Posted in Family, Grandmother

The Power of Plants

Lee, Grandma, and Courtney (in Grandma’s apron)

            My grandma used to grow zinnias and nasturtiums in a long strip of a garden in her back yard.  As soon as you opened the side door, the colors and fragrance would greet you, instantly brightening the day.  The Amarillo, Texas soil was hard caliche, but Grandma had raked and tilled it in preparation for her flowers, so they would have the best chance to grow.  She cared for them maternally and took great pride in their beauty.  Grandma’s garden was in direct contrast from her years growing up on a dirt farm in Kansas.  The zinnias brought her pure joy.

            Grandma and I would go to the back yard and stand on the walkway surveying her garden.  “I sure wish it would rain,” she’d say. “We really need it.”  She talked a lot about rain, the lack of rain and when it was supposed to rain, and then we would turn on the hose and water her plants by hand.  “Be sure to give each one a good long drink,” she’d say.

            Bending down on her old, arthritic knees, Grandma would pick the weeds that dared to creep into her domain, and as she did, she talked to her zinnia’s as she would a child, “There you go, little girl.  Now you’re safe from those bad weeds.” 

“Help me up,”  she’d say, and I would.  Then we would stand on the sidewalk and just look.  I can see her now, standing tall, with her red and white checked gingham apron on, squinting into the sun, her detachable sunglasses flipped up, admiring her work, feeling satisfied at a job well done.

           “You know you can eat nasturtiums, but they sure are spicy,” she said.

  “Why would you eat a flower?” I asked.

  “I think some fancy people like to do that, but I just like to look at them.  They’re beautiful,” she answered.

            Before my grandpa died, he would let us go out to his vegetable garden and use a hoe or rake. It was a his and hers garden situation.  I don’t remember as much about his garden because Grandma made me help her outside and in the kitchen, her empire.  Not only did she have her flowers, but she also had a peach tree and a pecan tree.  Come June, the peaches would be ready to pick, and Grandma would begin her peachapalooza.  Peach pie, peach cobbler, peach ice cream, whole peaches, sliced peaches, poached peaches, canned peaches, peach preserves, and jam.  It was the same with her pecan tree too, as pecan pie was her real specialty, right up there with homemade cinnamon rolls and oatmeal cookies.

            When my girls were little, I had an outside plant or two, and the usual ivy growing in the kitchen window, but I had little time or thought for gardening.  I don’t recall feeling any kind of way about plants except for how much trouble they might be.  My friend, Chrys, used to have her whole patio covered in plants and I was always in awe.  How was she able to do it all with seemingly so little effort and so much joy?

            When I moved to Austin, twenty-three years ago, I fell in love with plants again. Even when Boo and I were dating, we would have competitions on who’s plants would grow the fastest and stay alive.  And although I would never call Boo Mr. Greenjeans,  he has taught me a lot about caring for plants.

            Our backyard and deck are home to thirty plus flowering plants that both give me joy and cause me angst.  Like Grandma, I fuss over watering or when it will rain and why it hasn’t rained.  I pick weeds and prune back.  I cover and uncover in the winter, and I coax the baby sprouts in the spring.  And as Grandma would, I often stand outside and survey my plants, talking sweetly to them as if they could hear me.

            “Will you water my plants in the front yard?” I recently asked Boo.

  “They are ‘our’ plants, you know.  You’re not the only one who takes care of them.”

 So, I corrected my wording to include “our”, but in my heart they are mine.  Mine and Grandma’s.  And when I see my flowers bloom or a tree branch with buds, I smile knowing Grandma would be proud of me. 

            The true meaning of the zinnia plant is affection, everlasting love, and remembrance. The zinnia symbolizes qualities that remind us to never take those we love for granted, and whether Grandma knew that or not, she lived it, wholeheartedly with her garden and with me.

My brother Jimmy, Great Aunt Lena, me, and Grandma under the Pecan Tree

Posted in Contemplations, Grandmother

The Mantle Clock

That black mantle clock stayed with Grandma even in the nursing home.

            Occasionally, as a child I would spend the night with my grandma.  She lived in a small, stucco duplex on Hayden Street in Amarillo, Texas.  Modest is an accurate term to describe my grandma’s house, modest and comfortable.  Grandma lived a simple life and was quiet by nature, and since she did not own a television, her house was very quiet, too.  The rattle or clang of pots and pans in the kitchen or the on and off of her sewing machine was the only noticeable sound, except for a long sigh or wince as she lowered herself into the swivel armchair by the window, smoothing her apron and rubbing her knees.

