Summer with Granny
Summer with Granny


Anthony Wilson

I felt a twinge of pain in my mid-forty-year-old neck. I rose up from my desk and walked over to the window of my office. Looking out at the street below, I thought how gray and cold it looked outside. The trees were without leaves, barren and lifeless. How cold these late winter days can be! They seem to last forever. How I wish for those warm summer days to return!

The thought of summer causes me to drift back in time. I remember a time of warmth, sunshine, a time without aches and pains. Those special days I spent with my Grandmother, or Granny as I always called her, comes to mind.

You might think, why would a young boy want to spend precious summer days with his seventy-five-year-old grandmother? Well, let me tell you in the beginning it was not spending time with Granny, but spending time where Granny lived. You see, she lived in the foothills of the mountains in East Tennessee, a paradise for a twelve-year-old boy. I usually would spend two weeks in this mountain wonderland. What memories, I have of those days!

I guess the best memories of my childhood were those spent at my Granny's house. It was a very simple structure, built of unpainted rough sawn boards and held together with rusting nails. There were abundant cracks that allowed the summer light to shine through. The light passing through the cracks, caused the handmade patchwork quilt on my feather bed to take on a pattern of stripes as it crossed the gridwork of color.

The light was best early in the morning, just as the sun broke over the knobs. The first light is greeted by the sound of a rooster crowing in the front yard and by the distant call of a lonesome quail.

Oh, those wonderful summer mornings that turned into perfect summer days and evenings! Most days started off with my Granny's shaking voice asking me to get up and eat breakfast. I have to tell you that breakfast then, are not like today's breakfast.

Breakfast was a feast, especially to a chunk of a boy who lived to eat. The meal started off with eggs, bacon, gravy, fried potatoes, tomatoes, and biscuits. I'm not talking about these little biscuits from a can or the local fast food establishment. These were BISCUITS, a good two inches high by six inches in diameter, so light you would have to stick a fork in them before they floated off. I would eat them, one after another, until being near death. About the time I thought breakfast was over, Granny would break out the blackberry jam, for dessert.

Upon completion of the mandatory morning feeding, the next order of the day was to draw the water from the hand-dug well out front. Usually this meant dipping the water bucket down, filling it with two gallons of water, and toting it to the kitchen to fill the water reservoir in the wood cook stove. By this time, Granny had already drawn the heated water to wash up the breakfast dishes.

Once the dishes were washed, we would head out to Aunt Julie's house. It was across the field, over by the main road, a single lane dirt road. We walked the narrow path, crossing the foot log and traversing the rest of the path, dodging the occasional snake or other "varmit" that might be lying along the way. Upon nearing Aunt Julie's house, we were usually greeted by her dogs, Blackjack and Jake.

Blackjack was an old dog, nearly blind and deaf, kept around for his long years of loyal service as a watchdog, snake-killer, and companion. Blackjack's movements were slow and deliberate, wasting no motion, a bit "stoved-up" in his joints. Granny said he was like her, that his best days were behind him.

Jake was young and frisky, jumping and running circles around the two of us. I thought to myself that he was like me, young and full of excitement for every day's adventure. I could hardly wait to take off with Jake and find lost treasures, swim in the creek, or maybe find some trouble to get into.

As we walked onto the front porch, I remember hearing Aunt Julie rattling around in the kitchen. She was a pleasant woman, small in stature but strong in will, real pioneer stock. Like my Granny, she was widowed several years and had raised her family. They both seemed content and happy. Always quick to find humor in the simplest, most mundane things that most of us, in this day, simply do not have time to see.

Aunt Julie and Granny did not waste much time in getting to the work at hand. Since it was summer, there were beans to pick, break, and string. They called the dried green beans "leather britches," and I recall wondering how anything so shriveled and dry could cook up to taste so good.

I was expected to help with the chores around the house. This might involve churning, working in the garden, helping with the canning, or maybe drying fruit for the winter.

These households were self-sufficient. Very little had to be bought from the store over in Mt. Vernon. Mostly salt, sugar, meal and flour, were bought. They made their own lard and butter for baking. They made soap for washing. They canned the food they ate and raised hogs, chickens and so on. Looking back now, I often wonder if they really knew how fortunate they were to live out in the fresh air, eating "organic" food, drinking fresh well water, not being too concerned about all the troubles of the world they barely knew outside of their little homes in the East Tennessee Knobs.

