Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sentimental Sunday: My Two Grandmothers, Part I

When I was a kid and walked into either grandmother’s kitchen there was always a deep feeling of home and comfort to be found there. The kitchen was the center of each family’s existence. There was of course a best room or front parlor, what we’d today call a living room. But the kitchen was where everyone went right away and where you’d find all the family. That’s where family stories got told over and over again. Maybe your grandmother’s home was like that?

As an adult I can now see that Grandma Kelly and Grandma Williams had very different kitchens, and that’s really an extension of the differences in the families as well as the differences in Mom and Dad. Without being too psychological about it I bet that you can easily describe the differences in your grandmothers and their kitchens, if you were lucky enough to get to know them.
Grandma Williams, Emma Susan Whetstone Williams (1897 - 1956), Mom's mother, ran a relatively quiet home on Bowery Street in the small town of Frostburg, Allegany County, Maryland. Bowery was lined with other homes and a smattering of tiny neighborhood stores. Do you remember those stores, the ones that might pop up on every couple of blocks turning the front room into the store?  
Grandma’s big kitchen occupied the width of the back of the house and was entered through a porch with a swing. The odd thing and what I could never figure out, is that the swing faced the house and not the yard. I always preferred the big expanse of the yard with its vegetable garden and flowers. The milk man left his wares there on the porch, so early in the morning the first thing you did when you got up was run out to get the goods. Whole milk in glass jars with cream on the top all yellow and rich, butter so creamy, and delicious and fresh cottage cheese too.

Grandma and Grandpa Williams,
snow on the roof and ground, in back of the house.

Through the back door and into the kitchen to the right on the outside wall abutting the porch was a tall hutch of dark oak with shelves lined with plates and glasses. Below were cabinets full of kitchen staples. The top had glass doors on both sides and open shelves in the middle.
When I sat at the table in front of the hutch inspecting  pies that occupied the big shelf, I liked to maneuver myself to the side so that I could view the tall hutch as well as look out the window on that side of the room. Sitting at Grandmother’s table and eating a piece of her delicious fruit pie was all I needed in the world.
On the left of the back door as you entered was the working part of the kitchen with stove, refrigerator and sink. On the far left wall was a door to the store room, which was up a couple of steps and into the most fascinating part of the house, at least for me.

The store room held a range of items that practically defined my Williams grandparents. For him, stacks of tobacco supplies in neat boxes that included cigarettes, cigars, and his personal favorite, chewing tobacco because he was a tobacco wholesale route man. You would also find all of his hunting and fishing gear there too. As he made his rounds to the retail stores that were his customers he’d sometimes stop and fish a stream bringing home trout for diner. I loved climbing those little stairs into the cool darkness of the store room and watching him as he sorted through his hand-tied flies for trout fishing. There was one fly for fish that hid in the shallow water under the shade of a tree and another type of fly for the fish that played in the deep water. How did he know all of the mysteries of the fish? Creels, rods, and waders of all kinds were joined by his hunting gear. That lot held no interest for me.
Grandpa Williams in his delivery truck.
The other side of the store room was the domain of the domestic queen that ran the home: Grandma. Long shelves lined the two inside walls and were heaped with all manner of preserved goods. From cabbage to jams and jellies, in colors that danced in the tiny sliver of sunlight that made its way in the window and past the curtain.

Adjacent to the kitchen was the dining room. There was always a beautiful hand crocheted table cloth made by Grandma on the big oak table. I have strong memories of sitting quietly watching Grandma crochet, marveling at the magic of simple thread being teased and tugged into such ornate beauty as was the doilies, runners, and table dressing she made.
A couple of parakeets lived next to the window over the telephone table with the party line phone. No dial or buttons: you just picked up the handset and told the operator who you wanted to talk to. On the other side of the room was a day bed where Grandma liked to take a nap or read. She loved to read, Mom loves to read, and I love to read.

Quiet was her home. Voices in conversation never rose too far and the radio softly played in the kitchen. The only disturbance was possibly Grandpa’s radio playing in the front room where his mounted trophy deer head hung or in the summer time out on the front porch when the baseball game was on. You see, his brother played pro ball so he was keen to listen to and enjoy games.
Sometimes, especially when the fruit is ripest and would make the best pies, I really miss that kitchen.

Yours truly and cousin JC with Grandma Williams.

Uncle Camey Williams as a young gentleman in his suit, 
at the side of the house leaning against the outer wall of the kitchen.

Cousin Steve plays in the yard in back of the kitchen whils Grandpa looks on. About 1949.
Grandpa's brother the baseball player, in uniform.

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