of life in another time, people with different sensibilities, more practical ones. Beautiful post, Linda!

    1. Lavinia, I see in your posts some of the same qualities that made my grandparents’ life — and my life with them — so memorable. We’re constantly tempted to believe that extravagance and spectacle always are preferable to their opposites, but it’s not necessarily true. Planting and growing flowers, making music on the front porch, putting up veggies from the garden, baking the treats that children of all ages love: those are things that endure, and that can be enjoyed even by those without wealth. The irony, of course, is that those who live with such things are wealthy in a way that money can’t buy.

  24. A good house-cleaning, whether literally or figuratively, never goes amiss. Hopefully, we can give that big white house on the hill a good cleaning this year.

    1. I spent a couple of hours yesterday cleaning paint spatters off the floors. Needless to say, make-ready painters for apartment complexes have their standards, and I have mine. It’s always amazing to me how satisfying little chores like that can be, once completed. Here’s to a very satisfying year for us both.

  25. Do houses have pantries these days? I remember my grandmother had one – no refrigerator – most food was fresh and delivered daily from my Uncle’s greengrocer shop. There were slabs to keep things cool.

    The idea of downsizing fills me with dread but I also recognise it will be very liberating. We have too much of virtually everything but I can’t easily part with books or cameras. Most everything else could go.

    I really enjoyed reading about your family. Thanks for writing.

    1. I think pantries of one sort or another are coming back. They may not be separate rooms off the kitchen, but they’re at least spaces well designed to hold canned goods and such. Even my apartment has a space I’ve designated as a pantry, although I’m not sure that’s what was intended by the builders.

      I finally did some serious culling of books years ago, after deciding that hauling around professional libraries I no longer used wasn’t necessary. It’s nice to have my favorites out of boxes and onto shelves now, and the town librarians have become my new best friends. I rather miss the smell of the old leatherbound books that I used to buy by the $2 box at sales, but there’s a nearby independent bookseller where I can get the same experience.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I always enjoy a little nostalgia at the turning of the year; looking back, in preparation for moving forward.

  26. My first read of the new year, and I can’t think of a better way to start. I’m reminded of my paternal grandfather, Red, with his perfectly combed red hair and bushy red mustache — and always a twinkle in his eye. I remember sitting with him in my grandparents’ apartment in Oakville, Ontario. His drawing skills were noteworthy and he helped me considerably with mine. He would challenge me to draw something — anything – and watched with a bemused smile as I went to work. Then he would take a pencil and make a sketch while singing, “I can do anything you you can do better.” In this way he would egg me on to make better and better drawings. One day he asked me to draw a tow truck. I worked feverishly on a drawing of a wrecker towing a damaged car behind it. I handed it to him and he spent a long time admiring it. Then he went and made his drawing, being extra careful to shield it from my curious eyes. Only when he was completely finished did he make the reveal: a side view of a pick up truck and in its bed was the toe-end of a gigantic foot — five toes vertically taking up the entire bed. From this I gained two things: and out-of-the-box creativity, and a somewhat twisted sense of humor. I treasure both.

    Thanks for the memories. May your new year be peaceful, productive, and may your vision be perfect.

    1. What a wonderful tale of you and your grandfather, drawing. When I read about the toe-truck, I knew immediately that I would have liked him. My dad was a great punster as well, and loved every sort of word play. It sounds as though he and your grandfather would have gotten along quite well.

      Beyond that, his willingness to take the time to draw with you also struck me. I’m convinced one reason I became an early reader was that my dad willingly allowed me to climb up into his chair to read whatever was occupying him: newspapers, books, magazines. Those early years do set patterns.

      One of my favorite Georgia O’Keeffe quotations is, “I still like the way I see things best.” Here’s to a year filled with appreciation for others’ visions, and appreciation for our own.

      1. Thank you. When I was young, whenever a magazine would arrive in the mail I immediately jumped on it and went through it page by page. Did I read the stories? No. I looked at the ads. It’s why I eventually got into advertising. Now I am out of advertising, and glad of it. The O’Keefe quote is one of my favorites too. Have a wonderful 2020.

