Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Dear Grace -
My grandmother went by many names- Gracie, Mrs. Henry, Auntie Grace, Mom, Gran, Grandma and GG . The definition of Grace in the dictionary is "a simple elegance of movement" or" courteous goodwill ". Both would aptly describe my grandmother.
My grandmother, Grace would have celebrated her 103 birthday today. She became a grandmother a couple of months before her 40th birthday. I am her oldest grandchild. She lived to know her 7 grand children, her 8 great grand children and one great great grandchild. Family was central to the core of her being.
When I think of my Gran- I think of love. She radiated it- I don't ever remember her speaking harshly to anyone or about anyone. She was kind to all of God's creatures, a woman of faith who loved all of the animal species (well maybe she wasn't too fond of mice in her house 😀). She lived on a farm where she was surrounded by Nature. She loved the deer and birds and all the creatures that she saw on the land that surrounded her home. She believed in stewardship of the land and that we all had a responsibility to be Mother Earth's caretakers.
Her parents did not have money - in fact they struggled all their days to get by. Her parents were older when they married and had their children late ( Her mother Evelyn, had her last child when she was 48 and her husband William was 61) . Grace was the second youngest in her family.
Grace left home when she was 15 to work out for another farming couple. She was beautiful- tall and lithe and had a great smile and sense of fun. My gran could milk cows, ride horses and grow amazing vegetables in her large garden. She enjoyed cooking and could bake like nobody's business.
Farming on the prairies of the Alberta during the late 30's and 40's was not for the faint of heart. There was not many creature comforts in those old wood houses. My gran was resilient - she developed all the necessary skills to be able to look after herself and her family. Whether the task was to look after the animals outside or to prepare food for the winter, Grandma Grace knew how to do it all. She believed in keeping a tidy house and a tidy yard. Chores always came first, play came later. Her faith in God was infused in all parts of her life.
She met my grandfather, Henry when she was a young girl- and married him when she was 18. Together they forged a loving relationship that would last for 53 years until my grandfather's passing in 1988.
From the beginning, they were devoted to one another- always loving and demonstrative towards one another. If they ever had harsh words for one another, I don't remember them.
I remember walking up behind them one day when they had come to town - it was a chance encounter ( I was about 16). They were walking down the street hand in hand like a much younger couple would do. 💕. It makes me smile just thinking about the way they celebrated their love for one another- They always put each other first and gave 100 percent to each other and to their children.
The unconditional love is what I remember the most when I think of them- particularly my grandmother.( I would have been devastated to know that I had done something to disappoint her) but mostly, I just remember her love. She made you feel like you were the most special and important thing around . You knew that she loved you unconditionally. She had high standards of the way one behaves and conducts oneself but her reminders were always done in a gentle loving way.
Her love was infused into everything that she did- whether it was the white cake with pink icing on top with sprinkles of coconut that she made to take out to the men working in their fields, or the way that she took care of everyone who came within her circle .
She had high standards and expectations for herself. Her clothing was always clean and neat and pressed. There was no excuse to be dirty, untidy or wear torn clothing, just because you didn't have money. She could look elegant dressed in her best dress or wearing her farm clothes and her curlers wrapped up in scarf so she could go out to the hen house to get the eggs. She was particularly fussy about her hair and in later years, would have regular appointments at the hair dressers.
When I was a kid, the family farm still had an out house and a wringer wash machine. The older house had running water in the Kitchen but there was also a hand pump to wash your hands. As well, she carried water in pails from the pump house. They built a second house on their property in the 1970's. It was only then that she had indoor plumbing and an electric washer and dryer.
When I was really little, I stayed with her while my mother was going to school and my father was away working. My mom's younger sister was in charge of me and the cooking, while my grandmother did the outside chores. My gran would tease me and say that they ate more burnt food that winter when I was with them, because my aunt would forget to watch the meat while she was playing with me.
My grandmother was forever changed by my grandfather's passing. It was like she was missing one half of herself. Some winters as a younger couple, my grandfather would go away to work so that they could financially manage. They wrote many loving letters to one another that reflected how hard it was to be apart and how much they missed each other. It was also in those years that my grandmother learned how to be the independent responsible person that she was.
In the very last years of her life, I would phone her often and we often would have many interesting conversations. A couple of times, she would say-" I could go out on dates you know" - I have no doubt that she could have dated and remarried if she would have been interested in doing so. I am sure that there was more than one man that would have loved to have had her as their spouse. For her, there was only one man- her Henry! She remained devoted to my grandfather's memory and forged her own way for the last 15 years of her life. She lived on the same farm property for 67 years - it was her home until her death. She continued to drive and grow a garden and maintain the property for all those years- She was a woman of independence ! ( The family farm was adjacent to the original homestead- our family roots were there for 90 +years and she was the last remaining person of the family name in the area) Her children would sometimes come out to help her with the bigger jobs on the farm but they needed to get there quickly or she would start doing the tasks without them
( washing windows, mowing lawns, trimming trees) .