On the mantle, proudly displayed in the center, right above the little gas heater was her black mantle clock.  The ticking sound was steady and rhythmic and set the tone for Grandma’s house…methodical, never rushed.        

            My brother and I would ask to wind the clock when it wound down, and often she would let us, but only under her watchful eye and direction.  She kept the key that wound the clock safely placed behind it.  We understood that if the clock was wound too tightly, dropped or mistreated in any way, it would have to be taken to a clock repair shop and that would cost money.  We instinctively knew she did not have the extra funds for that, and so we treated her clock with much respect.

            At night as I lay on the lumpy pull-out sofa bed, under two or three handmade quilts, I would fall asleep to the ever present rhythm of the clock.  My heart would begin to beat in time with the ticking and I would be lulled into a deep, peaceful sleep.  During the day, the clock struck on the hour and half hour with a coil gong striking sound, but at night the gonging sound never made it into my dreams.

            Now, in my den, on the mantle is a little French, battery operated clock that reminds me of Grandma’s mantle clock.  In the mornings I find it peaceful yet strong as it regulates my heartbeat and sets the perfect tone to ‘sit ugly.’  Listening to the steady ticking reminds me to relax and slow down before the demands of the day take over.  There is so much noise in our world, so many sounds that assault us from morning till night.  Alarm clocks, blaring music, angry news, sirens or car alarms to warn us of various violations.  Have you ever noticed that even commercials are louder than the television show itself?

The other day, I bolted out the door to get in my daily walk.  I was halfway through my route when I noticed that I had been “thinking” or at least having mental chatter the whole time. I almost wasted my walk, my time to recharge.  When I quiet my mind and listen to nature, my walk is restorative.  When I worry, think too much or rush my walk, I waste the gift of today. 

 Birdies singing, squirrels scampering, the rustle of the wind through the trees; these are the sounds that heal.  Nature heals us if we will let it, if we listen to the rhythmic beat of the earth.  Everything and every living being falls into the pattern flow of the earth and if we purpose it, our footsteps are like the clock, peaceful yet strong, left-right, left-right.  Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist priest and author of Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, said, “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”  As you walk, you are aware.  Aware of your being, your thoughts, your surroundings, and your blessings.  The blessings given to you by nature.

            Grandma’s mantel clock was one of her most prized possessions.  It was the center of her home and the focus of her life, especially as she got older.  I think the steady ticking and hourly gonging comforted her and reassured her she was not alone.   That classic, black mantel clock stayed with Grandma even in the nursing home, and when Grandma left this world, my brother became the proud recipient.  He has it, even to this day, on his mantel, front and center.

            We all need to find our rhythm, something that centers us and regulates our insides so that the outside world doesn’t wear us down or threaten our peace.  Whether it is the steady ticking of a clock, the rhythmic pace of a mindful walk or sitting quietly with your hand over your heart, this is the day we have been given.  We must embrace it.   The path to peace is always methodical, never rushed.

Posted in Grandmother, Relationships

Martha Margaretha

Valentine Queen

Growing up, everything I knew about beauty I learned from Grandma.  She was my source of information on becoming a woman, wife and mother.  Because my mother was deceased, I had no one to teach me the basics except Grandma and sometimes my dad, which as you might expect, was not always on point.

Grandma was raised on a dirt farm in Kansas.  They were so poor that her parents sent the last two siblings to live with another family because they could not feed them all.  She was only able to complete the 3rd grade because everyone was needed on the farm.  Grandma told me once that she did not remember laughing as a child.  “There was nothing to laugh about,” she said.  “We worked from sunup to sun down.”  And so my grandma, Martha Margaretha, was a serious, no nonsense kind of gal most of the time, but there was a little girl inside who longed to have fun and feel carefree.

Grandma was a wonderfully accomplished seamstress and made all of her clothes, even slips, bathrobes and nightgowns.  She also made all of my clothes until I was old enough to sew for myself.  She made my Barbies the most fabulous ensembles!  I distinctly remember Barbie having a dress out of the same fabric as Grandmas, and even a fully lined coat, complete with bound buttonholes.  Barbie never lacked for functional yet stylish outfits and neither did I.  Grandma had an eye for pattern, texture, design and she could easily visualize how our dresses would turn out, while working tirelessly to make it come together.

