I spent much of my early childhood with my grandparents out on the farm along the Missouri River bluffs. My grandfather was what I considered a weekend farmer because he worked five days a week at the post office. He would come home from work about 6 p.m. and would immediately set off to do the chores, such as slopping hogs and milking the cows. He usually had about 50-head of cattle and about that many hogs.
Saturday was always taken up with the heavy chores like hoeing the garden, bailing hay or mending fences. On Sunday he strictly honored the Sabbath. My grandmother was a typical farmer’s wife, messing with the chickens, canning green beans, churning butter or baking apple pies. Every afternoon she would share some of her homemade ice cream with me. The folks were about as country as could be – and they talked an entirely different language than we do today.
I remember one summer afternoon while grandma and I were hanging out the laundry on the clothesline, the neighbor lady, Gertrude, came wandering to the gate wanting to visit for awhile. She told my grandmother that I reminded her of her own childhood.
“I was orphaned at an early age,” she said, “and was raised up down in the Ozarks by my granny.”
Grandmother put down granddad’s wet work shirt she had in her hands and removed the clothes pens from her mouth.
“Come on in. Sit a spell and rest ye weary bones,” she said.
“How ya’ll a-doin,” the neighbor inquired as we walked toward the back porch.
“Tolerable, thank ye,” replied my grandmother. “How’’re you and yours a-doin?”
“Oh, I’m fair to middlin’. Think I’ll live till I die, if a tree don’t fall on me,” said Gertrude.
“How’s your mother-in-law, Mrs. Brown, doin’.”
“She’s doin’ right poorly,” the neighbor said as she shook her head.
“That’s a cryin’ shame,” grandma said. “How’s yer mister?”
“He’s doin’ as well as kin be expected under the circumstances,” said Gertrude. “You know, he’s got the same heart condition that his brother Sonny had, and they jest found Sonny a sittin’ in the yard. He was deader than a door nail.”
“Lands-a-goshun. I shore did like that critter, he was a kind man, as honest as the day is long and as ugly as a mud fence. God rest his soul,” my grandmother eulogized.
When we got to the porch, grandma poured us a glass of iced tea as the neighbor lady asked, “Ya’ll a-goin’ to the church picnic?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” grandma exclaimed, as her eyes became peeled on me. “We’ll be there come hail or high water. That’s where little Teddy's granddad and his granny met – at a church picnic.”
Turning back to Gertrude, she said, “Then, he commenced a-sparkin’ me. He told me I was prettier than a little speckled hen. Back then, I was no bigger than a pound of soap after a hard day’s washin’. My long, auburn hair was so long that I could sit on it.”
“Yeh,” Gerty said, “picnics shore do bring back memories, and them pies are always larapin’ good. Always eat too much as my eyes are always bigger than my stomach.”
Grandmother handed her a jar,”Here, take some canned gooseberries home with ya, they’s scarcer than hen’s teeth this year, or hair on a frog.”
“Guess I’d best me moseyin’ along,” the neighbor lady said. “I was headed for Widder Jones and it’s a fur piece over to her house. I reckon, as the crow flies it’s purt near two mile.”
I obediently walked Miss Gerty and her gooseberries to the gate and got a kiss good-bye.
Ted W. Stillwell as Buffalo Bill Cody will address the first-graders of Henry Leavenworth Elementary at 1:15 p.m. Feb. 23.
To reach Ted Stillwell, send email to email@example.com or call him at 816-896-3592.