I truly hope that you enjoy reading
this as much as I enjoyed living it...it's long, but worth the read if you want to relive the good ole days.
TO GRANDMA’S HOUSE WE GO
It is with great sadness and love that
I write this story of my remarkable grandparents and their farm, but it’s been a long time in coming. They were and
still are very special to me, the most special....the light in my quite often dark and dismal world. Although they are gone
now, their memory still floods me with light and love. My grandmother was named Hazel and there will never be anyone like
her again in this life. I know that and it is difficult sometimes to contend with. This will probably never be published,
nor is that the intent. The sole purpose in my putting these words on paper is so that their memory will remain forever alive
in my children and their children. Their light lives on me and so it should in my children and their’s and on and on.
They should and will never be forgotten if I can help it.
She and her husband, my grandfather,
Theodore Roosevelt, were farmers in the lower, Southern part of Illinois. During the time of my grandfather’s birth,
it was normal for parents to chose names of famous individuals to give to their children, hence the name, Theodore Roosevelt
for grandpa. I also have a cousin who's name is William Tell. My Grandparents met and married when grandma was only 14 and
at the time of their deaths, they had been married well over 60 years. Their’s was a phenomenal marriage, weathering
many times of heartache and sorrow. Their life was simple, frothed with much hard work. The work they did in one day, either
separately or collectively, would kill the average person today.
Together, they raised four children,
three boys and one girl. They weren’t rich, nor did they have "fancy" things, but what they did have, is love...an abundance
of love...so much love. The children are respectively, Billy Gene, Teddy Lee, Peggy Dois, and Jerry Wayne.
Coming from an abusive background, most
of my childhood memories have long since been blocked. What I do remember is mostly tragic. However, I do remember with crystal
clarity going to Grandma’s house. I loved the farm in Illinois. It provided the solace that I needed throughout most
of my life and still sustains me even today. The farm however, is just a place, what made it the special place that it was,
was my grandparents. As you walked through the backdoor, you could immediately feel their presence as it engulfed you, as
you knew they soon would. As soon as they knew you had arrived, they would bundle you close and you knew you were some how
The farm house was a two-story that
sat atop a hill, surrounded by many trees. The trees on the front lawn were white-washed to curb attacks of carnivorous, tree
eating bugs. Sitting on a hill, there was always a constant, gentle breeze ruffling the leaves and murmuring sweet words.
In back of the house, was a huge garden that contained both vegetables and fruit and also hoards of flowers. The garden was
my grandmother’s pride and joy. Sadly it and the farm would eventually cause her death. She passed away from Black Lung
disease because of inhaling all the pesticides used to maintain the garden and farm. This incredible woman never smoke a cigarette,
and never did a single sip of liquor ever pass her lips, but she passed from what she loved best...how tragic.
Directly behind the house and out the
back door, stood the original farm house that was no longer inhabited. By the time I came on the scene, the old house was
mainly used for storage. Where most would have torn down that old house, they found a use for it as is typical in farm life.
You never waist anything that is still usable.
Daily chores consumed my grandparent’s
life from sunup till sunset and then into the night. While grandpa took care of the business of farming, my grandmother took
charge inside the home. She was a woman of great character and strength. The one I admire above all others. I remember the
meals at her house. Breakfast would consist of eggs, bacon, sausage, gravy, oatmeal, fresh rolls, cereal, juices, preserves.
She always cooked banny eggs for me because she knew I liked them so much. She was always doing special things for me just
because she knew I liked it. Banny eggs come from Banny hens and they are very small...I suppose that is why I liked them
so much...they were different. I am not sure exactly what a Banny hen is to be honest. I don’t even know if that was
the real name for them, but it is what my grandmother called them...so it just was. I never questioned anything she did or
said. I never felt the need. If she said it, it was cast in stone as far as I was concerned.