Martha had two main rules on beauty:  Always wear lipstick and always wear earbobs or ear screws, as she called them.  In Grandma’s bedroom, on her dresser, was a tray that held her cherished personal items.  There was a comb, brush and mirror set that I always remember her using.  She wore Lady Esther loose face powder, and kept the box front and center.  If I close my eyes I can smell the sweet fragrance and remember the way Grandma’s face felt so soft when I hugged and kissed her.  She always smelled of this face powder and I think to this day I would know it, if I were lucky enough to breathe in that precious scent.  The fluffy, round puff sat on top of this all important powder and next to it was her lipstick.

The dresser top was balanced with a simple jewelry box.  The kind that opened up and the top folded back revealing a bottom section.  Grandma had a large collection of earbobs, necklaces and brooches, most of which came from us, for Christmas or birthdays.  She also had a small little cameo that she pinned on for special occasions.  I would always ask to look through her jewelry box and try on these simple, yet glamorous pieces.  Grandma truly believed in accessories, and although coming from humble beginnings, she wanted to look her best.  It was very important to her.

With her beautiful silver gray hair, smart clothing, ear screws and lipstick, Martha always looked ‘put together’.  No matter how poor you are, you can be clean and neat...a Martha mantra for sure.  Everywhere she went, she would be complimented on her neat appearance, even winning Valentine Queen at her nursing home.  Grandma lived well into her 101st year on this earth.  I remember once, while visiting her in ‘the home’,  one of the caregivers gave her a compliment, which made her proud, yet shy.  After the worker left, Grandma turned to me and said, “It’s almost a curse to be so beautiful”, then she laughed and patted my hand.

 My dad made sure she was always taken care of and able to live comfortably, and so the former Valentine Queen was content and loved.  I know even now, as she sits playing Canasta in heaven, she’s looking all done up…lipstick, ear screws and that wonderful face powder.  We would expect nothing less from Martha Margaretha.

As CoCo Chanel once said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”

I think Grandma knew that too.

Grandma’s 100th Birthday
Posted in Family, Food, Relationships

It’s Not Like Granny’s

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Granny Malcolm

 

He saw a can of salmon on the kitchen counter.  “Are we having salmon croquettes?” he asked with a huge grin.

“Yep.”

“ I love salmon croquettes!  My granny used to make them.”IMG_3149

In the humble circles of Texas, we eat salmon from a can.  Of course, now that we are more worldly, we enjoy fresh salmon broiled or baked, but salmon croquettes are what we grew up on.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s in Amarillo, we only ate canned vegetables, canned tuna, even ham from a can.  It’s hard to imagine now, but that tin smell and taste seemed normal.  Nothing came in an easy-open pouch or fresh frozen.  The croquette recipe I remember is:   canned and drained salmon,  saltine cracker crumbs,  an egg,  and maybe chopped onion if you want to get fancy

 You first had to dig out all of the small bones from the can-shaped salmon.  We were always warned that you could choke and die if you swallowed a bone!  Then, you mix it all together and form patties that you coat on both sides with cornmeal.  Next, you pan fry until golden brown.  Yum!

Boo grew up in a small east Texas town.  To this day, his brother, who still lives there, doesn’t lock his house or car.  It’s just an easy-living atmosphere.  When Boo was in high school and could finally leave campus, he and a friend would walk to his granny’s house for lunch every day.  Sometimes they would eat sandwiches, but mainly Granny made those growing boys a hot meal; meatloaf, fried chicken, pot roast, and salmon croquettes.  So when Boo saw the can of salmon, he immediately thought of dear Granny, God rest her soul. 61048007487__F2BF2BA6-F46A-4CA1-BA8D-E175087C4A0F

There are many meals I’ve made through the years that did not quite match up to Granny’s.  Usually, the comments from Boo go something like this:

“Where’s the gravy?”

“Granny used to always make mashed potatoes with meatloaf.”

Most of the time I catch myself before snapping, “Well, I’m not Granny.  God rest her soul.”

Granny must have been a saint.  She loved to cook and see her children and grandchildren eat her food.  She equated food with love and Boo has told me several times that my cooking is good, but to make it great I’d have to cook with my heart, not my head.

