Saturday, February 6, 2016

Roots; Grandma T: Coffee, Cinnamon, Vinegar and Pickling Spice

*This is part two of my Roots series* As of 2018 my grandparents have been married 59 years.

There is an aspect of home that can only be found in a smell. I am lucky that my memories associated with this are pleasant ones. The aroma of brewed coffee says, "You're safe, you're home, breath it in." The sharp tang of vinegar carries reminders of pickled beets canning and the changing season of fall. Cinnamon speaks of Thanksgiving and Comfort. Onions tell a tale of richness, satisfying nutrients, and a hearty hearth begging the question of what is under the silver lid. Since I have been five, Grandma T's house has always been less than a few blocks away. Currently, she lives in the front suite of my parents home. Each time I walk to that house I can smell the rich taste of home from the driveway tempting me to stop in and see what is cooking or baking, even if I can not eat it due to dietary needs, the smells alone are divine and a comfort to me. It takes a few minutes in her home to feel balanced again. I just need to breathe the air, say a quick hi to grandma, and go out the door feeling lighter than I was before.
(My mom painted the cowboy on my grandma's bottom shelf- amazing hey?)

My children spend massive amounts of time over at my grandparents suite. My grandparents are still vital and babysit...the benefit of generations marrying young. When my eldest son was seven years old, he sniffed the air outside my grandma T's home and chirped, "It smells like know? That smell of coziness, and the sound of grandma's old country music, and grandma's stove beeping." I was so pleased that he noticed in detail what I have treasured my whole life. Grandma was canning pickled beets. Pickling spice smells like Autumn. Every fall she loads up boxes of beets, pickles, peaches, pears and salsa ingredients and sets to work for days of boiling and mixing. I tried to learn a few times but it never took. I was an epic fail due to Dyspraxia.
(My paternal grandma, hubby and I, Grandpa and Grandma T, my two eldest and my little sister about a decade ago.)

Grandma T is the epitome of the 1950's housewife. Each supper, after slaving away to make a detailed meal that always consists of either potatoes or rice, a canned or frozen vegetable, salad, buns or bread, the main dish, and of course some sort of dessert, she serves my grandpa. I can not remember a time when she does not say, "I need to dish out your grandfather. I know what he likes." Then she TAKES it to him while he sits in his favourite spot waiting. My husband will never receive that level of service from the kitchen!:)

Before one jumps to the conclusion that my grandpa is a chauvinist I need to say that despite some old fashioned ways, he is often the best advocate of women's choice. The 1950's interaction is just their way and grandma LOVES it. If she didn't - I would have a problem with it- but her acts of love revolve around serving and kitchen. She gets depressed if she can not help others in this way. She is amazing and Grandpa is lucky. Grandpa likes to take care of everything else like the garbages, shovelling ect. They have been doing this dance for fifty plus years. Time has had no pull on their roles because they both love what they do on most days.

Cabbage Rolls, grandma's recipe, are the epitome of comfort. My grandmother feeds our family on average once a week. When we were younger and didn't have the healthy food groove we have now, grandma's was usually the only time we would have a full warm meal. Her simple english type comfort food is full of roots and stability. Not only did my children need her meals but it became a welcome respite for a young mom. My eldest son often sighs, "Oh how I love grandma's meals. They are my most favourite." There was a sense of stability and routine that we are unable to give ourselves. It's a different sort of magic than the self discovery and enhancement that went on in our home. In the early years our home smelled like books, paper, bounce, crayons and lavender. Now I can add the smells of nutritious baking from the children and I, and my husband's wonderful cooking, but grandma supplemented until we could slowly find our own foundations.

Grandma would host many of my friends for sleepovers growing up. We loved being doted on by her and watching oldies and musicals and chatting about the "olden days." All my friends growing up called them "Grandma and Grandpa T." We had sleepovers, meals and conversations. As my friends aged, despite their strong faith, my grandparents never pressured them with bible studies or god speak. Instead they teased, accepted, aided, and comforted. Their form of faith often went unspoken. Because of that, teenagers flocked to their home to hear grandpa's old trucker stories and bar brawls and to stare at the wrinkled almost naked woman tattoo on his forearm (from pre grandma days.) They came to be fed comfort food and be clucked over by grandma continually filling their glasses and offering another piece of home made pie. It was a place of acceptance yet the verses on the wall and the bible with the glasses set upon it also told their story too.  
Grandma has a distinct style that I have not seen replicated. Like all women from her time era Grandma has a china cabinet full of treasured glass knick knacks and tea cups, but what most women do not own from that era is moose dolls and Indian statues. Their home is full of Native symbolism, backwoods decor, and memorabilia of their rustic homes. They were always really poor, living in shanty homes and struggling to get by. This last year we surprised them while they were spending the summer in the Okanagan and painted the walls, re decorated and built them a shed.
 Before: Stark white walls                                     After: Coloured walls (it's tough to tell in the light but the paint is a golden creme colour)