I can still remember hustling to get finished with my daily chores so I could take off with Jake and romp through the woods. How clear Granny's voice sounds in my mind's ear today, saying, "Go on, boy, you and that crazy dog, get out of here."

She would just get the words out of her mouth and me and Jake were off like a flash. Running down to the creek, then to the woods, climbing moss-covered rocks, through the saw briers and blackberry patches. Our fun was only interrupted by the sting of a yellow jacket or maybe the heart-stopping excitement caused by the unexpected flushing of a covey of quail.

Oh, to run with the wind on twelve-year-old legs, run without stopping to catch a breath, or slow to attend to a twinge of pain! To lie on the warm pine needles and gaze at the clouds passing by and to play for hours without a care. What a joy it would be to clearly see without a pair of glasses hanging on my face!

I hear Granny's voice in the distance calling me for supper. Jake barks for me to get going, and that was all it took. We were off, like two bullets, aimed for Aunt Julie's kitchen.

I can still taste those fresh garden vegetables. They made the best cornbread, and oh yes, that blackberry cobbler with butter and fresh milk. How I could eat, without guilt about my waistline or my cholesterol level!

Sometimes now I wonder how they lived so long and healthy. Both lived to near ninety, without visiting the doctor's office until the last days of their lives. Maybe it was just good genetics or possibly it was that both really enjoyed life to its fullest. They spent very little time thinking about what was going on outside their small world.

After supper was finished and the dishes washed, we would all adjourn to the front porch. The evening was a special part of the day. It was set apart from the rest of the day by different sights, sounds, and a generally more relaxed mood. Some of the neighbors would drop by to visit. The conversation was always fascinating to my curious ears. The topics were varied, and sometimes dangerous, involving rather heated discussions on religion or politics. Now politics was always a dangerous subject, since Aunt Julie was a Republican and my granny was a Democrat, but they usually ended the night on a more peaceful topic. My ears would always perk up when they would start talking about the Civil War days, or as they called it "the war between the states."

The Civil War talk was always kept going by my probing questions on the subject. I was curious to find out that my ancestors were in the Union Army during the war. At the time, I remember being somewhat disappointed to learn this fact. I guess I assumed that all Southerners were Confederates.

Some nights the conversation would drift into the more routine subjects. This would cause me to drift off to sleep. I remember being gently nudged by Granny and can still see her standing over me with the "coal oil" lamp. If I close my eyes now, I can still see how the lamp light made her snow-white hair almost glow. I can still hear her saying, "Wake up, son, it's time to head home."

I eased up from the wood floor of the porch, rubbed the sleep from my eyes, and followed Granny's short but spry steps down the road to the path to her little shack. Thinking back now, I am amazed at the way she could navigate down the path, lit only by the lamp. How she could cross the foot log across the creek and end up at the front door every time, without incident.

There was not much conversation once inside the shack. The fullness of the day had taken its toll on both of us. I eased into the big feather bed. Granny took out her tattered old Bible and began to read. My eyelids were too heavy to fight, and sleep quickly conquered me. Drifting off into a dream world, reliving the day, running and jumping through the woods with Jake.

I knew that in the morning it would start all over and would last forever. This is the thinking of a twelve-year-old, who measured time in minutes, not years. Just a boy having not been exposed to life's harshness. I was just a boy spending some special summer days with his grandmother.

My trance is broken, and I am instantly transported through three decades of time. I am forced back to the present time, standing by my office window. It angers me that my pleasant thoughts were interrupted by a ringing phone. Just before I turn to answer the telephone, a flash of color in the trees catches my eye. A pair of Cardinals is building a nest. Now that is encouraging, I think to myself. Maybe there is hope for the summer after all. I rub my neck and pick up the phone, with a smile on my face.

short story by
Anthony Wilson
Cleveland, TN
written February 18, 1996

NOTE: Tony Wilson's granny, described so vividly above, is Mary Frances (White) Lewis and Aunt Julie is her sister Julia Ann White. Many, many thanks to Tony Wilson for allowing me to upload his wonderful story here!


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