Tuesday, January 8, 2008


When I was a young girl, going to Grandma's and Grandpa's house was an adventure. For the first 10 years or so of my life, my grandparents didn't have indoor plumbing.

When we were thirsty, we all drank from the same ladle that rested in a big pan of water that was hauled in from the well house. When we needed to use the bathroom, we went to the outhouse. Or maybe not. If it was too cold out, or the middle of the night, we'd use the old paint can that was a fixture in each bedroom.

Their house was a lot like the one in the picture, and Grandma and Grandpa heated it with wood, closing off rooms downstairs and the entire upstairs whenever they didn't need them. By the time I came along, Grandma cooked on a gas stove, occasionally making a pot of beans or a pan of pork cracklins on the wood stove, but my older siblings can remember when she cooked on the wood stove exclusively.

Their house was as hot in the summer as it was cold in the winter, and of course, they didn't have air conditioning. The upstairs ofThe kitchen must have been very warm, since it seemed like Grandma was always cooking, but it was still the room where we all liked to gather. We tried to keep cool by running a few electric fans (yes, they did have electricity) or hand-held paper fans they'd gotten for free as advertising or at church. There were huge shade trees, too, to sit under out in the yard.

Meals were big if Grandma didn't know you were coming, and absolutely huge if she did know ahead of time. After we finished eating, everything was covered with a tablecloth until we were ready to eat again. No one worried much about food-borne illnesses then, and I don't remember anyone getting sick from eating the late-day leftovers. For our drinks, sometimes there was ice in the old-fashioned metal ice trays. Other times it was chipped from a block of ice with an ice-pick. The coffee, which was made on the wood stove, was ground fresh in a hand-cranked grinder.

Just as for cooking and drinking, the water for laundry and bathing had to be hauled in and heated on the stove. Because we lived an hour or so away, I don't think I ever actually witnessed the laundry being done, but I remember an old ringer washer on the back porch and clothes lines in the back yard. I'm sure the ringer washer had at some time replaced a washboard.

Few things were thrown away in my grandparents' house. I'm sure they hadn't heard much about the concept of recycling; they were just using their common sense when they kept things to be reused later. Instead of buying something new, they would often just paint something they already had. My grandma was known to paint a lot of things, including her refrigerator!

By the time I was in my teens and early adulthood, my grandparents had not only installed plumbing in the farm house, but had left there and moved "to town". The had what they considered "modern conveniences", such as central heat, indoor plumbing, a window air conditioner and a phone that wasn't on a party line. But the old ways were hard for them to give up. When my grandma's dryer gave out, she went back to hanging her clothes on a line in the house, and used the defunct dryer as extra storage space. I remember her pulling a couple unopened bags of potato chips out of it one time.

Going to Grandma's and Grandpa's was one of the most fun things we could do as a kid. Most of my cousins on Dad's side of the family would be there, and we'd explore the upstairs and attic of the house (a furnace in the summer and frigid in the winter). Maybe we'd go for a long walk down the gravel roads or play in the creek that wasn't far away.

Everyone was happy, child and adult alike. Even without modern conveniences, and maybe because we were without them. It was a simpler time, and I miss it.


Sheila said...

Did you take that photo? It looks familiar to me...

Donna said...

I only saw my one Grandmother once every summer...2000 miles away. But I remember everything as if it were yesterday...thanks for the memory sweetie...

Tug said...

THANK YOU Annie, for the walk down memory lane. So very nice...such great memories.

Annie Jones said...

Sheila: No, but I wish I had. :)

Donna: Wow, 2000 miles away? I was lucky to have both my paternal grandparents and my maternal grandmother just an hour away.

Tug: You're welcome. :)

Dave Morris said...

Technology brings convenience and I'm a believer/user, but there is no doubt it has made us weaker and less self-sufficient.

Although there have been some amazing cases lately where survivors were found, most people die when they get lost in the woods nowadays. They haven't got a clue how to stay warm, or feed themselves without a drive-thru.

This was a nice story. You are lucky to have had such neat grandparents.

(oh, and the chips-in-the-dryer made me spit out some of my omelette)

Annie Jones said...

Dave: I like a balance between technological convenience and keeping the old skills alive.

As for getting lost in the woods, I can remember that one of the first "life lessons" my Dad giving my younger brother and me was taking us for walks in the woods and showing us things to do if we were ever lost, from finding water, finding our bearings and finding civilization. I wonder if parents are teaching these things anymore.