Grandma cried. When decorating I tried to honour her country roots and keep the essence of her and all of her many knick knacks showcased in various ways around the room. I can not see a Moose without thinking of my grandparents. Grandma values history, connections and gifts. Her love languages are acts of service and gifting through meals, baking and pretty things. Christmas is her favourite holiday and she treasures every gift she receives. She places gifts under her tree for weeks or sets them on her couch to show all of us what she received and from whom. Going out of her way and budget, she tries to find the perfect gift for all of those she loves. She helped bring magic into my life. Every time they came back from a trip to BC they brought me a gift...she still does even though I am over thirty...and she carries that tradition with my children. Tinseled 1940's trees remind me of grandma and the breakable hand painted decor. Grandma IS christmas. 1940's crooners also bring up my fond Christmas memories revolving around my parents and grandparents. Nat King Cole crooning "The Christmas Song" feels like a deep part of my soul.

Grandma T has struggled with damaging health issues her entire life, spending weeks in the hospital yet she is one of the strongest, toughest people I know. She lives with pain everyday but that pain does not stop her from serving others, being active and investing in those she loves. If a person she knows is sick grandma is the first person to offer a meal, a hand at chores or her presence...even if she is also sick herself. I often joke to my husband that my grandma in her seventies has more strength and energy than I do. Actually, it's not a joke... she does. She is made of stronger stuff than I am and my LAST talent is acts of service. I am not that girl. But I hope that a bit of her has rubbed off on me in varied ways in that department in ways that I can manifest. Her hair has never been dyed but it has yet to grey, due to the medications she was on in the seventies...horrid, damaging stuff but I guess it left her with one benefit. I misunderstood when I was younger and I thought that greying was an optional part of growing old.

Grandma grew up dirt poor. One Christmas her sisters and her were in their cabin on a snowy night with nothing to eat. They had just finished the last of the lard a couple days prior. Her uncle showed up at the door in his long underwear, soaked from travelling across the river to get to them, with little stockings full of nuts and oranges and a mint candy. Grandma said it felt like he saved her life. She felt like nothing was ever as beautiful as the taste of that delicious orange.

Grandma's stories are heartbreaking. Sometimes I had to tune out because I could not take the pain of what she must have felt. As a child of the eighties, I never really experienced the lack grandma had. While we were poor ourselves in my younger years we did have food...even if it was oatmeal three times a day for awhile or cereal without milk. We had a community that did well around us and shared their wealth. In her younger days, grandma did not always have those resources as everyone around her was struggling. I think she still carries that with her because she panics when her fridge and pantry are not stocked or when food prices go up. She makes sure my fridge always has the essentials and she has supplied our children with food and clothes at times when we did not have the resources to do much. Now we have a lot, more than enough, but grandma built the foundation for much of the goodness we experience now.

Due to unknown Dyspraxia as a young adult and Autism I was not gifted in running a home at first. I have learned my own tricks but there were many Saturdays when grandma would show up. My grandmother used to come to our prairie shack to find dishes moulding in the sink and laundry decomposing in our back entry. She showed me how to throw the mess quickly into the tub, oven and laundry baskets for unexpected company. She would throw out the towels that were un-salvageable and proceed to scour the rooms. My house was a disaster zone for the first four years of marriage. I think cleaning needs time to learn the tricks of the trade. And it needs to be shown. I also needed to know my own limits. Today, my kids are also an active part of the cleaning so I no longer have to attempt it all on my own, plus I know what works for me and what doesn't. 

Many of the beautiful things in my home are from grandma. She loves to walk into my home and study all my stuff. She often will call and ask if she can show my house to some strangers or distant relatives. I try to say yes more often then no. It may seem a little odd to give a tour of my home to my grandma's constant company, but I feel that because she did not get what I have, it feels like an extension of her. She is proud of how I have set up our home. A part of her, deep down, wishes she would have had the opportunity I had, I think...and how can I say no to sharing what she feels is also a piece of her? Sometimes it is a little awkward and sometimes I get insecure about how many people I do not know, are aware of the layout of my home and where I live, yet most people she knows I trust. At other times, it's actually quite fantastic. For some reason people are blown away by the inside of my home...they think they are stepping into another world, and the comments that often follow are a boost to the ego. Plus, from time to time we hear stories and make connections that are just a one time event but are memorable. It's stretching but sometimes it's beautiful and I would not have these moments without my grandmother.

