I have many, many memories of trips to grandma’s house for the holidays. I was privileged to know both of my grandmothers and two of my great-grandmothers. And even though we lived in California for most of my childhood we usually made the long trip to Oklahoma at least every other year. Most times we traveled in the summer, but I have photos and memories of a few winter trips.
I was amused to hear someone speak last week about their impending trip to Colorado and the fact that the children traveling with them will at least be occupied by their DVD players. My brothers and I were occupied by arguing with each other, counting cars, recording license plates, singing, looking for animals, and playing my father’s favorite game- “name that car”. He challenged us to look at the oncoming traffic and name as many car makes and models as possible. If we also knew the year we got a bonus point. Believe it or not, I was pretty good at that game. Of course we also played our favorite game- “are we almost there?” You need to understand that we drove from California to Oklahoma, through the desert, at 45-55mph!!! There were many stretches of highway where it was perfectly legal to drive faster, but we seldom had a vehicle capable of doing so. And I only recall us having one car that ever had “air conditioning”. It actually had a little “car cooler”, which was an evaporative cooler that attached to the outside of the side window.
Other aspects of travel were quite different from what we would do today. Rather than stay in a motel we often pulled over to the side of the road for a few hours in the evening and simply slept in the car. Dad would wake up around 2am and continue on while it was relatively cool. I was a light sleeper in those days and usually woke up and talked to him until dawn. I loved to see the stars at night!
We also bought most of our food at grocery stores and ate at rest areas. Sometimes we alternated with meals at pancake houses because the food was cheap and filling. Mom packed things like homemade cookies and oranges picked from our trees for snacks. We never thought of asking for snacks from the gas station. Besides, the guys who ran out to fill the tank, wash the windows, and check the tire pressure seldom kept much more than a few sodas and candy bars for sale.
I looked forward to three things when we finally arrived at mother’s childhood home. Mama Della’s home in the country had lots of animals, lots of food, and a super comfy bed. She had one of those sofas that opened out flat. It didn’t have a bed inside that pulled out; the sofa just unlocked and the back of it dropped down. She placed a big feather mattress on top of that and piled on the quilts. It always seemed so cozy and comforting. There was always something fresh and warm to eat at Della’s. And if it wasn’t in the house we went out and picked it! I couldn’t believe at first that she made her own butter, until I watched her do it. Trips to Della’s always included laughter and stories, wagon rides, and walks to the pond. I have so many fond memories of those visits!
Big Mama, my Grandma Bea’s mother, had a tidy little house in town on Russell Street. I was fascinated by the fake parrot that hung on her porch! Her furniture had colorful slip covers and she changed them with the seasons. Her house had the subtle fragrance of the snuff she discreetly dipped all of her life. And she made the best pies I ever tasted! My favorites were pecan and peach, but I also liked the mincemeat pie she always made. Even Bea’s pies never quite rivaled her mother’s. Another odd thing that stayed in my memory was the black walnut tree in her back yard. That tree and its fruit were so much trouble that I was totally baffled by her affection for it. I thought the walnuts tasted bitter, but I suppose she used them because she had them.
Granny Simmons, my Granddad Lee’s mother, lived just down the street from Big Mama, next to Mrs. Craighead. Her house had the lowest ceilings I had ever seen, and her 6-foot height made them seem even lower. She kept rows and rows and rows of canned vegetables and fruits in every nook and cranny of her house. She had Grandma Moses prints on her living room wall that I fell in love with the first time I saw them. And she had the most intimidating demeanor you can imagine. I wasn’t afraid of her, but I was certainly polite and respectful in her house! She loved her roses and her chickens, but I wasn’t always sure she loved noisy little children.
My grandmother Beatrice is a part of many more memories than I can count because she lived in California near us and also traveled to Oklahoma nearly every year to see her mother. So she was usually at our table, her table, or Big Mama’s table to celebrate holidays with us. She cooked as though fifty people were expected, and every dish was worth a second helping. I remember her cornbread dressing so vividly I promise you I can smell it right now! She also made wonderful “yeast rolls” that she packed into bags for us to take home. After the big meal there was always a game of Aggravation and a late afternoon slice of pumpkin pie…and of course a cup of coffee. If you ever went to Gran’s house and the coffee pot was not on, it was probably broken.
As another holiday rolls around I hope you are making memories with your children and grandchildren. Though mine are far away I know they have other family members who will fill their plates with good food and their minds with happy memories!