  27. Before this reply, I took your essay to heart and scrubbed the kitchen floor. And spent a moment or two remembering my grandma’s pantry.
    Your suggestion about uncluttering the mind is excellent. Seems to me that your essay has a complementary purpose to uncluttering – preserving, or curating memories. Isn’t there a quote from Jane Austen about choosing what to remember? Happy New Year!

    1. It actually was a floor-scrubbing session that led to a significant life change many decades ago. In the process of finishing that entirely mundane chore, I thought to myself, “Well. At least when I’m done I can see that I’ve accomplished something.” It took a while, but that insight eventually led to a change in occupation, and it worked out pretty well.

      I didn’t remember an Austen quotation on memory, but I found this, from Mansfield Park. Fanny Brice says:

      “If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do believe it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences.

      The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient—at others, so bewildered and so weak—and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control!—We are to be sure a miracle every way—but our powers of recollecting and forgetting, do seem peculiarly past finding out.”

      The entire article was interesting. And you’re right that curating memories is a worthy endeavor. One of the most interesting aspects to me is the way even the most negative memories can be drained of emotional content. We ‘remember’ the experiences, but it’s almost as though they happened to someone else.

      1. A wonderful quote and an interesting article. The Austen quote I remembered had to do with gardening memories to preserve the ones that serve you best. When I searched, I found this one from Pride and Prejudice:

        “When I wrote that letter,” replied Darcy, “I believed myself perfectly calm and cool, but I am since convinced that it was written in a dreadful bitterness of spirit.”

        “The letter, perhaps, began in bitterness, but it did not end so. The adieu is charity itself. But think no more of the letter. The feelings of the person who wrote, and the person who received it, are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending it ought to be forgotten. You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.”

        “I cannot give you credit for any philosophy of the kind. Your retrospections must be so totally void of reproach, that the contentment arising from them is not of philosophy, but, what is much better, of innocence. But with me, it is not so. Painful recollections will intrude which cannot, which ought not, to be repelled. ”

        The key sentence is “Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.” The passage is about letting go (Elizabeth) or not letting go of a painful memory (Darcy). If that’s the passage I remembered, my memory transformed it – as Austen described in the passage you quoted.

        1. That’s an interesting passage. It’s also a nice bit of encouragement to give Pride and Prejudice another try; I have the old BBC series on my list of to-be-watched for the new year, but I’ve never been able to get through the book. To be fair, I’ve never been able to get into the book. Maybe it’s time for another try.

          I never can remember where I’ve shared quotations, but I love this one from Mark Twain (which I think is tongue in cheek, but still…):

          “I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

          1. He must be must have been joking – if not, why read it more than once? Pride and Prejudice was a page-turner for me. The great novel I haven’t been able to finish is Middlemarch.

  28. Linda, you might have only the one photo, but your memories are plentiful and clear! These folks from previous generations had some splendid ideas about reducing clutter. None of us really needs all the stuff we’ve accumulated — and I see that more and more, the older my mom gets. Thanks for showing us a slice of time gone by. Happy 2020!

    1. It’s true, Debbie. I do have wonderful memories — even some that have been confirmed by other people! As long as my mind stays with me, I’ll have them, which is more than I can say for some of the photos I took in the sixties and seventies.

      The old saying about one person’s trash being another person’s treasure is true, of course, but sometimes there’s just no need to hang on to things. My mother fussed and fussed when I suggested getting rid of her collection of “good” boxes. I always teased her, saying I was going to give her a box of boxes for her birthday. But in her youth, a good box was a treasure. I have no idea what she’d think about the pile of Amazon boxes laying out in the trash!

      Here’s to a great new year, with health and happiness for your whole household, and no troubles to clutter up your life!

  29. How fortunate you are to have those wonderful memories of your grandparents and to be able to write about them so vividly! You brought back memories of my own with dancing tomatoes and smiling radishes and Spic and Span. Love the bit about the cigar box. I like your grandmother’s tradition of cleaning out for the new year and your idea of de-cluttering our minds. May we strive to be better in 2020.