Even Boo cooks with love.  On nights when we agree to just fend for ourselves, I get cheese and crackers and then I hear Boo rattling pots and pans and I smell bacon.  Granny used bacon with everything.  He will whip up a beautiful omelet, bacon and blueberry pancakes, while I sit down to my hard cheese and a few Ritz.  “I didn’t know you were going to do that!” I whine.  “I cook with this, Boo (making a heart shape with his hands) I cook with this!”IMG_3145

While I admit, love is the furthest from my mind when I’m preparing a meal, I do pride myself on the fact that you will not starve at my house.  My food is nutritious, simple and I have a few never-fail recipes, but my heart is just not in it.  I’m not dear Granny, God rest her soul.

While I was mixing my croquettes, I asked Boo, “How did Granny make the salmon croquettes?”

He looked at my ingredients and said, “Well, for starters Granny chopped up the onion so fine, I couldn’t see it.”  I got out the knife and rechopped onions even smaller, trying not to be resentful.  And, about thirty minutes later, when I saw the contented smile on Boo’s face and heard him say, “This is just like Granny used to make,” I knew I had succeeded.

“Thanks, babe,”  I said and I sent up a special thank you to Granny, God rest her soul, for helping me find the love.  I salute the Granny’s of the world.  All of the beautiful people who live to love and love to cook.  I admire them and respect their spirit, heart, and soul, and I admit I could stand to be a little more like Granny.

 “Granny, if you’re looking down on me, please give me a little nudge now and then, so I can make Boo happy with my culinary efforts.” 

 Grant me the serenity not to snap at his requests for gravy, 

the courage to try new recipes, and the wisdom to know my limitations. 

 Amen.

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Posted in Cajuns, Friendship, Grandmother

Mama Joe’s Mimosa Tree by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Mama Joe’s Mimosa Treemimosa tree

A momma’s love shines through her children, and Mama Joe’s eleven children wonderfully displayed their love for her.  Lizo Vidrine married when she was 15 and she and Joe Latour raised their 11 kids in Ville Platte, Louisiana.  As a kid, I remember going to Mama and PapaJoe’s every week, mostly on Sunday afternoons.  When Dad drove the family from Eunice to Ville Platte my siblings and I played a very lame car game called “Counting Horses” ( that’s a “whole ‘nother Oprah” as one of my good friends would say). We traveled a distance of 17 miles, but to 4 restless kids, it seemed like 77 at least! 

Back then we mostly kissed Mama & Papa hello and then headed to the backyard to mama's familychase Papa’s chickens and eat his scuppernong grapes until he came out yelling at us to leave his chickens alone.  Then we fidgeted inside for 8 or so minutes until Dad gave us each a dime to walk to Mr. Theophile’s tiny store on the corner where we each bought 10 penny candies that were placed in small paper bags.  To get to the store we had to pass Mama’s next door neighbor’s house that would later remind me of Boo Radley’s place.  My sisters and I usually ran when we passed neighbor Gazelle’s because she and her “not-quite-right” daughters lived there with at least 100 cats, and Gazelle yelled at us if she was sitting on the front porch with a gun beneath her chair.  (another Oprah-type tale).

However, many years later, Papa Joe has died and Mama Joe is bedridden and somewhat senile.  Now her seven children who live closest to her have each claimed a day of the week to come take care of her (or pay for a sitter if they cannot come that week).   Usually my momma drives my two sisters and me to visit Mama Joe.  Now the house is quiet and after Gayle, Kelly and I kiss Mama Joe hello in her bed full of pillows, we move to the small living room to read or watch a little t.v.  Momma stays in Mama’s bedroom and time ticks slowly be with the soft sounds of Momma talking to Mama. Later, the sitter arrives and talks with Momma in Cajun French.  Sometimes my sisters and I go outside and pick these hard pears or sour plums from Mama’s trees. Papa Joe had been a gifted gardener, and years earlier he had grown vegetables and fruits galore in his extensive garden.  Gayle remembers when he pulled a carrot from the ground once and handed her the best carrot she has ever tasted!

