My grandmother was a little sprite of a woman, but she turned ordinary days into adventures. I vividly recall one specific time when I spent a summer night at her house when I was about eight years old.
Although Grandmother only lived about eight blocks away, I packed my little bag with all the things I would need on my overnight journey. Mama took me to her house in the early evening, and I shared a simple meal with her at the kitchen table. After cleaning up our dishes, we went into the tiny living room and got out the box of Dominoes.
Grandmother didn’t just play “token” games to keep me occupied until bedtime. She enjoyed playing, and it was a lively, enthusiastic competition. And of course, we always talked while we played. She was a great conversationalist. Sometimes, she simply spoke of ordinary things in the community, or about family members and what they were doing. At other times, the conversation took a different turn.
My grandmother never owned a television set, but she loved to read. In fact, she read voraciously, and knew something about a wide variety of subjects. So her conversation might include some interesting tidbit of information she had read about. And, of course, she read her Bible daily, so she wove things she had read into the discussion.
Around 10:00 o’clock, she declared it to be bedtime, and while I put on my pajamas and brushed my teeth, she changed into a long gown and took down her hair. Grandmother was probably barely five feet tall, if even that. Her white hair, when loose, hung most of the way down her back, maybe almost waist length. During the day, she wore it twisted into a bun. But at night, she took it down and let it fall loose.
We turned out the light and both climbed into the double-sized feather bed in the front bedroom. It always felt safe, lying next to my grandmother in the dark, listening to an occasional car drive past down Main Street.
At first light the next morning, Grandmother was out of bed, and I sleepily followed. We pulled on our clothes and headed for the kitchen. I don’t remember what she made for breakfast, but it was probably very nutritious, since she was a health nut long before it was fashionable to be one. Grandmother would pore through health journals, and researched the latest findings ‘way before we had the internet. She had discovered the merits of soy milk before anyone around us even knew it existed, and she purchased it by mailorder.
Once breakfast was prepared, we took it outside to eat. That, in itself, was an adventure for me, since at my house we never ate outside unless it was a cookout. But Grandmother dearly loved the outdoor life. She spent most of her waking hours working in her garden, so she was quite at home eating breakfast in the backyard! We took our morning meal into the screened-in garden room in her backyard.
Here, I must digress to explain this building. Because Grandmother was a “can-do” kind of woman, we never knew what construction project she might have underway when we went to visit. I remember with amazement that sometimes I would walk into her house and discover that she had knocked out a wall and reconfigured some room in her tiny home. By way of explanation, she was widowed at a young age. And she was, after all, a pioneer woman who had traveled by covered wagon to new territory, lived in a dugout, raised eight children on the West Texas prairie, and had likely even helped her husband build their home east of Petersburg. So yes, I’m sure she had learned many skills and was not afraid to try something new.
At any rate, Grandmother was not afraid to tackle new projects, and as far as I know, she completed them single-handedly. At this point in the story, she was eighty-five years old, and had built an outdoor screened-in garden room, for lack of a better description. Sure, it was crudely built with scraps of this and that. She had basically built a wooden frame, nailed screening to the framing boards all around, and had installed an old screen door at the entrance. I can’t remember for sure, but it seems like it had a covering of some kind.
She had an assortment of plants inside. There was a bench-type table with chairs, so that was where we took our breakfast on this particular day. The morning was cool and fresh; birds sang, and a slight breeze sifted through the screens, ruffling my short brown hair. Grandmother had already secured hers in a bun. It wasn’t a stylish gesture for her, but purely practical so that she could work in her yard during the windy days with ease.
On this particular morning, we had carried our breakfast out to the garden room, and it seemed magical to be sitting outside, eating an ordinary breakfast in an extraordinary fashion.
I remember thinking, “This is so much fun. I don’t know why we don’t do this all the time at home?” Of course, that is the beauty of being with grandparents; you get to do things you would not always get to do at home!
Sometime around mid-morning, my mother came to retrieve me, and it was time to go back to my own routines.
A simple memory of a seemingly uneventful sleepover—much like others I had experienced at Grandmother’s house. But the time spent must have been engraved on my heart more than fifty years ago, because the imprint of those precious details is still sharp and vivid in my memory today.
Judy Martin Bowyer