    1. I never use the tea towels I have from my grandmother, but when I was looked at them while packing for the move, I realized that many of them have some of our favorite recipes embroidered on them. It looks to me as though the biscuit, tomato relish, and pie recipes are as usable as anything in a cookbook. I’m going to try the biscuits first, and see how they come out. Talk about living memories!

      When I walk into the Blessing hotel in the summer, I might as well be walking into my grandparents’ house. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, it’s worth a stop just to walk into the lobby.

      Best wishes for the new year. I’m really going to try to get down there this year, to visit Copano Bay Press — they’re in the top floor of the Furman Building, and from the photos I’ve seen, it’s a great place (as are their books).
      Their newsletter is full of wonderful Texas history and triva; there’s a place to subscribe on the website.

  30. I always love these posts about your growing up years! (in Iowa no less) My thoughts also turn to my grandma (dad’s mom who immigrated from Germany when she was 21) @ certain times of the year. Christmas being one of them. Take care. DM

    1. Don’t you wish we could bring them all back and ask the questions we never thought to ask as children? It wonderful how certain parts of life can bring back the memories, too. When I see your apple orchards, I never fail to think of my grandmother’s fabulous apple pie — always served with cheddar for breakfast and ice cream for dessert. I haven’t made an apple pie in ages, but I think resolving to do so would be an excellent New Year’s resolution.

      Best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful year, DM.

  31. This brings back so many memories of my paternal grandmother. The jars of preserves, pickles, jams, jellies etc stored out in the old smokehouse. The bags of yarn for crocheting, the scraps of material for quilting or rug making. Front porch sittin’ with a pan of peas or beans to shell or snap. The menfolk out in the barn or down in one of the pastures doing whatever needed doing, that my grandfather couldn’t handle easily on his own.

    1. Isn’t it interesting how many similar memories we have, even though we grew up in widely separated areas? I suppose it’s partly generational, and partly our association with the ‘country’ in those years, even though pheasant hunting in Iowa cornfields was quite different from fishing in the swamp. The good news is that so much that we enjoyed then — the books, the family time, the pleasure of being outside or just sitting — still can be enjoyed today. All it takes is making the choice to do it.

  32. Oh yes (you’ve got me digging through the old memory-cache now) all such lovely, CLEAN scents: of Spic-and-Span, Lestoil, Lemon Oil and Dettol… Vinegar in the spray bottle, cut with water for the windows and greasy places. Lavender in the sweater cupboard and on and on…

    1. I haven’t thought about Dettol in years, and now I can’t remember where I came across it, or used it. It wasn’t a part of my childhood households, for sure. I went to the website and learned it was developed in India; it’s entirely possible I was introduced to it in West Africa. We had Russian toilet paper, so anything’s possible.

  33. I love reading about your childhood memories. There are many I can relate to. I think kids benefit from time spent with grandparents or aunts and uncles. Forrest and I both have fond memories of time with our grandparents.

    My dad’s mother had boxes of photographs and she was wise to write on the back of the photo, who and when. She had even attached notes on furniture about what year purchased and for what event. She noted the entire history of an item. It was such a gift to know these things. We had so many photographs that we were able to pass on many to extended family and distant relatives. My favorites of course, were photos of the work horses, farm dogs and cats and livestock. They all had names. So many photos reveal things we did not know about our ancestors… or maybe never heard about.

    You have piqued my attention with this “favorite aunt’s somewhat checkered past”. Family stories are just the best… especially those little skeletons in the closet!

    1. You’re lucky to have so much information available to you. We had boxes of photos, too, but most of them might as well have been images of strangers from Left Overshoe, Montana. With a very few exceptions, no one wrote names on the back, so as time passed, more and more information was lost. Of course you liked the photos of the animals — and it doesn’t surprise me one bit that they all had names.

      If you’re interested in that favorite aunt, I wrote a two-part story about her. Part I is here, and there’s a link to Part II at the end. It’s quite a story, and I never heard a word of it until a few years ago. Whatever else we say about people in those earlier times, they knew how to keep a secret.

