I sat in my favorite seaside restaurant enjoying a platter of fried catfish and hush puppies. The food was delicious but I had to hold back the tears as my husband and I adjusted to a “table for two” instead of a “table for three”, now that our son was away in college. I thought I would burst out crying when the hostess asked me, “How many for dinner?” I wanted to stop and tell her all about my wonderful son who used to come with us. I can still feel my husband rolling his eyes behind me.
As I enjoyed the food in the unusual quietness of our table, I suddenly remembered why I always liked to order the catfish. It was a comforting image from my own childhood. My grandparents had a riverhouse on the Mississippi River, and each summer we would go there when we were young. The boys went fishing in the early morning, and by the evening my grandmother would fry up a large batch of catfish – or chicken if the catch wasn’t too good that day. The adults would gather ’round the back porch cleaning the fish and swapping stories, while I was more happy to meander along the dirt roads or sit on the dock watching the sunset and dangling my toes in the water. It is in those very tangible memories from my childhood that I still hold to today. It guides me home like a beacon. Whether it is the warm smells of a kitchen, a favorite childhood dog, or spending lazy days in a tree house, we are all brought back home in some way to our childhoods. It never truly leaves us.
Proverbs 22:6 ~ Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
“Maggie darted about like a black-stockinged bird, in search of wood for the fireplace. She and her grandmother lived at the edge of a lonely cranberry bog in New England, and the winds were cold at the edge of the sea.” (Cranberry Thanksgiving, Wende and Harry Devlin, 1971)
These words were magical to me as young child. They are the beginning of the classic children’s book, Cranberry Thanksgiving, by Wende and Harry Devlin. First written in 1971, the book had a huge impact on me as a child, and I never forgot its meaning or its captivating pictures. As a 7-year-old girl, I was already old enough to know the world could be a confusing place. People could be unkind, though I didn’t know why. Some people had a lot less, though I didn’t know why. And some people seemed to be valued more than others, though I didn’t know why.
In this book is where I first learned that appearances were not always as they seemed to be. In the story, Maggie is a young girl about my age, whose friend was called Mr. Whiskers. “Too many whiskers and not enough soap,” her grandmother would say. Mr. Horace, on the other hand, was a well-dressed gentleman who “smelled of lavender, pink-cheeked and starched.” They were both invited to Grandmother’s Thanksgiving Feast of corn pudding, roast turkey and pumpkin pie, and Grandmother’s famous secret recipe of cranberry bread, of which she was suspicious that someone was there to steal it. The house at the end of the cranberry bog was cozy, where the “red carpet was worn and the silver spoons didn’t match”, but that didn’t matter. It was a welcoming and comforting place for me to imagine as a young child. By the end of the story, the recipe-stealing villain turns out to be the starched Mr. Horace, not the suspecting Mr. Whiskers. Mr. Whiskers’ words resonated with me as he spoke, “Don’t trust a man because he smells of lavender and has a gold cane”. Those were good words to remember then and today, especially in this sometimes still confusing adult world we live in. The 1970’s drawings in the book with its earth-toned colors and sketches take me back to that simple time. I highly recommend reading this book to a child or adding it to your own collection.
The magical New England cranberry bog. Mr. Horace and Mr. Whiskers.
(all quotes and pictures in this post are from Cranberry Thanksgiving, Wende and Harry Devlin, 1971)
Happy Thanksgiving Day!
This is the one day in America, where our country stops to give thanks to God for all our blessings. No other country has a day quite like this. And I believe God still smiles upon America on this special day, as we give thanks to the God who provides.
It’s been nine years since my grandmother passed away. I still think of her, but time has that elusive way of slipping by. I imagine her and Grandpa smiling down from Heaven – oh, what a reunion that must have been. There are times when I wish she was still here. I would like to tell her things, and take my son to visit with her one more time as we did when he was young. Now, my son is almost grown. Over the years, I have sometimes asked God to send one of His special angels to look after my son. I know my son has an angel… she helped guide him to safety once on the ski trails after a blizzard (another story for another time). But what if… just what if… my Grandmother is that special angel and she has been here all along with us. Wouldn’t that be something?
I wrote this tribute to my Grandmother while I sat on the beach in Pensacola, after her funeral…
I am truly convinced that my grandmother was and is the sweetest person on earth. I can say that because I know she still lives on. But for you to know about that, you must know my grandmother. “My grandmother”, I say with proud satisfaction. She has always been my refuge, my safe place. Through the eyes of a timid little child, I remember how my grandmother always welcomed me with a warm smile that never changed, open arms, and of course, lots of food. I remember as we drive by the large oak tree in the middle of her street that lets me know I am there. I walk up the white concrete stairs with starched green grass on both sides of the sidewalk, up to the front door, and there she is, standing with the screen door pushed open. As I walk into the house, I can smell the familiar scent. There are lots of cakes, especially pound cake, candy dishes with chocolate and mints, and a big selection of cookies. I walk past my grandpa’s chair and the large boxed television set on the floor. I walk to the back room and put down my things. Every summer I wait anxiously for this moment with my grandmother.
I wake up in the morning to the smell of breakfast. I know exactly where my grandmother is. She is in her tiny kitchen. I am always amazed at how many delicious things can come out of such a tiny kitchen. The screen door is open and it is already hot outside. This is not just another hot day; this is the thick of a Mobile summer in Alabama, where the air does not stir. Nevertheless, I put on my shorts and running shoes and go outside for a run before settling into the day. Running is my other refuge. I run by the small white houses with the 1930’s green awnings and feel the hot pavement beneath my feet. I look down and see there are little stones mixed into the asphalt to help break up the heat. I run to the park. Here, it is a mixture of sand and dirt and pine trees, with swings and old metal slides. It is a comfortable place that calls you to stay awhile.
Back at the house now, my grandmother works in her tiny kitchen, not rushed or concerned about anything. Her phone rings and I hear from the other room, “Not today, I have my granddaughter here with me and I’m going to spend the day with her.” At the tender age of thirteen, I cannot believe she would stop her day just for me. That is my refuge, the place I keep running back to.
It was not until I was grown that I truly realized just how much her quiet, unassuming presence had in my life. I told her so over breakfast one morning in her new house. She is older now and cannot manage much by herself, and has moved into a newer ranch house. It is not the same house, but I understand. She sits quietly next to me. “Grandmother, do you know why I was always so excited to come to your house every summer?” She sits patiently, waiting for my answer. “You gave me so much love and attention. That meant a lot to me.” She just smiles in an understanding way and nods her head. It was our first adult conversation, where I gave something back after all those years of needing and receiving from her. “Thank you, Grandmother. I love you.”
Now I sit in the second row of the funeral home chapel as I listen to someone else talk about my grandmother. Looking around, I see her two sons sitting in front of me. She had outlived her husband after 56 years of marriage, and all of her sisters and her brother. To the left of me, I see the pallbearers, looking strong and sturdy in their dark suits. My two brothers are there. They are here to carry her on. Behind me, there is a scattering of other friends and family. But there is no other granddaughter.
I have a rule that I never cry at funerals. I do not mind going to them, but I prefer to celebrate a person’s life while they are living and do not always understand all the ceremony after they are gone. The minister is still talking. It is a beautiful casket, white with golden bronze accents, and pink long-stemmed roses on top. In the end, the casket is rolled out the door, and the strong and sturdy pallbearers pick it up and place it in the hearse. Finally, she is escorted and waited upon. As the pallbearers slide the casket into the hearse and close the door, I begin to cry quietly to myself. “Grandmother, don’t go now. I still need you.”