Below: Grandma's Pantry

With my therapist, I get choked up if we speak about grandma being gone and I can't finish. I switch topics because if I think of what she gives to me, being taken away, I don't know HOW I will keep going on. She is one of my anchor's in life winds. I have had a bit of a princess life in regards to tragedy. I have had my fair share of heartache and emotional and physical pain, but I have YET to experience death of anyone close to me. Grandma is a part of my life routine. I depend on her comforts, her food that heals, and her generosity. She is an aspect of stability I have enjoyed since babyhood. I feel special and loved just by being in her home. Her home smells of protected childhood yet has also allowed for growth. Apparently, smell is the strongest sense to bring a memory yet, I do not experience that aspect much but I do with my grandparents. Smells that beget them are fresh early morning air that reminds me of mountain trips, light cigarette smoke (most of their vehicles smelled of this even though they did not smoke), coffee percolating, garlic, sugar, cinnamon and vinegar and pickling spice. 

Grandma is a fighter for me and will come to my defence quicker than anyone I know, despite the fact that I remain a bit of a difficult mystery. When she leaves to go to B.C. each summer (they still travel), I feel a tad insecure after a month or so. I am always relieved and excited when their car pulls into the driveway. I try to make sure our family is always at my mom's for supper so we can be home when they arrive. I get swept away by nostalgia and also awed by the present. This is still my life and I still get to enjoy my grandmother's being. All my family jokes that I can not bear to have grandma gone too long if my husband is busy because then I starve. It's true.

Grandma is the epitome of all things home. She also has this endearing way of talking at times that begets her country roots. Some of her sayings are back woodsy. She will insert verbs for nouns or say "get them garbages." It happens more when she is tired and I love it. Her home- slanged expressions show innocence, simple roots and a love of the beautiful ordinary. She taught me to embrace coats of many colours...that we can be rich in spirit even if we are poor in money. She loves her country music and is drawn to rustic cabins. Embedded in my being are some of her tastes and her respect for humble beginnings. I find myself loving 1940's/ 1950's light fixtures, patch worked quilts, dishes and distressed wooden furniture. When I watch Mona Lisa Smile I think of grandma. In the film "The Help" grandma mentioned she was poorer than 'the help' themselves and some of her experiences were similar even though she came from a very different background. There is one scene in that movie when the ladies are having a get together and they put a tray of devilled eggs across a scratch on the table. My grandma has that tray and she makes that exact type of devilled eggs for each special occasion. She has the little pickles on a plate and the cut up tomatoes, cheese and meats. She fries up her chicken in Crisco and swirls the mashed potatoes until they are buttery. The food scenes in that movie ARE my childhood and grandma's food still today. She also used tin T.V. trays when I was little and her dishes are those coloured cups and plates. When I watched a few scenes in 'The Help' I felt like I was once again in parts of my youth. It was weird. Grandma managed to maintain that 1950's style in the eighties and nineties. There is a part of me that was born country, born down home rustic, born with 1940/50's style and memory and born with the roots of my grandma. Coffee, Cinnamon,Vinegar and pickling spice are constant reminders of this.

What senses are embedded into your roots?

Post Edit: I feel that the reason I am quite balanced even though I grew up as an undiagnosed Autistic and Dysrpaxic (which was hard in it's own way) is because of the roots I had. My parents and grandparents had opportunities to move but they did not. I have only moved cities three times in my life before the age of five. There is something to be said for the stability of roots and of generations seeking to help support each other through life...then again, if the family is mostly negative I don't think this would be beneficial but I was lucky in my childhood to have stability, positivity and deep roots. More of these posts, and the very different other roots series, are found  in the label section on the bottom.

Song Choice: Coat of Many Colours (grandma had a similar experience and this is my eldest son's favourite song)- Dolly Parton, You're my best friend- Don Williams ( her favourite song)
Home by Alan Jackson really reminds me of my grandparents story and mine. The Christmas song- Nat King Cole.


Unknown said...

My root senses are the stickiness of mochi, the artificial creaminess of Yan Yan, the inhumanly fast speech generated by a vocaloid, the sight of a decora chan walking the streets of Harajuku in all her accessories, and the taste of teryaki chicken. (Note: Artificial things suit me more than natural things.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing another beautiful story! Makes me want to go to your grandma's right now! ��

Kmarie said...

Flutist Pride: Very neat roots:) I don't know what kochi and yan yan are but I should look them up:)

C: you are welcome!:) ME TOO:) !

Ashe said...