  34. Sounds like your grandmother anticipated Marie Kondo. We could certainly use her at our house. You remind me of my grandmother who was a sweet soul, an immigrant like yours. Her chief joy seemed to come from feeding people, but maybe that just shows how much I don’t know about her. She was quiet where my grandfather was domineering, a Jewish patriarch. She used to tell a story about how bananas were her favorite fruit because when she was released from Ellis Island as a child, her uncle met her with the gift of a banana, something she had never seen before.

    1. There’s a new Marie Kondo out there named Margareta Magnusson, and she’s published a book on the “gentle art of Swedish death cleaning.” Her view is somewhat narrower than Kondo’s; she wants to convince aging people to get rid of the clutter so someone else doesn’t have to deal with it after they’re gone. She has a ‘method,’ of course, and if you buy her book you can learn it. I expect the tv series and merchandise any day now.

      The story of the gifted banana is as sweet as your grandmother must have been. I’ve often thought that we imprint on objects associated with powerful experiences, and it sounds as though that might have been true for her: the taste of freedom, or security, or whatever she was feeling, all bundled up in a pretty yellow wrapper.

      Those home-cooked meals our grandmothers cooked were important for more than the food. The gathering of the families, the conversation, the hospitality shown to others — it’s hard to get that at a fast-food emporium.

  35. Wonderful memories, Linda! You were lucky to have the time you did with your grandparents and you write about it so eloquently. I could certainly stand to do some deep cleaning and sorting – I know it would be freeing…Happy New Year!!

    1. Lucky, indeed. I wish I’d known my maternal grandparents in the same way, but that grandmother died before I was born, and I had the chance to spend much less time with that grandfather. Still, there are plenty of good memories there, too — he was as enamored of trains as I was.

      It’s been great fun moving into this smaller space. Not only did it encourage a bit of de-cluttering before the move, I found after the fact that a few more things could be let go. Somewhat ironically, my smaller space now feels larger than what I had before. I wonder why that could be?

  36. I hope my own grandchildren remember me in such a loving way, embracing the things I have tried to teach them. a long night of talk with one grandgirl I told her she was much smarter about relationships than I was at her age. she replied that well, she had her parents and me to learn from. I took it as a compliment but in retrospect I wonder if she meant she learned how not to be rather than how to be.

    1. I loved that photo of your granddaughter at breakfast with her waffle. That’s the sort of memory that will linger, and I have little doubt she’ll remember you as fondly as I remember my own grandmother. In truth, it doesn’t make that much difference whether the breakfast is served up in a kitchen where grannie did the baking, or in a restaurant where someone else took over the chores. It’s the time and companionship that makes the difference, and you certainly do offer that.

      As for learning how not to be — I think all of us begin sorting out the good and the bad in our parents and grandparents as we age. We’re all a mix. In my own case, I had a mother who was a great “what-iffer” — she always was imagining disaster around every corner. Eventually, I figured out why, but I had to get rid of that characteristic in my own life. When I did, she gained even more disasters to worry about!

  37. Dear Linda, this is one of my favorite of all your elegant writings…truly a gem. You managed to capture the everyday beauty of your grandparents while embracing the profoundness of life, and that is not an easy thing to do. I especially enjoyed the pantry descriptions and the year-end tasks. Really enjoyed the first photo with you and your grandparents, the cake and coffee and three candles on the cake; and your grandpa and his workshop. Thank you for this passionate writing.

    1. The more I think about it, the more certain I am that the candles must have been lighted again for the photo, and the cake itself turned a bit. It was an inviolable rule in our household that cake or pie was put on the plate first, and then the ice cream. No doubt the cake had been cut, and then someone decided a photo would be nice. However it happened, I’m glad it did.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story, too: especially that you found the descriptions of things like the pantry pleasing. It can be hard to describe such scenes without just piling up adjectives, and I try to avoid that as much as possible.