Mama Joe’s yard also had this mimosa tree I really loved.  Its beautiful softness, the feathery green leaves, with the flowers that looked like pink dandelions remind me now of my grandmother’s soft, strong beauty. Mimosa trees produce fragile, sweet blossoms in the late spring that attract butterflies and birds and that also contrast with the tree’s tough nature.   According to some gardening websites, mimosas do well in droughts and heat, which explains their abundance along southern highways.  Also, they produce these elongated seedpods that drop and spread their “offspring” far and wide.  The Japanese call mimosas the “sleeping tree” because their leaves gently fold for the night.  Like the mimosa tree, Mama Joe had a strong, calm beauty that mixed the Cajun Vidrine in her with the Native American blood my momma always claimed she had. (“Your mama’s great-great grandmother was an Indian princess, for real!”)  Also, her eleven seedpods heeded the Catholic directive  to “go forth and multiply” well. Mama and Papa Joe had 48 grandchildren and over 60 great-grandchildren and I don’t know how many great-grandchildren since the Latours are still healthily multiplying. 

Overall, Mama Joe was a sweet, smiling & laughing Cajun who married at age 15 and raised a family of 11, who only spoke Cajun French until her son P.J. married Polly (an amazing woman from California),  and so she learned to speak English to welcome a new member of her family, who cooked rice and gravy like a top chef, who loved life and good times almost as much as she loved all of her many children and their children, and their children’s children, and so on.  All Mama Joe gave forth was love and joy which she taught my own mother, Geraldine, to do for her 4 children, who then did her best to teach me to do for my 3 boys.  Like the mimosa tree, may all mothers continue to spread strong, soft feathery blossoms of love for their own seedpods.

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PaPa and Mama Joe

Thank you to Uncle Jack (Mama’s baby) and Aunt Faye for helping me with some Mama Joe details!

Posted in Grandmother

Sam

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This story was written seven years ago upon the birth of my Grandson, Sam.

 

Sam.  Sam is on my mind.  Sam is my new Grandbaby and he is the absolute sweetest, most pure piece of God that I have ever seen.

I always doubted myself as a mother…wondering what, if anything, I was doing right and exactly how many things was I doing wrong? (the list continues)  But, now that I’m a Grandmother, I want the list to stop.

This is my opportunity to just “love”.  I don’t want to keep score, or make second guesses or lay awake at night in fear of doing “it” wrong.  I want this opportunity to let my daughter be herself and be the mother she was meant to be.  I want this chance to just love them…as they are, without criticisms, doubts or worry.  I only want acceptance, delight, gratitude, hugs, cookies and sweet dreams.

Do I know that life is always unpredictable?  Yes.  Should I be prepared for ups and downs and times that are so hard, that you think your heart will break?  Absolutely.  But, now I have Sam.  I know him.  I have smelled his sweet baby smell and breathed it in like a life-preserver.  I already love him and I look forward to our journey together.  Nannie and Sam.

 

Happy Birthday dear Sam!  The time passes too quickly…

Posted in Friendship

Little People….Big Conversations

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Written by:  Nancy Malcolm

Recently, I had the privilege of driving with two of my grandsons in the car.  I was instantly reminded of days gone by when my daughters were younger and I would be taking one of them and a friend somewhere.  Oh, the conversations they would have!

But, as life has unfolded, we are a true blended family now, my husband and I.  We each maintain good relationships with our ex-spouses and often, we are all together at family events because of our children.

On this particular drive, one of the boys asked me, “Did you know PaPa used to be married to Nana?”  The other one, in shock said, “They did not….did they?”  I said that yes, I knew that and before I could go any further, they were into a discussion about life, divorce and marriage.  I proceeded to explain the situation in simple terms, but as we all know, it’s not a simple matter.  Still, as we drove, I was glad they felt comfortable enough to ask me questions and to share their thoughts.

A big part of me is gut wrenchingly sad that these two precious boys even know about divorce, but life rarely fits into a cookie cutter mold of perfection.  I wish I could make their little lives smooth, peaceful and worry-free forever.  I know I cannot control other people’s behavior or tell them how to live their lives; however, I can trust in a power greater than myself to take care of these boys and send blessings their way.  I can be a loving Nannie and be the best grandparent I can be.  I can provide a safe and accepting home for visits and car ride discussions.

And as is the case with little boys, as suddenly as that conversation started, it ended and their latest Lego purchase took center stage.  Just for today, I can let go of worry and enjoy the ride.