Southern Scribe
    our culture of storytelling

 

 Porch Tale    

 

 

A Visit to Grandmaís House

By Joan Hetzler

 
 

"Sheís very finicky in what she eats," Mother said in a brisk voice, as she set my little blue suitcase on the wooden hall floor in Grandmaís old farm house. "If you fix her scrambled eggs, youíll have to take the whites out first, or she wonít touch them. In fact, she wonít eat much of anything," Mother complained.

Grandma put her hand on my head and softly smoothed her fingers down my fine brown shoulder length hair and said in a soft voice, "Weíll take care of her. Can you stay for a glass of iced tea before you go back?"

"No, Iíve got to get back to town. Iíve got too much to do today. I have the bridge club tomorrow," she said in a loud voice over her shoulder as she pushed open the screen door and hurried out to her car.

The sound of the car engine pulling out of the gravel drive onto the country road softened from a roar to a whine to a distant purr.

Grandmaís house was a white Victorian farmhouse with gingerbread framework. Fig and Crepe Myrtle bushes, flowers, and maple and oak trees dotted the yard. Kittens played next to an old milkhouse and ran beneath the stone foundations when neighbors came to visit. A wooden hallway ran the length of the house with doors to bedrooms opening off it. A kitchen opened at one end next to us and the front porch at the other end with rocking chairs and a swing.

The house seemed very quiet to me. My home was often filled with the sound of Mother shouting angry words at Daddy or me, doors slamming, and her sobs at Sunday dinners when she ran to her bedroom upset about something after putting the food on the table. We tried to eat while she cried in the next room.

That night, I changed into my favorite pink pajamas and curled up on the couch while Grandma and Grandpa sat in Victorian armchairs watching The Lawrence Welk Show. Listening to the Lennon sisters harmonize, I dozed off and woke to find my chewing gum stuck in my hair.

I began to cry when it would not come out and yanked at my roots. Grandma walked over, sat down beside me on the sofa, and said, "Child, how on earth did you do this? No, donít hurt yourself. I think ice will do the trick."

She returned with ice chips in a washcloth. I trembled, expecting pain and recriminations, but she very gently and slowly rubbed the ice on the gum and separated it from the strands. When it was out, she led me to the little roll-a-way bed in hers and Grandpaís bedroom beside their big four poster bed and tucked me in.

The next morning I woke up in the little cot feeling secure and happy. The air smelled clean and crisp. Calves bleated for their mamas in nearby fields, bees hummed outside the window, and a distant tractor putted over a field.

Later in the morning, Grandma took me with her to gather eggs. She put on a wide-brimmed straw hat and a blue cotton dress and carried a towel to hold the eggs. We slowly made our way to the henhouse. Ladies never rushed. Grandma always knew what a lady should do. Baby chickens ran and hid like leaves blown in the wind along the ground as we approached. Inside the henhouse were upper and lower shelves lined with square raw wooden boxes filled with straw. In one box, a hen sat and clucked indignantly at our entrance without invitation. I looked eagerly in boxes at my eye level and exclaimed if I saw an egg, feeling like I had found a present under the tree on Christmas morning. Grandma allowed me to reach in and add it to her pile.

Excited, I followed her back to the house where I sat on a stool by the stove and watched her break the eggs into flour and pour milk to make biscuits in a pastel colored glass bowl. A blackberry cobbler simmered in a big pot on the stove and fried chicken sizzled in a big iron skillet. A rotating fan stood on the blue linoleum floor slowly turning from side to side pushing the heat out of the room and through the screens on the porch to mewing kittens outside. Grandma shook flour lightly onto a piece of wax paper on the counter before placing the dough in the center of it. She then took a wooden rolling pin and began to roll the dough flat. Next, she took up a metal biscuit cutter and began to cut out circles in the dough and put them on a large wide baking sheet.

As she cooked, smoke filtered from the dining room next door where a massive Victorian mahogany dining table with round claw feet filled up most of the space. Grandpa wore thick gloves with a wide brimmed hat from which netting hung. Bees buzzed drunkenly from the smoke he squirted on them as he pulled combs from beehives. After the bees sought fresher air, he removed the gloves and slowly cut the beeswax to squeeze thick golden liquid into glass jars lined up on the table.

When the biscuits were ready, Grandma took a handbell and stepped outside the door to ring it several times to call the farm workers in for dinner. I asked her why she didnít just shout for them since they were in the farm lot nearby. She said a lady never raises her voice.

I set the table for her, carefully putting the forks and silverware in the right places and in the right order. Finally, I helped her carry the bowls of green beans, sliced red tomatoes, and creamed corn to the table. When everyone was settled and the blessing said, she asked me if I wanted some biscuits with honey to go with my fried chicken and vegetables. I said that yes I was very hungry and savored the warm buttered bread spread with golden honey melt in my mouth.

It was those visits to Grandma that seemed surrounded by a golden halo of light that helped me through the crises in my parentsí home and later in my adult life. I think of those visits as an oasis of love where I can pause and refresh my mind, if only in memories.


Joan Hetzler is freelance writer who lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she hosts a local radio show, The Writers' Show, on www.wutc.org. She has published two inspirational poetry chapbooks about St. Simons Island, Georgia, and her poetry has appeared in The Savannah Literary Journal.  She also writes both Christian and secular plays and is working on a memoir about finding healing from Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and severe allergies.  She can be contacted at thewritersshow@yahoo.com

© 2004, Joan Hetzler, All Rights Reserved