      While it’s true that one person’s ordinary can be someone else’s extraordinary (I’m thinking about your nature posts from far-flung reaches of the globe!) it’s also true that the ordinary in any setting can hold great beauty and interest. Revealing those is what we do: whether at a birthday table or on safari. Here’s to another year of remarkable ordinary pleasures!

    1. I think that impulse overcomes all of us from time to time. This year, the clear out was forced on my by my decision to move and downsize, but I’m glad it was. I have to laugh at the apparent spaciousness of a smaller apartment, thanks to all that decision-making.

      Here’s to a 2020 that’s not so cluttered with unhappy events. We’re not off to a particularly good start, but my hope is that better weather and cooler heads will lead to some improvement.

  38. I enjoyed this so much. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about my own grandma and her cleaning routines. I was never around when she did such a thorough cleaning as you describe, but then, knowing very well what her house was like, maybe she did that constantly all year so that nothing unnecessary accumulated.

    If I’d read about your grandmother a year ago I don’t think she’d have been so inspiring. But now that I am starting to move back in to my newly remodeled or created spaces, I feel fairly ruthless about stuff I haven’t used in a year or more, and I covet **space** above all. What I do keep, I do not want to be crammed in.

    Thanks for this peek into your childhood and these good people.

    1. I just mentioned to another reader how much larger my smaller apartment feels. You can take that as a bit of affirmation that a good clearing out can have some unexpected, and quite pleasing consequences.

      My mother had a weekly schedule, as did most of her friends. Monday was laundry day; on Tuesday she ironed, and Friday was for baking and cooking for the weekend. I can’t remember Wednesday and Thursday — except that I know her bridge club was on Thursday. Maybe that was the “day off” for all the ladies. It was a different world, for sure. I’m just glad that I seem to have absorbed some of the best of it.

  39. These are lovely lessons learned from your Grandmother. I didn’t know my grandparents on my father’s side, but have some very warm memories from my mother’s parents, although many of the stronger ones come from when I was a student at university in Edmonton, where they lived. I would visit them once a week, at supper time. Grandpa teased Grandma mercilessly. And she smiled at this, knowing he adored her. They were so warm to me, and every now and then I just miss them. Thanks for sparking the memories…

    1. I think that’s one of the most common human experiences: every now and then, just missing someone. That sounds like a wonderful routine you had during your college years; I wish I’d had your experience of knowing grandparents as an adult. By the time I reached college age, mine all were gone. I wonder now if I might have asked more questions as I matured. If Grandma showed up now, one of my first questions would be, “What were you and your friends talking about when we kids were around, and you’d suddenly switch from English to Swedish?”

  40. The picture of you with your grandparents is so special You were adorable. Does anyone do spring and fall housecleaning any more? It seems like I just clean a little here and there whenever I think the house needs it, but I don’t put a focused effort on cleaning at certain times of the year.

    1. That’s an interesting question, about spring and fall cleaning. It was common when I was growing up, and it was quite a production.

      Thinking about it now, I wonder if part of it wasn’t connected to the change of seasons. Our spring cleaning always coincided with taking down the storm windows and putting on the screens, for example. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard anyone talk about storm windows, even in the northern parts of the county. Central air and double-pane windows have made so much of that unnecessary. In the same way, carting the rugs outside to be beaten was common when I was young. We had a vacuum, but it was a sure sign of spring when the clotheslines began sprouting rugs.

      1. Your mention of storm windows brings back lots of memories of my childhood – and they aren’t good ones. It was a lot of work to take down storm windows in the spring (and even more work to wash them, and reinstall them in the fall).

        1. It was a pain, is what it was. And we had a two-story house when I was in grade school, which meant high anxiety when Dad would get up on the ladder to make the switch. I always hated having to deal with all the spiders that had made homes in the storm windows over the summer!

    1. What a delightful comment — I’m so glad you enjoyed my musings. You really would have liked my grandmother. She was a wonderful cook and baker, and loved swapping recipes. Despite the fact that she lived in a very small town, there were Welsh, Italian, and Czech families there, and believe me — the community dinners were wonderful!

