I spent my summers with my maternal grandmother Maude. She and her family had traveled from the mountains of Tennessee to the coal fields of southern Indiana in wagons pulled by mules, where her father had shot to death a man in a gunfight over a whiskey still. He had also lost an eye in the process. She later lost her husband when he was killed in a coal mine accident. My mother was 7 years old at the time, and the family, including my grandmother and her two girls moved into her parents’ home. There they curled up on a rough-hewn wood plank floor curled up in quilts to ward off the cold of winter.
Grandma Maude eventually moved into a tiny home. She had no electricity or indoor plumbing. She had kerosene lamps for lighting. Her heat source was a single coal burning furnace in her living room. She had a separate outdoor coal house. She cooked on a cast iron, wood burning stove. She also had an underground root cellar where she stored vegetables canned in mason jars during each season. All her water had to be pumped from an outdoor well, and hauled inside through the seasons, including to a four-legged bathtub that drained the water, heated on the stove, through a pipe to the underside of the house. She had a hand crank wood telephone that hung on the wall. The crank rang up the operator to whom she gave the name of the person she wanted to call on her party line. Finally, was her two-hole outhouse, which was about 20 yards from the house. For the night necessaries there was a chamber pot beside the bed.
I spent all my childhood summers at Grandma Maude’s home. She had never remarried and had taken a job at a small local post office and left me alone each day. But she would always prepare and leave me a breakfast of eggs, biscuits, and red-eye gravy made using coffee grinds from the previous morning, for me to eat. We often ate fresh killed squirrel or rabbit, or quail for dinner which a friend of hers would bring to the house. I called him Uncle Clarence. He was a WWI veteran, and he taught me to shoot, hunt, and prepare the fresh kill rabbit or squirrel we’d have for dinner. I mowed her small patch of grass with a rotary lawn mower. I churned butter made from the cream skimmed from her fresh milk obtained from a neighbor's cow. She had chickens, some for laying eggs, and some for meals. She taught me how to ring their necks and pluck feathers. I hauled fresh coal and wood in every day and hauled out the ashes. And I carried in endless buckets of water from her well. I never considered that when I wasn’t there all those chores were left to her alone.
For all the hardship she endured, my grandmother was the kindest and most considerate person I’ve ever known. She passed that to my mother who I can remember her saying to me, “Tommy, whenever your life feels hard, just raise your head and look around you. There will always be someone enduring more hardship than you. Always, always be grateful for all the blessings God has given you.”
Thank you mom, and thank you grandma!