As soon as breakfast dishes were washed
by hand, and believe me there was always a hoard of dishes to contend with,we would immediately start preparing lunch. Lunch
consisted of at least three different types of meat, anywhere from nine to 11 vegetables, homemade desserts...several kinds,
and generally yeast bread of some kind. Again the process would start. Wash dishes and begin preparing dinner. Which would
basically be like lunch, only with more added. Grandma knew how much I love macaroni and cheese and she would always make
sure there was some prepared at every dinner...just for me.
Once, after days of constant dish washing,
my mother and I pleaded with my grandmother to just have sandwiches for lunch and to our dismay, she agreed. We should have
known it had been too easy. That day, we did have sandwiches, along with the eleven vegetables and everything else she usually
fixed. So dishes still had to be washed. being as young as I was, I could generally sneak off quietly and quickly.
No one could visit my grandmother’s
for a week and come away less than ten pounds heavier. The food was bountiful and delicious. My grandmother didn’t go
to the store to go grocery shopping. She grew her meat and her vegetables and made her bread...Oh the smells that were generated.
On the farm, there was a vast variety
of animals consisting of, but not limited to pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, cats and dogs. There was always
a kitten or a puppy under foot. When meat was needed, something would be butchered...this I didn’t participate in or
even watch, I just knew it took place. As for all the vegetables, she grew them in her cherished garden. She also grew strawberries
in great quantities.
I remember one summer, I ate so many
strawberries that I developed an allergic reaction and broke out in hives all over. Oh, I could still partake of this delicious
fruit, but they had to be chased with a teaspoon of baking powder to counter act the reaction. I didn’t mind as long
as I could still eat the fruit. Grandma use to bake huge flat pans of crust and we would break the crust up in a bowl, and
ladle spoon fulls of strawberries over them. I probably consumed at least a gallon of berries a day.
It was my job to gather the eggs daily.
Doesn’t sound bad, does it? Well let me tell you, when you’re only five or six years old, a hen can be a very
dangerous creature, especially if she is sitting on her eggs and is reluctant to give them over. Grandma, showed me how to
reach under the hens to get the eggs, but it didn’t help much. I would scrunch up my face, close my eyes and dive in
and secure the eggs. I was ecstatic when I would discover a Banny egg. I did however, suffer a few vicious pecks from disgruntled
hens. However, I carried my war wounds proudly and to me all the eggs were precious treasure to be guarded at all cost.
My grandmother was well known for her
dill pickles. She had her own special recipe and I have never tasted any like them before or since. She had a cellar and her
walls were lined with shelf after self of pickles, jams, and various canned goods. I know most people rebuke the idea of eating
a fish known as Carp, but my grandmother could can the stuff and you could not tell it from canned salmon. As I said, nothing
was ever waisted on the farm.
Her cooking amazed me in that she had
no recipes to speak of. Everything she made was a pinch of this and a pinch of that and astonishingly everything came out
perfect...especially her hot, buttery, delicious yeast rolls. My mouth waters even now when I think about them.
In her cellar she also had a wood cook
stove. A very, very old black one. When it was time to slaughter a pig or two, she would always cook and crackle the skins.
Have you ever bought pork skins in the store, well she made her own and they were so good. She also made her own hominy on
that old stove. For those that don’t know what hominy is...it is hulled corn with the bran and germ removed, which a
taste that is very distinct. I spent countless hours, watching her wield her magic over that old cook stove. I can smell the
hams curing in the old smoke house. These smells literally permeated the air surrounding you at all times.
Monday was always wash day. In my earliest
memories of my beloved grandmother, she would place a huge, heavy iron kettle over a roaring fire in the back of the house,
in the yard and when the water reached the temperature she wanted, she would wash her clothes in this kettle, using an old
washboard. She would then rinse out the pot and refill it with fresh water for rinsing the clothes.
