Of all the things that have come and gone in this life, what I miss the most are my grandparents, Pappy and Nana.
|Wedding Day 1940|
Pappy was a character, a cross somewhere between Archie Bunker of All in the Family and Fred Sanford of Sanford & Son. He was the youngest son of a doctor and a nurse. He quit school in the 8th grade and went to work to help support the family after his father died from a blood clot caused by a sailing accident on the Atlantic Ocean.
He and his family are the ones I get my warped and irreverent sense of humor from (I have a picture of my great-grandfather in blackface....yikes!). He would introduce me to someone then ask, "Is this your third year in the fourth grade or fourth year in the third grade?" When someone was being a real pain he might ask if their parents had had any children who lived. He cut off part of his ring finger before I was born and after that it was a struggle to get a picture of him where he didn't put it to his nose so that it looked like he had half his finger up there.
|NOT my great-grandfather, by the way.|
A carpenter by trade, Pappy worked magic with wood, at least until arthritis crippled his hands so badly that he was unable to hold tools. The lovely four bedroom Cape Cod that was home for most of their marriage was built by him, room by room. He would save the wood from any demolition work that he did and that is what the house was built with. He did it literally one room at a time as he had time, materials, and money.
Pap was a picker, as in "American Pickers," before anyone knew what a picker was. His motto was "Never turn down anything someone gives you because even if it's junk or you don't want it, they just might give you something good the next time." It served him well and he and Nana furnished their home with many lovely antiques and my mom, my aunts, and I all benefited as well. He liked auctions and flea markets and wheeling and dealing and we all caught the bug from him. When he died it took four days of auction to sell all that he had collected in his workshop, sawmill, and a third building (built entirely of salvaged barn wood) that was 30' x 100'.
Now, Nana was another story. If the woman had a sense of humor I never saw it. Pap used to tease her just to get her riled for sport. That's not to say she wasn't a fun person. She just didn't get jokes or play the kinds of tricks the rest of us thrived on.
The seventh child of nine born and raised on a farm, she was the undisputed queen of making do, repurposing, saving, or doing without. She would make quilts and rag rugs out of just about anything...old clothes, old pantyhose, even plastic bread bags! And my, oh my, could Nana cook. There were only two people I ever heard my dad compliment on their cooking. One was Nana and that was something because they did not particularly like each other. The other was.....me! I was mostly self-taught and then learned a lot from Nana when we lived with her early in our marriage.
Nana's greatest gift to me, however, was her time and her knowledge of the natural world. I don't remember her ever once telling me that she was too busy to do something with me. Any time we were together we spent most of our time outdoors. It would begin in the early mornings with tea on the porch watching the sun rise over the swamp. In cold weather we'd sip our tea at the dining room table and watch the birds at the feeder just outside the window.
Afternoons were spent on the backyard swing under the towering branches of the Tulip Poplar or under the "shadynook", a sort of pavilion nestled under a huge black walnut tree and surrounded on three sides by lilac bushes that almost gave the sense of being in an enclosed space.
Most days, warm weather or cold, we'd take a walk up "the old road", a dirt road that ran up past the house. It was once a real road, but had long been abandoned except for access to a weekend log cabin that Pappy had built for a doctor. My family acted as caretakers for years and always had a key as well as an open invitation to let ourselves in and enjoy the place. Nana and I would spend hours there either on the swing overlooking the pond, on the screened porch rocking in the bentwood rockers, or playing (very badly) the old pump organ. On those walks up and down the road Nana would teach me all she knew about each flower, tree, and animal we'd see.
In the summers we'd spend hours in the creek that ran through the property. I'd build dams and catch crayfish and just generally see what I could find. That creek was, and still is, the best place I know to find fossils. It runs by the small country cemetery where Nana and Pappy are buried and to this day I don't go there without climbing down over the bank to the creek and finding at least one fossil. For me, it's a better way to remember them than staring at a headstone.
Nana loved her flowers and house plants. She had over 100 plants in the house! African Violets were a particular favorite and filled glass shelves in many of her windows. Outside in the yard she was forever adding new flowers that she had seen and thought were pretty. Someone was always giving her a "cutting" or we'd be out along a back road somewhere digging up something growing beside the road. My mom laughs because life has come full circle and it's not all that unusual to find me asking someone for a cutting or to see me digging up a flower along the road. I don't have 100 houseplants, though....I have a hard enough time remembering to water the 7 or 8 I have.
We moved a lot when I was growing up and I never got too attached to any of the houses we lived in, but Pappy and Nana's house was the constant for me. It was always home. The day we put Nana in a nursing home and made the decision to sell her house was one of the hardest, but harder still was going through all the things collected over a lifetime and deciding what to keep among us and what would go at the auction. I still hate to go by and see the changes now. I know it's just a place and Pappy and Nana and our family are long gone, but all the happiest memories of my childhood are tied to that house and my grandparents. They meant everything to me and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't wish I could talk to them.