Great Grandma's House
Jan. 9, 2010 4:00 am
Updated: Jan. 19, 2010 12:20 pm
Isn't it wonderful how some of our fondest memories of loved ones we've lost involve food? If it weren't for food, I probably would have very few memories of my mother's paternal grandmother...my great-grandmother.
As a child, I used to cherish trips to Great Grandma Hildebrandt's house. Great Grandpa had passed away when I was very little, so all I remember of him is his burgundy rocker/recliner and the lovely smell of his pipe. But the memory of Great Grandma has held strong, even though she passed away when I was still quite young...about 12 years old or so. Food is a HUGE reason behind my strong memories of her and I am thankful for its help in preserving her so perfectly in my mind.
A visit to Great Grandma's house always started out the same way. We would be greeted with the requisite hugs and kisses (why do old ladies insist on kissing you on the lips?) and then we would instantly be herded to the dining table where a big pot of navy bean soup sat waiting, alongside fresh baking powder biscuits. I don't know how she did it, but this soup was the creamiest, tastiest bean soup you could ever want to pass over your tongue. Never, in all the years I can remember eating Great Grandma's bean soup, did I ever come across a dry bean. And the bacon! Oh my goodness, the bacon! She must have put three pounds of bacon into this soup. And we're not talking just any bacon. No, this was the "ends and pieces" bacon! That thick cut, meaty, glorious stuff that bacon snobs would discard because it wasn't perfect slices or uniform thickness. Great Grandma's soup was swimming with it and we all ate our beans around the pieces of bacon, so as to save the very best part for last. One ritual was always observed with this soup: Great Grandma would serve everyone their bowls and then ladle up her own bowl. Then, before she scooped even one bite into her mouth, she would crumble a biscuit onto the top of her soup. I can remember thinking that seemed kind of yucky, as I have never been fond of soggy bread of any kind, but during one of our visits I surreptitiously sneaked a bit of my biscuit into my bowl of soup and I was hooked. Ever since then, navy bean soup just hasn't seemed "right" without a biscuit, a piece of bread, or at least a few crackers broken up on top of it.
After we finished our heavenly bean soup and biscuits, we children were shooed into the back yard while the grownups had their visiting time. Children nowadays would be bored out of their gourds in Great Grandma's back yard. She didn't even have so much as a swing! But what she DID have outshined any PS3, X-Box, or Wii I have ever had the misfortune to tangle with. Great Grandma had FRUIT TREES! Most of the time our visits were during the summer months, so the apricot tree was our destination. We would climb up her sturdy trunk, high into her canopy, lie back on a comfortable forked branch, and eat apricots the entire afternoon. Great Grandma's house was far enough away from any main streets that we didn't have to listen to constant traffic, and Mother Nature provided the most beautiful soundtrack to our afternoons. Tiny butterflies by the hundreds landed on the flowering bushes to sip their nectar, hummingbirds hovered at feeders hung from the porch cover, and occasionally a bumblebee would pass through on his way to wherever he was headed, oblivious to the fact that Science insists he shouldn't be able to fly. Once in a while a parent would peek their head out the back door and say, "You kids aren't eating too much of that fruit, are you?" We would always reply that we had only eaten one or two apricots each, but of course we had been eating them as fast as we could pick them! It didn't matter that we all knew from past experiences that we would be spending a good portion of the next day in the bathroom (anyone who has eaten large quantities of apricots in the course of a few short hours will understand what I mean)! Those apricots, eaten straight off the tree without so much as a spit-shine, much less a good washing, were the best entertainment a kid could ask for on a hot summer afternoon.
When our visits were drawing to an end, the parents would come into the back yard with bags for us to fill up with apricots to take home. It was then that they would realize just how many apricots we had all eaten, because there weren't quite as many left to take home as there should have been. Even so, we all managed to have a decent amount in our bags as we prepared to leave our Paradise. We reluctantly climbed down out of the apricot tree, thanking her for the wonderful afternoon, and filed into the house to wash hands and faces and visit the restroom in preparation for the drive to our respective homes. On the way out the door, we were once again subjected to the requisite hugs and kisses (Really? On the LIPS?!?!) and then climbed into our cars and waved goodbye, already looking forward to the next visit to Great Grandma's House.