In later years, she bought a new "fangled"
washing machine. The kind with rollers that you have to run your clothes through to squeeze out excess water. I believe the
term is a Ringer Washer. A clothes dryer was never thought of, so she diligently hung the laundry on the line outside to dry
even when the temperature dropped below freezing and her hands would crack. In later years, I remember that her children offered
to buy her a new washer and low and behold, she bought a brand new Ringer Washer. Later on down the line, they also purchased
a new clothes dryer for her. I smile now when I think about it, that dryer made great storage for her. If it was ever used
to actually dry clothes, I never saw it.
Her church. I remember it so well. Red
brick and white, it stood proudly atop a hill off a country road. It was a small country church, with a bell in the belfry.
To the right of the church, was found a cemetery. Our name was on many headstones, as are my grandparent’s today.
On Sunday mornings, my grandpa would
put on his cleanest pair of overalls and it was his job to ring the bell to summon in the parishioners to service. It was
also the only time that I can remember him not wearing a hat. I never could understand. Although he had a head full of thick,
thick hair, he always wore a cap...part of his character I suppose. Although my grandpa could get away with wearing his overalls,
my grandmother always dressed to the hilt. Powdering her face and adding just a touch of rouge...always adorning her dress
with a beautiful rhinestone broach.
Whenever I was present, grandpa would
hold me up and let me hang from the bell rope to ring the bell. He, of course, would help me pull it to sound the bell...what
great fun this was. Both of my grandparents taught Sunday School. The church had no air conditioning, so it was normal that
behind each pew, in the slot that held the hymnals, there could also be found fans donated by the local funeral home. Not
only did the fans serve to rustle the air, but could also be used to shoo away an occasional fly. The church had no plumbing
either. If it became necessary, one could find an outhouse located behind the church. Along with a Sears catalogue...I kid
After church, we would head to my great
grandmother’s for her normal Sunday feast. Sunday was definitely a day enjoyed by all.
As any youngster, I would become easily
board when staying at my grandparents, but my ever resourceful grandmother always had a magic trick up her sleeve. She would
bring me a box of buttons and needle and thread and let me make whatever was in my little head at the time and I would happily
string buttons for hours on end. There was always some special secret treasures at grandma’s house.
By the backdoor, she had a huge white
bucket, with lid. This bucket was a never ending source of sugar cookies, which could be eaten at will. No one ever told you
that you couldn’t have one.
I don’t know if you know what
camphophenique is or not, but it was always in supply as well. It was a general cure all for all bumps, scrapes and bruises.
I become very reminiscent whenever I smell camphor.
On the farm, you didn’t call a
doctor for every little scrape that you received. I remember a story my grandmother once told me. When my dad was around 16,
he had a bicycle accident and ripped open his knee. What did my grandmother do? She sewed him up of course with needle and
thread. It was that simple.
My grandfather spent some of his life
as a carpenter and I can remember sometimes, if he was ill, it was nothing for my grandmother to climb up on top of a house
and do some roofing. This woman was incredible...she did it all.
I specifically remember a trip that
I made in 1987, when my daughter was seven years old and my son was 14 years old. I didn’t know at the time, but it
would be the last trip that I ever made to see my beloved Grandmother, and it would be the last I would ever see her sweet,
dear face other than in pictures or feel her nuturing, tender touch, or be able to follow her around as she went about her
daily chores on the farm.
I wanted so much for my children to
experience the splendor and magic that I had always known and during this one special trip, I believe they did.
One day, during this visit, I took my
young daughter and my small cousin and we took off to explore. After walking for what seemed like miles through the woods,
we emerged into a clearing and there was nothing but double daffodils as far as you could see. We ran, we jumped, we played
and gathered arms full of daffodils. The strange thing about all of this, no one had planted these magnificent flowers. They
were just there. It was then I realized this was truly a magical place on earth.
My grandparents owned 88 acres of farm
land and on this land, one could find caverns, waterfalls, forest, and bluffs. It was always an exciting place to explore.
