Written by Kevin Westmoreland. Kevin is pictured here immediately to the left of his grandmother in the blue shirt.
My grandmother’s house was in Leicester, NC. My grandfather built it for himself, my grandmother and their eight children. It was so close to the family church – Victory Baptist – that you could walk to it. It was down a dirt road lined with trees. It was a two-story house that had lots of nooks, crannies, closets and hiding places that were great for a kid with an active imagination like mine.
There were maples in the front yard and apple trees on the side. My grandfather had lovingly grafted apple tree branches from trees with fruit he liked onto others he also liked. I remember climbing the trees and looking at his handiwork. It was precisely and efficiently done.
My mother tells stories of picking blackberries on the border of the property with her siblings and of bringing food in from the garden for dinner. Much of the family’s food came from their garden, the land they lived on or very nearby. Their garden was the first place I learned about what it took to bring food out of the ground. I helped clear the soil in the fall and winter months, whenever my grandfather could wrangle me into helping him. I weeded when the young plants were growing and picked corn when it was ready. It seemed like a huge garden but it was probably less than an acre. But to me, it was immense, with plants that towered overhead, blocking the sun.
As a very young child, I remember going to that house for Sunday meals after church. While the aunts helped prepare the meal and the uncles and my grandfather discussed politics and the latest episode of Gunsmoke, I played outside with my cousins. There were pine trees to climb, an old logging road to hike, and outbuildings filled with everything imaginable to fool around with.
But the central part of the day was the meal. The biscuits! Every meal my grandmother made included fresh, homemade biscuits. There is nothing like the smell of fresh biscuits when they come out of the oven. She was also a master with green beans. My mom always joked that I would only eat my grandmother’s green beans. I’m sure there was animal fat involved in the cooking process. I know there was always fatback sitting on the stove to be used in whatever items needed it.
Chicken seemed to make up part of most meals, but beef came into play from time to time. With eight kids and seventeen grandkids (if everybody showed up), the budget was always a consideration. My grandparents had lived through the Great Depression and World War II and, to say the least, they were economical with their meals. That’s not to say the food wasn’t delicious. It was. But there were very few T-Bones going on plates for Sunday lunch. And my grandfather ate every part of the animals that gave up their lives for our nourishment. We would be finished and waiting for dessert and he would be cracking bones and eating marrow. He seemed to love it, but the kids were universally turned off by the whole process.
Many times, after the meal was over and the dishes were washed (this was one place where the kids could and did help) my grandmother and aunts would work on a quilt. There was a quilting frame that hung over the dining room table and it held whatever quilt was in process at the time. They would lower it down to table level and quilt while they talked about each others’ families and their jobs. Most of my aunts worked outside the home, so they had plenty to talk about.
As I got older, I wanted to go to my grandmother’s house less often. My friends from school became more important to me and Sunday afternoon was prime time to hang out and play touch football or read comic books. I couldn’t be bothered to go all the way to Leicester for lunch. My mom would sometimes convince me to go but my trips there became fewer and farther between.
Some years later, my grandparents sold the house Papaw had built and moved closer to town into a ranch house. It was easier on them and easier for the aunts and uncles to visit and help them if they needed it. They still had a garden but it could be measured in square feet instead of the large one they’d had before.
One day, when my son Matthew was about four, we were driving somewhere and I was telling Amy how much I had loved going to my grandmother’s house when I was a young boy. I had spent some weekends there and had a second-floor room to myself. I described how, at night, I would look out the screen window at the full moon. The plants in the garden cast shadows on the ground. Dogs barked off in the distance at some unseen animal invading their space. I described in rich detail how, as the sun came up, I could hear my grandmother talking in the kitchen and how the irresistible smell of frying bacon and baking biscuits would drift up the stairs. It was a pretty great way to wake up.
From the back seat of the car, Matthew said, in a quiet but earnest voice, “Can we go there?” I wish we could, Matthew. I wish we could.