  41. So beautiful, Linda… When I read the title, I looked inward and thought, “I really did not know my Grandmother…” — Born the baby of two ‘babies,’ I knew my mother’s mother for a short while, but basically remember her in bed sick with emphysema. The other grandparents died way before I was born.

    I am going to keep this on the screen and read again when off line at home, as the comments look as interesting as the post!

    Happy New Year, dear friend, and may your new GPS location be a good one. (I’ll be moving again – the pollution is affecting my health.) For now it’s in the angels’ hands, and I’m in no hurry —just waiting for Life to align!

    1. After all the work you’ve put into getting settled in your new place (incomplete as it may be) I hate to hear that you’re going to be on the move again. On the other hand, despite my resistance to actually making my move, it’s worked out even better than I could have imagined. Perhaps you’ll find a better spot, too. Is it air pollution that’s the bother? the physical location? the construction materials that were used in your current place? I do hope it’s something you can move away from, and find a new spot to settle into more comfortably.

      I was a bit startled today to realize it’s January 6 already. I have a feeling the year’s going to go very, very quickly. I hope it’s a good one for you, and that your angels are attentive!

      1. Hey; a friend visited yesterday, and she is from the ‘earthquake’ area; we both suspect there is still a lot of earthquake dust in the air, as the demolition and reconstructions continue in most areas. The apartment is a great space, and I wish I could physically transport it to the bosque – then I’d never leave! Auto pollution is not good, esp the dirty diesel exhaust from the bus and pickups. I’m at my best in nature, however, and my body/upper respiratory probs confirm it.

        1. Here, the issue has been pollen; it’s the time of year when the hill country cedars do their thing, and the north winds carry it to the coast. I suppose there’s no perfect spot on earth, but I’d take pollen over your diesel fumes and construction dust any time. Stay well!

  42. First you had me dreamily dredging up the smells of my grandma’s pantry, but then you swerved unexpectedly (in a fun way) into a Marie Kondo-esque annual house purge! I’m a neatnik, a thrower-outer, and a clean freak, but none of these could hold a candle to my grandmother’s control over her domain. I remember so clearly coming home from college (making my grandma in her late 70s, I would guess) and watching her climb up ladders and scrub down every single wall in the house at least once a year. I’m not sure I have EVER fully washed a wall! I enjoyed your memories of your grandparents!

    1. I’ve never washed a wall, and I’m pretty sure my grandmother never did, since they had wallpaper rather than paint. On the other hand, every time there’s a tropical system brewing in the Gulf, and especially if a real hurricane is heading for Texas, I’m seized by an irrational impulse to wash woodwork. I have no idea what that’s about; it’s probably related to early parental advice never to go out in ragged underwear, lest an accident land me in the hospital.

      It really is interesting to me how many memories are associated with our senses: fragrances, tastes, sounds. Music, too, of course. If you want to know what my grandmother’s house smelled like, go down to the old hotel in Blessing, Texas, in the summer, and there it is. They even have a screen door with a satisfying slap — or they did, the last time I was there.

  43. I can definitely relate to your grandmother~I abhor clutter and am constantly looking to see what can be sent along to another home. I was very inspired by the story of Gandhi, who died with the glasses and cloth wrap he wore and nothing else. I mean. That is further than I plan to go anytime soon, but still kind of a light idea. And I love the lightness of your idea, too, sweeping away small resentments and angers, preconceptions and irrationalities.
    You’ve moved? We’re contemplating a move. I’ve never washed a wall, either, but I’m looking at what 25 years have done to our walls and thinking, maybe I’d better! Dogs, children, even some grownups leave surprising amounts of grime on the walls around here.

    1. Although I’ve never washed a wall, I have repainted — multiple times. There’s nothing like a fresh coat of paint, in a new color, to liven things up. I painted my previous apartment, but this new one is lovely: grayish walls that change color with the light, and white woodwork. I moved December 1 — all that got documented over at Lagniappe. I didn’t really say much about it in this blog. I went from 3rd floor to ground floor, and downsized. I’m quite happy with the decision. My last two posts at Lagniappe have shown a some of my new neighbors.