My daughter had a wonderful time during
this visit and I hope that she was able to capture at least a fraction of the memories that I have. My cousin (Shannon) was
her age and they became great friends instantly. I even had a picture of the two girls hanging side by side from a tree. She
stands here now telling me how she and Shannon would sleep together on the couch because they were scared after hearing the
howling of coyotes in the night.
Shannon had several brothers that befriended
my son and one night they talked him into spending the night in a hayloft of an old barn. Sometime during the night they wakened
to discover a mother coyote carrying her cubs into the safety of the barn. He, of course, was terrified, but what a grand
adventure he had to tell his friends back home.
It would seem that the farm use to be
home for the Indians. My grandfather found countless Indian arrows which he mounted on a board and framed. Although he was
offered many dollars for them time and time again, he hung on to them to pass on to family members.
At one point in the life of the farm,
the school my grandparent’s children attended had been on their land. In fact, the school was named after them. It was
called Penrod School. Unfortunately, it’s long since been destroyed, although the footings are still there.
The farm house is located at the end
of a long, long dirt road. Once you leave the main road, you have to travel about ten miles over dirt road to reach the house.
They were so far back in the wilderness, that the wolves would build their dens on the sides of the road and it was nothing
to get up every morning and look out the window at the pond and see deer standing, drinking and grazing. These animals had
nothing to fear in this placid setting. I even remember a bobcat/mountain lion story or two. I do remember hearing howling
into the night. I would just close my eyes, pull the cover up over my head and go to sleep.
A farm can be a mysterious place where
you can experience many wonders of nature. Once, one of the cows gave birth to a two-headed calf. It died at birth unfortunately,
but Grandpa kept it in the freezer for quite sometime so that we all could see it. Once again, a museum offered him quite
a sum of money for it, but he refused. After it had been seen by all, he simply buried it in a shallow grave on the farm from
where it had come. My grandfather’s priorities in life did not revolve around money. He was a simple man and as long
as he had food to eat, a roof overhead and his family was safe, he was both satisfied and happy.
Sometimes when I visited, other family
members would also come for a visit and usually included several of my cousins. My grandfather would hook a long trailer to
the back of his tractor and would always take us on a hay ride. What an adventure this was for a bunch of city kids.
One summer, I was allowed to spend a
month on the farm. I was in heaven! While there, we were hit by three tornadoes. I never saw any of them. As they approached
in all their wrath, I was scurried down into the cellar. I crouched close to my grandmother and buried my head. Although I
could hear all the commotion, I somehow knew I was safe. Her words of comfort over powered the thunderous roars from the storms.
Afterwards, when allowed to return back
upstairs what I saw was stupendous to my little mind. Windows shattered and hail stones scattered over the floor. All was
a terrible, costly mess, but my time spent there was priceless.
Out in front of the house, slightly
to the left, was a fishing pond. I spent many times there with a can of worms and cane pole in hand. Grandpa had a lot of
fish in his pond and they were easy to catch. Grandma would look upon my catch proudly and it was a sure bet that it would
prepared for dinner and my praises would be sung.
I think my most favorite memories stem
from Christmases spent on the farm. Oh what a picture to see. Snow everywhere, smoke coming from the chimney a bite in the
air and thoughts that Santa would soon visit. I don’t know what had me more excited, having a white Christmas, or the
anticipated visit from Santa to Grandma’s house. Often I would sleep on the sofa in the living room by the old oil stove
and it was even more special at Christmas, because I could fall asleep while gazing at the beloved Christmas tree. All little
girls should grow up with these memories stored inside.
One could not help but feel special
in this place of warmth and love. It wasn’t just a piece of land or a farm, it was the owners, my grandparents. It was
always filled to brimming with love and so much to more. A place were a child could feel free to imagine, explore and be a
child without fear of any kind of judgement ever. You were accepted for who you were and loved beyond reason. These very special,
magical moments will live on forever in the recesses of my mind. I love you Grandma and Grandpa...the only two people that
never hurt me in this life...I will see you again one day..Amen!