My Grandmother lived in a small rural community in Southern Indiana. Letters to her were addressed; Grandma Coats, Pekin, Indiana 47165. No street address was needed.
When visiting Grandma, everything would be found exactly as it had been. I can close my eyes and picture every item in her house.
The only new thing Grandma ever bought was an upholstered sitting chair. Fifteen of us piled into three separate cars to help her pick it out.
Entertainment at Grandma’s was provided by each other. Family and friends were constantly dropping by. No alcohol was ever served.
When visiting Grandma, we slept on “pallets” constructed with hand-made quilts laid out on the floor. No one was inconvenienced.
The primary entertainment at Grandma’s was “visiting.” The ability to tell a good story was highly regarded. Uncle Kenneth could “hold forth” for a half-hour on a well he was drilling.
Speech was more colorful at Grandma’s. A “big talker” might have been referred to as someone who could “talk a dog off a meat truck.” Hard times were acknowledged with a comment like, “Well, the sun don’t always shine on the same dog’s rear end.”
Dad would often seek out “oldtimers” on our visits, I think in part to educate his city-raised son. One time a tobacco-chewing oldtimer took a “plug” out of his pocket and carved off a piece for me. I was maybe ten years old. Wanting to prove I wasn’t a little kid anymore, I accepted his gift. Not long afterward, I was down on my hands and knees, rinsing my mouth out in branch water.
On another visit, Dad decided I needed a haircut. The Monkeys were popular at the time, and I had let my hair grow out, aspiring to look like Mickey Dolenz. Entering the small barbershop, I climbed up into a big chair that must have been on loan from the Smithsonian. “So will it be a cut and a shave today, son?” the barber asked as he began to strop his razor. “No shave today Cecil,” my Dad replied with a grin, “But my boy needs a haircut bad.” Cecil followed my Dad’s request to a T. When he finished, I looked more like a Marine than a Monkey!
People in Grandma’s community held themselves to high standards. Most attended church, but no one proselytized or judged. Folks did for themselves and didn’t expect a hand-out from anyone. Grandma mowed her large city lot at age 85 on her own.
Food was local, meaning often grown within 50 yards of the house. Grandma “put up” the vegetables from her large garden, always adding bacon grease to her canned green beans. I haven’t had any as good since.
Grandma was hooked up to “city water” but always drew our drinking water with a bucket from her well.
In Grandma’s small community, everybody “looked in” on one another. As a result, people generally knew each other’s business. Looking back, it was a pretty efficient way to keep everyone out of trouble.
So why am I bringing all this up?
A lot has changed since my childhood visits to Grandma’s. Back then, the biggest thing in people’s lives was each other. Today, the art of good storytelling has been replaced with Facebook posts boasting of where we’ve traveled or what we’ve eaten.
I suppose it’s natural for elders to wax nostalgic. But, a lot really has changed since my visits to Grandma’s.
And not all for the better!
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