      I’d never go as far as Gandi, primarily because so many of the things I have are memory-laden. I’m not one of those with thirty-five pairs of shoes and such, but even as I downsized, I kept many of the things that have meaning. Eventually, I may have to do another down-sizing, but I’ll confess that the old saying about how we “can’t take it with us” at the end offends me, just a bit. There are a few things I’d like to hold on to in the afterlife. I understand those Egyptians!

      1. Ha! I’m with you, although I usually just refuse to think about it. I don’t mind the idea of dying so much, but the thought of leaving stuff behind that I treasure…no way! Congratulations on your new digs. I love that when walls seem to change color with the light. I once painted a room stark white just so it would be fresh for renters, and completely fell in love with how that looked.

        1. I went through a white phase a few decades back, but now I prefer color. It’s interesting that, at the same time, I’ve lost my taste for black and white photos. I know, I know — I’ve read all the reasons that black and white is preferred by so many photographers, but while I will readily admire many black and white photos, I never have fallen in love with one – unless it’s night, or fog, or some other form of a more natural black and white (or sepia).

          1. Same here. They strike me as depressing or spooky, even, and I often want to tell the photographer to give us back our color! There are schools of thought that celebrate the monochrome in painting, too, but I never had any patience for that.

  44. “it’s always best to enter the New Year with as few burdens as possible.”

    That’s a great line to take away from your times with your grandmother. I never knew my grandmothers so your memories seem delightful and poignant. Thanks for bringing a smile to my face with this.

    1. I was blessed, indeed — the grandmother I knew was a wise woman, and Grandpa as well. I’ve written about them several times, but the best story is waiting to be written. I just haven’t found my way into it yet, but I will. My working title is, “The Year Grandma Outsmarted the Klan.” It wasn’t just the South that had some interesting encounters with those folks!

    1. Well, hello, and Happy New Year, Bill. I see that you and Cherie have been busy with the B&B — and obviously are pleasing a lot of people. I hope all’s well otherwise, too. I miss your blog, but I see you’re still providing history tidbits on Facebook; good for you.

      I don’t know if you’re on Twitter, but if you are, there’s a Princeton historian, @KevinMKruse, whose area of specialization is modern American political history. I think you’d enjoy both his feed and his books. I’ve learned quite a lot from him. Best wishes for 2020!

  45. I expect Jadalyn, my closest oldest great granddaughter, will remember me in much the same way you remember your grandmother. She is so precious and willing to help. I’m not seeing her for this last couple weeks because of custody battle. Would appreciate your prayers about that. Two girls involved.

    1. I remember some mentions of Jadalyn in your blog, and I remember the fondness with which you spoke of her, too. I’m sorry for the current difficulties; it’s never easy when such struggles begin, and I will keep the girls — and your whole family — in mind. You certainly have done your part in helping to build pleasant and positive memories for your grandchildren — that won’t be forgotten.

  46. What a precious photo of you and your grandparents! I especially love her cake stand. A cake stand is something that is seldom used by most, but thanks to my mother I have numerous ones from her that I use regularly use. Wylie’s birthday “cake” is always lovingly place on one. I was blessed to have lived with my grandparents until I was 4. We lived in an old farmhouse. We had a cellar where all sorts of canned foods were stored. My favorite pick was a big glass jar of canned cherries. Thanks for the wonderful memories of your grandparents!

    1. I still remember my mother’s favorite cake stand. It was milk glass, done in the open lace pattern. It always was exciting to see a ‘special’ cake on one of those plates.

      I always thought the canned cherries looked like jewels in their jars.The color was beautiful, and I’ll bet you remember holding them up to the light, to see how they glowed!

    1. It was a close contest between her pantry and the fruit cellar out back. The cellar doubled as a storm cellar, but its walls were lined with shelves just wide enough for canned veggies and fruits: corn, beans, applesauce, and so on. It was a little dark and scary because of the spiders, but being asked to go get something from the cellar meant you weren’t “little” any more.

