By Nancy Hoag
Some say childhood disappears quickly and never returns, but I call mine back when I remember Grandma. I’m playing in her big yard, setting her drop-leaf table, reading Laplander tales, or listening to Bible stories. Come suppertime, Grandma even trusted me to go down into Grandpa’s cellar for cherry preserves and watermelon pickles, and I would know never to be afraid of going hungry or taking too much and wasting.
Lemon Drops, Dress-Up, and the Big Backyard
At Grandma’s there were tablets of rainbow-colored paper and crayons in a certain drawer in her polished highboy, plus a sharpener for my personal pencils; I would find Horehound and Lemon Drop candies in a certain kitchen cupboard; I played with clothespin dolls dressed in fancy gowns made from scraps of Grandma’s sewing fabric; plus I’d dress up in hats and furs from the chifforobe that had forever been in Grandma’s family. On warm days we played jacks or “Olly olly oxen free!” in the picket-fenced backyard or read under the vine-covered arbor. We rolled grapes around in our mouths like make-believe eyeballs—and I’d hear Grandma whisper how my “wild imagination” was special.
At Grandma’s, I’d don one of her prettiest aprons, poke my finger into her only cookbook, and learn to make my first lemon meringue pie, tamale hot dish, and homemade fudge in buttered plates. And I would drink Postum coffee substitute from fragile, floral cups with matching saucers. Some days we even walked together to the neighborhood grocer’s for butter and thick-sliced bacon. On the sunniest days, I could pick flowers from Grandma’s garden, and when Grandma invited me to set the table, I’d hear how much she liked the napkins I’d selected.
Discovering That Jesus Loves Children
But mostly we cooked from the garden, and I decorated cakes with candies (that later had to be removed in order to save our teeth and fillings). Later, when she tucked me between line-dried sheets that smelled like buttercups and summer, we’d say our prayers, and Grandma would whisper that I was “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that Jesus really loved children.
Traveling with Grandma to a house owned by a wealthy doctor, I’d feel the joy Grandma felt as we rode the bus across town. Once there, with arthritic hands she would dust and vacuum. Never did I hear her complain about scrubbing someone’s mansion when she lived in a house so small you could touch all four rooms from the middle. With Grandma, I would learn to take pleasure in simply beholding all the dolls owned by the doctor’s daughter. Feasting on peanut butter and jelly, I’d be the richest girl in the world because I was sitting next to my grandma.
Grandma Chose Joy
Today a plaque on my wall reminds me to “Choose Joy.” That’s what Grandma chose—even during a hard day’s work. It was true that Grandpa made me laugh, but Grandma introduced me to joy even when money was tight, when pain was present, and on those days when life could be difficult to handle.
Grandma was patched hose, snowy-white hair, simmering parsnips, hats with jaunty flowers, chocolate malts for supper, and a sweet-smelling garden. But most of all she was the person who taught me to notice the joys God had created in a sunrise, red tulips, purple mountains, and shelling peas on the porch in an Adirondack chair.
Retrieving the photo tucked inside my Bible, I study my grandma’s smile as she tends her garden, and I vow—no matter what—to count it all joy.
Nancy Hoag is a wife, mother, and grandmother who writes in Bozeman, Montana.