They say that taste and smell are the two most powerful memory triggers. I can easily accept that as true. Even now, a taste of homemade applesauce or a whiff of freshly baked bread and I’m transported to Grandma’s kitchen. A sip of pink lemonade and I’m in a fort made out of two dining room chairs with a sheet strung over top of them, usually with my sister Cara and my cousin Rob, Grandma’s head poking inside saying, “I thought you kids would want a snack”. Then she would slide in a plate of cookies and glasses of pink lemonade.
Rob’s yearly visits from Denver always garnered us the dining-room-chairs-forts, and a slippy-slide in the backyard made out of heavy-duty, huge garbage bags and a garden hose. We thought it was better than a real slide. And Grandma didn’t even care that we killed her grass in a large swath then moved the whole shebang over to a new patch of grass to decimate.
Ah, the easy days of childhood at Grandma’s house. Spending the night was a nonstop feast for us kids. What Mom wouldn’t buy or serve, Grandma would. Daily. Cocoa Krispies for breakfast with Grandpa. A cookie to get us through our morning of “work” as we tore up the yard, played on the big swing suspended from the walnut tree, or helped Grandpa cleaning up some little old lady’s yard. Grandpa sometimes let us ride in the back of his hand-fashioned wood hauling trailer, which had his name stenciled on it in black letters. Grandpa would trim bushes and trees, and we’d help by throwing the debris in the trailer. After, Grams would serve up a hearty lunch (Grandpa needed it!) with homemade bread and homemade applesauce and homemade roasted chicken for sandwiches. Always with Ballreich’s potato chips. Usually with Grandma’s signature homemade potato salad. After lunch we’d pick and eat fresh raspberries.
I never remember taking naps at Grandma’s house. There was too much to do, too much fun to be had, too many cool old toys to play with. Lemonade would accompany raucous games of rummy, Grandma being a very sore loser, her screams would bring Grandpa scurrying up from the basement, saying, “Gracious Ma, I thought the world was ending!” Evenings would involve a full meal then a trip to the Auto Club to clean up, a little side job for my grandparents. We’d work up another appetite doing cartwheels in the front of the office, helping empty the trash cans, and playing at the desks pretending to be travel agents (who would have thought then that I’d actually end up working as one?). Arriving home would lead us to more food, naturally, as Grandma said we had to keep our strength up. She always teased Rob that he had a hollow leg, because he could have eaten triple the amount he was offered and cleaned up every crumb from every plate, including a plate of coffee cake with ants on it, as I recall. Evenings also were when the real treats came. We’d be plied with root beer floats, ice cream sundaes or maybe just ice cream with a topping from Grandma’s raspberry patch. If we were really good, or still hungry, after that we would share potato chips with Grandpa when he had his nightly chips and beer. He’d even sneak us a sip of his Rolling Rock when Grandma wasn’t looking.
Grandpa would fall asleep in his recliner, mouth agape and snoring lightly. We’d delight in placing a small dill pickle in his open mouth, usually waking him, sometimes not, as he sucked on the pickle, or would open one eye and say, “Somebody’s looking for trouble!” We’d giggle and pretend we’d had nothing to do with it, Grandma playing along while watching TV or reading the Readers Digest. Then we’d be sent off to bed, and wake up with the church bells of Saint Mary’s to begin it all over again the next morning, starting with “Good morning, sleepy heads” from Grandma and then the Cocoa Krispies, and …
The food was always central to Grandma showing her love for her family. She was in the kitchen most of her day, turning on the little TV in there to watch her “program” (soap opera) while baking bread or cookies or cleaning up after lunch. While Grandma didn’t verbalize her affection much when we were kids, she showed it in a thousand ways with a thousand cookies. And lemonade.
copyright 2004 Valerie Schneider