For her 85th birthday, I made her this quilt- I called it Gran's Garden. It is a watercolor quilt with a central colorwash Iris that is surrounded by an machine appliqued flower border. She loved flowers and was especially fond of Irises and Pansies. This quilt lives with me now, and has, since her sudden passing from a car accident in September of 2003.
Today I think of her in vignettes- of her singing her favorite country music songs or Rodger's and Hammerstein musicals. She and my grandfather sang often and both had lovely voices. They sang at many of the local events held in the old one roomed school or community hall.
I have a coverlet that she made with the local woman's group over a few years. It is embroidered squares done on bleached feed sacks or muslin. It is not quilted but it is her and other ladies of the community's handiwork. I also have the treadle sewing machine that she and my great grandmother Evelyn owned. It was used to make clothing and mend jeans.
I close my eyes and can smell her stove top country fried chicken. It is the best that I have ever eaten. There is no way to replicate the recipe- it was not fancy but it makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
In my mind's eye, I look to her sideboard where the Author's card game is kept and the bridge mix candy is sitting waiting for people to enjoy in a pretty glass dish.
My grandmother loved pretty things- dishes, and beads particularly. I love those things too. She was always generous and I often came back from the farm with a pretty bowl for treats or a strand of beads to wear. I have a number of her brooches and beads that reside in my jewelry box.
My grandparents took me to see two of my first movies - "Mary Poppins" and "My Fair Lady." I still love those movies and the music from them.
Gran loved books and fostered a love of reading. I continue to love books to this day. She did not have a television for many years . The TV viewing was limited in the country but books were plentiful and encouraged. Family time was spent singing songs, playing games or enjoying conversation with one another.
My favorite ice cream is still soft vanilla cones that may or may not be dipped in chocolate. When I was a child we often had cones picked up a local Dairy Mart for 10 cents a cone. They were part of the treat of going to town.
My favorite cookies were her ice box fruit sliced cookies or commercial Fig Newtons. The bread man would come and she would buy fig newton cookies from him ( sometimes he had jam filled doughnuts too) 💓
There are lots of jobs to be done on farms- we weeded gardens, shucked fresh peas and picked berries - saskatoons, raspberries and wild strawberries mostly. There is nothing better than fresh berries and farm cream. It was the standard dessert during the summer months.
The many summers of my childhood are infused with memories of activities on the farm - some work activities like hanging laundry, picking berries and weeding gardens. She cooked using traditional homegrown food- whatever was available from her garden or from her farm. Gran canned and pickled and froze vegetables for the winter. She could make amazing meals from food raised by her own hands.
As children, when our chores were done, we spent our time playing out of doors in the playhouse with items we had retrieved from the garbage pit( there was always interesting Avon bottles and Watkins spice containers to make our potions and such😁) We made our own entertainment and my grandparents were always interested in listening to our made up songs and plays. We created our own puppets and cut out dolls from Sears and Eaton catalogues. We created houses using pictures of furniture from those same catalogues. We spent a great deal of time outside- running in the grass, smelling her flowers or walking down to get the mail. Sometimes we would go with her to the fields to help bring in the cows. Always she would encourage us to pay attention to all the beauty that abounds on this place we call Mother Earth.
Grace was a woman of faith. She lived her life caring and supporting others needs before her own. She was generous and loving and used her large sturdy hands to work, play and demonstrate her love. She lived her life devoted to God, always compassionate, respectful and kind towards others. She believed in having purpose and sharing with friends and loved ones. My gran could be counted on to help and contribute to the greater community- no matter what the circumstances. She did not differentiate between close friends or acquaintances in times of need. If someone needed help , she willingly pitched in. Her home always welcomed newcomers. She carried herself with dignity, integrity and always with Grace!
Happy Birthday to my beloved Grandmother! I miss you, and will all the days of my life- Your loving heart and values continue to live on in my heart and shape my life . Grace touched many lives and was mourned by many when she passed.
And because I think some of you might enjoy having one of her recipes , I thought I might include a recipe that she made often. My mother continues to make this recipe- it is one of my Mom's staple desserts that she takes to a potluck or other family gatherings.
Oh Henry Bars
Line a buttered 9X13 inch pan with graham wafer crackers
In a pot place : 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar
3/4 cup of margarine and
3/4cup of milk
Bring these 3 ingredients to a boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Add into this boiling mixture the following:
3 cups of graham wafer crumbs
1 and 1/2 cups of medium shredded coconut
Add 1 cup of nuts ( walnuts) if desired
Pour the brown sugar mixture over the lined graham wafer crackers and let cool. When cool ice the top of it with a butter icing or cream cheese icing.
To make a butter icing you use soft margarine, icing sugar and a bit of milk to get the smooth consistency to ice this square.
Cut in squares.
On another note- I have begun a new project - Kathryn Kerr's 365 quilt block challenge. If you go to her website, perhaps you will want to join in too. It is not too late.There is no cost for the challenge -only your time and fabric scraps !
More about that next time.