Sunday, May 6, 2012

Granny 's Apron Reminds Me of Her Life and Love

The fabric is simple cotton with a pattern from a by-gone era.    The craftsmanship won't win any ribbons at the County Fair.    Just a quick glance tells me that this apron is more about function and utility.   There is a nod at frivolousness, however, because of the red rick rack sewn around the edges and on the pocket.    I know the rick rack was added for fun more than fashion and it was probably what she had on hand, definitely not purchased to match what she was making.  

I am describing an apron that belonged to one of my Grandmothers.    No one ever told me exactly which one, but if I were to guess I'd say it belonged to Granny Bessie, my mother's mother.    Both of my Grannies wore aprons---and neither would have dared enter their kitchen without one.    But for some reason, when I see this one, I think of Granny Bessie.  

Granny's apron

Rick Rack added for fun and a little decoration

Bessie Pearl Gardner Caruthers:  born in 1892, died in 1965.    She was a part of my life and I have memories of her but many of the stories told to me by my mother occurred long before I was born but are forever etched in my mind.     Granny Bessie was, by all accounts, a saint of a woman.    She was trained to play classical piano and used her talents in her church, as well as at the local theater when silent movies were all the rage and the only musical accompaniment was proved by the lady hired to do that---my Granny.  She could pound out a tune on her old upright piano that had everyone singing and bringing down the house in the name of old time religion, too.   

 Her life was filled with trials and tribulations that I can hardly  imagine enduring and she did it all with a smile and an unimaginable humility.    She had six children and lost two of them when they were still very young children.    My mother's twin sister died at the age of three from complications due to pneumonia and probably whooping cough.    Later a son, Richard, died when he was six or seven from burns received when he was playing cowboys and Indians around a small campfire and accidentally caught his chaps on fire.   He lived a short while, but in those days a burn could take away life in a few hours and that is what happened to Richard.    

In a freak accident that happened when Granny rocked off the porch while holding her infant son, Freddie, he sustained a massive head injury that impaired his ability to learn, control his temper and later brought on serious grand mal seizures that lasted throughout most of his 45 years of life.     Granny, of course, blamed herself for that and had to live with the after effects until her life came to an end in 1965.    That is a lot of years to suffer and grieve for something that just "happened".    She was no more to blame for it than any other horrendous thing that occurs in a life, but blame and shame are not easy to put behind you.    So she suffered, mostly in silence because of  this great tragedy that was probably the centerpiece of her life story.     

If having these terrible things happen to your children were not enough for one woman to endure, she also had to care for Grandpa after he had a tragic accidental electrocution in 1919 while working for the phone company and was knocked off of a pole, breaking nearly every bone in his body.     To say his life was never the same is probably an understatement of epic proportions.     He never walked or acted the same again.  He used a variety of methods to deal with his pain, not all of which were helpful or good for him.    The hospital where he was kept for 180 or more days didn't help in this matter by giving him morphine for a very long time to help control his horrendous pain.     But they knew a whole lot less about addiction in those days than they do now, I guess.    

So my Granny Bessie had a life filled with sorrow and pain and still managed to remain a God fearing woman who held fast to her faith and never once asked anyone to pity her.    And seeing that apron reminded me of the things I remember best about her.

Granny's favorite spot in the house would have to be her kitchen.   It was a big room with a worn, linoleum floor, massive white stove and a big square table that sat in the middle of the room.     It was painted a kind of sage green that I suspect could be credited to something Grandpa did in an attempt to spruce the thing up.    It had huge legs on it and tiny wheels so you could move it around pretty easily.    I don't remember accurately, but I imagine that all the chairs that sat around it were not from the same set.     Granny had shabby chic long before it became fashionable!   

The sink in her kitchen was a big, white porcelain sink, that would hold a lot of dishes, pots and pans, which was handy when company came to her house.     Granny often spent hours in the kitchen preparing food when we came to visit and the kitchen would be filled with a variety of smells to entice even the most finicky eater.    She had a large Nesco Roaster where she cooked hams, stuffing for a turkey and sometimes humongous vats of spaghetti.     One speciality that she made and taught my mother how to make was her famous ravioli.     The pasta was made from scratch with flour, eggs and a little water.   She rolled the dough out on that big, green table and would cut tiny squares that were filled with her own homemade filling. Granny never knew anything about Ragu, Prego or Classico sauces but made a most delicious and rich meat sauce that simmered on the stove top and filled the whole house with the most delightful smells of tomatoes, garlic and spices.   The ravioli filling "secret" ingredient was actually calf brains, but you could seldom get her to admit that.   The only reason I know this is because my mother finally told me after I was an adult and was curious how to make the famous family recipe for ravioli.    She wisely kept it from me when I was a kid and a finicky eater, too.   

I guess if I had have one memory that stands out about Granny's cooking was one of the simplest and least heralded thing she made and that was hominy grits.     Breakfast at her house always meant a huge pot of grits bubbling and splattering on the back burner of her stove.    Even if she prepared other things for breakfast, a pot of the long cooking variety of grits was mandatory.   She woke up before the rest of us to start the grits so they would be done by the time we woke up.   She used a type of grits product seldom found these days unless you go way out in the country and find someone who will grind the corn and leave it pretty coarse and---well, gritty.     It is meant to be cooked for no less than 45 minutes and is even better if you let it simmer for an hour or more.    Oh, and a generous amount of butter and salt turns this often maligned cereal into something fit for the gods.     Granny's grits, to me, meant love and unconditional acceptance and were the ultimate comfort food.   

So when I see that apron, all those memories come flooding back to me.     I seldom saw her without an apron to protect whatever she happened to be wearing.     In fact, I dare say, she wore an apron every day of her life, except perhaps when she was going to church or to ride the train to come see us.     

Somewhere along the line, aprons more or less fell out of fashion and we no longer felt the need to make them out of scraps in our sewing basket.   Who has one of those any more?  I made a red checked gingham apron in the 7th grade, but probably never wore it more than a few times to show it off.   So aprons are not exactly required equipment in the kitchen these days.   Well, at least until recently when my seven year old grand daughter, Luci, began showing an interest in learning how to cook.     A couple of years ago she was watching her mom prepare a meal and decided she needed to learn how to cut, chop and stir all those wonderful ingredients that ultimately made their way to the dining room table.    And her mom wisely has allowed her to get involved in the kitchen and is giving her lessons in the proper way to use a knife, safety around the hot stove and what things go together to make a tasty meal or snack.     To her credit, April has also included her sons in these lessons so that one day when they are on their own, they, too, will have a clue how to boil water and make a meal without picking up the phone.   

I recently washed Granny's apron and hung it to dry.    I will carefully fold it and put it somewhere safe so that when Luci is old enough I can give it to her.     I will tell her about her (Great-great) Granny Bessie and what an amazing lady she was and how her life was so difficult but somehow she endured and left a legacy for the ones who followed her.     She loved her family and showed us all how glad she was that we were there with every spoonful of spaghetti or grits, lovingly placed upon those plates at each and every meal we shared with her.     I hope that the spirit that kept her going and gave her the strength to endure with dignity and grace was passed along to me and to little Luci, too.

Happy Trails,