I grew up down the dirt road from my great-grandparents farm. It didn’t occur to me that it was a bit different to grow up on a dirt road, as it was pretty common in my neck of the woods. What really has turned out to be the surprise is that I had the opportunity and privilege of knowing my great-grandparents.
My earliest memories are of being in my great-grandparent’s kitchen. I was three. My great-grandmother made these ridiculously pillow-y lemon sugar cookies in her oven. The aforementioned oven was a wood-burning stove – you literally chunked hunks of logs in the thing to make the oven be an oven, or use the stovetop. But the cookies were amazing. Of course, since I was at the time small, they seemed to be the size of my head, but I’m pretty sure they were just cookies.
She used to let my sister and I bang away on her out-of-tune upright piano until she was probably bleeding out of her ears before she told us “that’s enough, girls”. She taught us to play gin rummy and didn’t allow for what she considered cheating, so if it went in the discard pile you’d best keep track. She also taught me how to predict summer storms by watching how far the leaves turned over in the breeze, and how to be a tough lady, as she was the seventh of my great-grandfather’s wives – or thereabout, not all partnerships were considered equal… she was neither the mother of my grandmother nor the mother of my great-aunt, but she held him in place.
But for me, the true treat was to hang out with my great-grandfather. By all accounts, he was not a gentle figure, but I loved the hell out of him. He was a farmer, always wearing dusty green pants, boots, a snap front flannel shirt and a hat. Most found him intimidating, I found him delightful. He also had a habit of tucking butterscotch candies into his shirt pockets so when I went running to him, he’d scoop me up and I’d fish for a treat.
Yes, he made moonshine in one of their bathtubs. Yes, he’d have poker nights with his old farmer buddies, smoking and drinking and having a grand time. But he’d also haul my four-year-old self into his lap and laugh and tell stories. And my great-grandma would tell him it was time for me to go home, but both he and I would resist. Nothing bad would ever happen to me there. Eventually, I’d get kicked out like the underaged kid I was, and have to go back to my home.
I remember watching him bale hay. Harvest corn. I remember playing in the creek behind their house. I remember him taking me to the pig barn, but also holding me by the collar of my shirt so I didn’t take a header into the pigs. I miss them. I am grateful to have known them, to have felt that love.