AT GRANDMA'S HOUSE

When I was a little girl, I thought it a great pleasure to go to Grandma's house. When I was a very small child, I walked with my mother and an older brother and a younger one, what was really a long distance. Plans would all be made the day before - we would have our bath and go to sleep with happy thoughts of the good times in store for tomorrow. My little dress with the pink rosebuds and best hat with pink streamers, the little blue silk parasol, and the lacy knit stockings (a present from grandmother), my patent leather slippers, and I was ready.

The cool dewy morning, the flowers blooming by roadside and field, the bees and butterflies, and the sight of squirrels with their bushy tails scampering in the woodland, and the tinkle of cowbells now and then, and the song and chirp of birds, and sometimes ripe berries by the way - all helped me to forget the long tiresome walk. Then there were resting places and cool springs where we drank the cold sparkling water from a large leaf formed as a cup, and thus refreshed we resumed our journey.

Homes were far apart in those days on our road, which lay mostly through the forests, with here and there a small clearing. But people were very friendly, and glad to entertain their neighbors - in fact, would have felt slighted had we passed without stopping a few minutes, and I was glad to rest my tired feet. Toward the last part of the journey, these friendly settlers made us very welcome and refreshed us with nice cold milk from the springhouse and cookies or other good things.

With all our resting, and stopping to pick some cherished flowers which seemed too lovely to leave, we would reach Grandmother's house when the sun was getting low in the western sky. For the last mile or two we were planning surprises. We would have mother wait at the gate, out of sight of the house, until we, keeping behind the row of currant bushes, reached the door and knocked. Grandmother may have seen us coming, but willing to let us have our play, would come to the door and be very much surprised. Amidst the kisses and hugs would say, "Well, well, you surely did not come alone." It was time now to call mother.

Now by this time we were quite too hungry to wait for teatime, and Grandmother seemed always to have the things we liked best right at hand. After a rest and our hunger appeased, we still had enough vim to look around and see how many little ducks or new lambs we could find and to drop a few crumbs to the big trout that grandfather kept in a large spring.

We most likely had planned to stay three or four days. And as there were uncles and aunts who had much going and coming and young company, there was no lack of good times. Grandmother was very hospitable and enjoyed having a house full of happy young folks.

It was said of her also that she was a very good cook, and well do I remember amongst my first recollections the wide fireplace and the pot hooks where stews and vegetables were boiled while brown loaves baked in the Dutch ovens on the hearth and even a fruit cobbler often appeared on the table which had been turned out of the Dutch oven. One thing we children enjoyed very much was Grandmother's light fluffy steamed berry dumplings smothered in rich cream and sweetened with home made maple sugar.

That too was one of the best times - when we could go to the sugar bush and help gather the sap for the great kettles where the sweet odor of boiling sap helped to sharpen our appetites for the finished product. Holes had been bored in the maple trees and spits inserted from which continually dripped sap into small wooden troughs. Someone must continually go around with tin pails and empty the troughs and carry the sap to the boiling kettles.

When the sap had boiled to a certain thickness, the process called sugaring off took place. By stirring the thick syrup with long maple paddles until it grained; then while still hot it was dipped into pans where it cooled in cakes that could be easily handled. But while the syrup was still thick like taffy, we were each given a ladle full to cool on a piece of ice from the creek on the snow.

They hauled the sugar in from the sugar bush to the house with the oxen and sled, so we had a ride. To be sure, it was not a fast way of going and even seems laughable now, since we are accustomed to the automobile, but as children we thought it fun to hang to the sled stakes while uncle whipped up Buck and Bright to make them do their best for us.

We could not go often in winter to Grandmother's house; in fact sometimes a whole winter passed that we did not go at all because of the cold and the distance. But if we could not go to see Grandmother she would try to come to us at least once during the winter, and then she was sure to have a nice pair of warm red mittens that she knit for each of us children. Yes, she knit a great many mittens, for she knit mittens to sell; besides, she knit mittens and gloves and stockings and socks for all her family. But for all that she took time to knit for us children a nice present.

But that is not all for she spun the yarn herself from the wool which was sheared from the sheep on the home farm. Not only that but she colored the yarn herself. Now I marvel at such a Grandmother who could accomplish such an amount of work, for that was not all: she braided hats by hand from straws, which grow on the farm. When the grain was just right, she selected nice white pliable straws, cut off the grain heads with the scissors, and made the straws pliable by soaking them in warm water. And when she had long strips of straw braid woven, she sewed them in shape and pressed the crown over wooden forms made for the purpose, and so the men folks and girls too had everyday hats to shade them in the summer.

I was always glad when springtime came, and we began planning a visit to Grandmother's house, There was a nice trout stream that ran through the meadow, and my older brother was very fond of the sport and often had very good success in catching a string of trout. How delicious they were when fried crisp and laid on our plate with a generous helping of mashed potatoes and some nice relish!

Dear, dear, can it be! Those good times have all passed. But even the memories of them are good to think about - when we took our jumping poles and leaped from log to log in the clearing, or climbed the bluff to the cave, or went wintergreening. Some of you might not understand what is meant by wintergreening: In the hills in many places where I lived the wintergreen plant grew, and we were fond of the tender leaves and sweet little red berries. We also enjoyed climbing the hills and rambling through woodlands and by the rivers and streams seeking wild berries, grapes, mandrake, fruit, or whatever was in season.

There were other special times at Grandmother's house. The one we looked forward to with great anticipation was the yearly family gathering in strawberry season. For, as Grandmother said, because of the cold and the distance and no way to go but with the oxen and sled, we could not all be at the old farm for Thanksgiving or Christmas. So we would have a strawberry festival instead, for Grandfather loved his garden and took great pains to keep the plants well mulched and cared for so that even in that country of cold winters he was rewarded by a good crop of that very highly esteemed luxury, and he gave all the family a standing invitation to spend a day at the farm and eat strawberry shortcake and cream along with other good things.

And I remember one time - in fact, I think it was the last time I ever was at the strawberry day home gathering - that Grandmother said as she was preparing the dinner table, "Well I do wish I had some new knives and forks. The old ones are looking the worse for wear." Just then Grandfather, who was a very dry wit, proceeded to take a well wrapped box from a drawer in his desk, and with just a suggestion of a smile he handed the parcel to Grandmother to open. When there in her hands was her wish granted. She was so surprised and happy and all the children and grandchildren joined in the laugh. The laugh really was as much for Grandfather as for Grandmother, for he was a man of few words but enjoyed a good joke just the same.

The young people of all the country round loved to come to Grandmother's house, for though they were not rich by any means there was always a welcome and plenty of room, and if nothing more there would be the great batch of fritters with hot coffee before the party broke up. Grandmother was famous for her fritters, and the hearty young pioneers did not by any means disdain the refreshments.

I used to admire the pretty young ladies in their ruffled lawns and prints, their hair done in curls, the bloom of health on their cheek and the sparkle of youth in their eyes. And the young men in kid boots and ruffled shirt fronts and best Sunday clothes. There were musicians among them and a right merry time they had and not at all afraid of the bears in the wood when home going, for they were a stouthearted merry crowd that went in groups.

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[ This page was last updated 19 February 2012]