Heheh, yup, that's exactly how the traditional families are! Doggone hard workers inside the house and out, and the women wait on their family hand and foot while making the house smell good with food and preparing food like canning. And the women will feed you to death. My husband's grandmother never could take "no" for an answer, even after a meal, and still would keep passing pickles and other homemade goodies to you.

Especially when you grow up poor. Tales from my family involve living on biscuits and gravy ('cause flour is cheap and milk is too if you know a cow), and every so often they'd save up money to get some bread and sandwich meat as a luxury. Their saving grace was always to have a plot of land big enough to farm and grow veggies, and that was the staple of any non-breakfast meal. And kept my own family from starving when I was growing up since my paternal grandparents had a good acre or two devoted to a home farm and our patch of dirt wasn't all that fertile.

And like you said, none of it is because of any annoying sexist reasons. It's just what makes them feel the most accomplished and useful. Which is also why it's very upsetting for my 80+ mawmaw to have to let her daughters do all the fussing at holidays now and the rest of the year too.

My sensory comforts from my family and childhood is, well, dirt. The smell of fresh turned dirt being prepared for planting, with a healthy dose of red clay. Later on, the smell of various vegetables in the garden. Plenty of input with fresh air, grass, and tress. And that delicious smell of wood and leaves as they're burned in the autumn to either clean the yard or control burn the woods so the brush is kept down to prevent an actual fire. Nothing smells of home like the smell of cooking food. Although instead of country music, my pawpaw loves his old black-and-white western shows, while snacking on a green onion, a biscuit, and some salt. My dad is mostly the one who plays country music. Most of my musical memories are with my mom playing stuff from the 80s and everybody else we knew playing gospel bluegrass. (I've recently discovered non-gospel bluegrass and I can't get enough of the stuff.)

Kmarie said...

ashe: yes my grandma loved summers due to the garden but up here in canada and the mountains that is a very short growing in the winters they would desperately dig up the rest of the potatoes that they may have missed...but there were often rotten already if they did miss them or frozen solid. Sad tales:( Weather really affects poverty too I think. I am glad yours could have longer access to veggies at least but its tough that it was not too fertile! Yes gravy was a big deal.

Oooooo you brought back memories for me of the dried leaves burning!!!! COMPLETELY childhood...oh and my grandpa still bites into a normal white or red onion and eats it like an apple! Crazy!
My parents played a lot of classic rock and roll and eighties stuff to this day is still my favourite go to:) My dad also loves non gospel bluegrass...When I went to arkansas I really enjoyed that aspect of the culture but I don't really listen to it for fun but its beautiful...I like the folky spin off of it more I suppose...I LOVE ALL genres of music...Cant get enough of it! I am glad you pointed out sound...I forgot to mention music tho it is the key to my childhood- it was full of music and musicals and theatre! Loved your stories!:)

S said...

What are those spices and pickles that I can see in the photo ? This tradition of making pickles is very much there in our home too. I am getting to know so much about your childhood through these series of posts. And I am loving the photos as well. It all reminds me of a simple life that I once had. My parents would make us sit around a open fire( made of tree branches,firewood ) and roast potatoes, tomatoes and chicken legs in the fire.
I sometimes think of bringing back this simplicity in my present life as well.
You did a great job by redoing your grandma's house. I love the cream and the deep brown/tan color. I love the feel of the house. I can see your grandma sitting on one sofa, if I am not wrong.
We do need someone like her in our life...someone who makes us feel what it feels to be like a human being who is loved by be fed, to be cherished...
Just like you, I am not good at home organization but good at home decor...I don't have good housekeeping skills...these skills were mostly taught by my aunt and my mom in the form of do's and don'ts in telephone conversation with me in the early years of my I am managing well but not like them...they are very fast, neat and specialized compared to me...I am more of a reading/writing/painting/thinking sort of a "N'( intuitive ) compared to an "S" (sensing ), I get this...
Just like your grandma, it is mostly my mom and my aunt who has shaped my childhood to a great extent...
I feel one thing deep in my heart- If I lose my mom and aunt, then a part of me will be gone...I won't be able to take this because my idealism was created by them and losing them would really make me feel as if I am alone with my idealism with not many people to share with...

Kmarie said...

S: I was going through old posts and realized I never commentated back to you on this! Yikes. Those are pickles...and I love your stories too!
thank you...Yes that is my grandma sitting on the sofa! very perceptive. Yes if only we all could have a presence in our lives like that...
Yea my house keeping skills took a lot of time. Yes I am an N too and that plays a part. My grandma and mom are S.
Yes a part of us will be gone...when that is lost... sigh:(