  47. I enjoyed this childhood memoir so much. The details of your grandmother’s pantry and grandfather’s workshop reminded me of the wonders I’d find exploring my own grandparents’ house. You painted a vivid, delightful picture, with observations that resonate: Since the turn of the year, I’ve been embarked on my own version of “winter cleaning” — external and internal — intent on traveling increasingly lighter through life.

    1. Those of us who were raised with loving grandparents were lucky, indeed: as are children who have similar experiences today. Despite their lack of formal education, mine were wise in the ways of the world, and able to cope with whatever came their way. While not wealthy — or even particularly well off financially — they were secure: a distinction that was clear to us even as kids.

      I do wish my dad or one of his siblings still was around to answer the question that came to me while I was writing this: where did everyone sleep? There were six kids and two adults in their two-bedroom house. I suspect what I knew as the living room might have served a dual purpose when they all were growing up, but I just don’t know. I’m going to have to ask my one remaining maternal aunt if she knows; they lived down the street, and she was friends with one of Dad’s sisters.

        1. I’d like to be able to spend time asking question as the person I am now, though. In that time, and in my Scandinavian family, children weren’t told explicitly not to question the adults, but that feeling was in the air!

  48. How enjoyable reading. You wrote so well that I lived vividly among your story! Also, Finns immigrated to US. They immigrated mainly to Michigan and Minnesota; I think. I never met my grandfather and my grandmother. Well, it happens.

    Thank you for this post.

    Have a wonderful day!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed my little story, and could imagine what it was like for me as a child.

      I think you’re right about the Swedish Finns first landing in Minnesota; I believe some Sámi did, too. I met my first Finnish people in Alaska. They migrated there with people from Ukraine. In fact, Finns built the Orthodox cathedral there, and then built their own Lutheran church across from it. There’s quite a history to it. The Wiki article has some photos, although there are a few variations in details from other articles. For example, some say the first church was built in 1840, rather than 1983. Still, it’s very interesting, and the altarpiece from the original church survived fires and still can be seen.

      Thanks so much for the visit, and the kind comments!

      1. Wow. Awesome history. Few years ago, there was in our national TV series of prams presenting Finns around the globe. They did find in Alaska few people descendants of immigrants. My favorite place where Finns yet today cherish our customs and culture is situated in Brazil! The town called Penedo, not so far away from Rio de Janeiro, is known “Little Finland”. When I was young, I visited there twice. At those days and yet today there are organized Finnish dances. Also, Brazilians love our music and our dance melodies. I have told about this at the end of my old post:

        Airing national costumes1

        In Penedo you can meet Santa! :)

        Happy upcoming weekend!

        1. Now, that surprises me. I wouldn’t have expected to find Finns in Brazil. On the other hand, people do settle in every sort of place, and establish communities that allow them to maintain their culture. Here in Texas, we have Czech, German, Swedish, Polish, Dutch, and Italian heritage towns. Some have festivals, some maintain the language, and they all like to share their foods — a very big benefit, in my view! Thanks for sharing about “Little Finland” — I enjoyed learning about it.

  49. Wonderful memories! Your insightful writing brings these back to life. This family story needs to be passed down to the future generations of your family. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s great fun to give form to some of these early memories, and share them with others, especially if I find a way to do it that saves it from being just nostalgia. There are real lessons to be learned from the past, and many of them need to be recalled from time to time.

  50. What a wonderful recollection! I recognize the way of cleaning and the thouroughness from my own grandparents. They set great pride in having their house in order and also had set times for cleaning windows and getting rid of stuff. It’s interesting to think about this in a wider sense – it’s not just about stuff, it’s also about preconceptions and old ways of thinking. Great post! 😊

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! It’s always fun to share recollections with people who have experienced similar things. I still remember the schedule that my mother and her friends kept to: Monday for laundry, Tuesday for ironing, Friday for baking, and so on. “Going with the flow” has some advantages, but as Annie Dillard says, structure is “a net for catching days.” There’s some real wisdom there.

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