Granny’s Old Safe

GRANNY’S OLD SAFE

 

            The old food safe was part of the furniture in my grandmother’s kitchen. It stood about six feet tall with two screened doors hiding two shelves at the top half of the piece and a narrow drawer dividing the middle.  Two solid wooden doors closed to store items in the bottom. Its original varnish had long faded before my memory but that was not what mattered to me. My focus upon arrival at Granny’s, after the hugs and kisses, was to head for the old food safe.  It always held a platter of tea cakes covered with a white dish towel embroidered on either end with colorful flowers.  But the real treat on that plate was a ball of raw cookie dough wrapped and saved just for me. I could hardly wait to get it. 

            Back in the early days of the 1950’s, my grandparents lived on a red dirt road in rural East Texas. They had no electricity until the mid-1950’s and the food safe was there to protect the cooked food from flies and bugs that flew about through open windows in the summer. Its wooden shelves may contain a bowl of purple hull peas covered by a plate of leftover breakfast biscuits.  Sometimes it held a bowl of yellow squash, cream style corn or other vegetables that were cooked earlier in the day.  But my focus was on the plate on the top shelf holding the tea cakes and that roll of raw cookie dough.

As I anxiously drug a chair from the wooden dining table over in front of the safe, climbed up and opened the screened upper portion of the piece of furniture to reveal my treat, I never noticed that the shelves were lined with brightly colored pieces of material that originally covered a sack of flour. Nor did I notice that the screen covering the upper doors was loose on one side and the bottom two doors had to be jiggled to make them close properly. It was not a beautiful piece of elegant furniture, but it was sturdy and strong, filling its purpose.

Then I waited while Granny poured me a glass of cool milk she drew up from a bucket holding the milk jug that was being kept cool down in the well. They did not always have ice readily available so milk and butter could be kept cool in the summertime by placing it in a bucket normally used to draw up well water.  It was carefully eased down into the cool dampness of the well on its tightly knotted rope to keep cool and preserved in the hot summer days.

Carefully, I unwraped the soft cookie dough and smelled the strong vanilla fragrance from it while my mouth watered in anticipation of the flavors to come. It did not disappoint me as I slowly filled my mouth with the sugary vanilla smoothness of Granny’s tea cake dough.  These were made with eggs gathered from the nests out in the henhouse, milk that came from the Jersey cow now grazing in the pasture, butter made from that milk and vanilla flavoring bought from the traveling Watkins salesman.  If you have ever had a homemade tea cake, your mouth is watering too in remembrance. 

The old food safe was moved from Granny’s kitchen after she died to my mother’s house. It held goodies there as well but mostly was used to house pretty dishes and bowls because we now had refrigeration and electricity.  One day, it needed a new home because mother’s house was now empty.  The old food safe was brought to my kitchen where it holds an honored position.  I do not need it to protect my food from outside insects but I need it to hold mementos of that past.  There are the dishes that came from Granny’s kitchen, a bonnet of my Mother’s and many parts of my past.  They are displayed there for all to see who wish to look.  They have stories to tell if they could but talk and sometimes I stand and look at them wondering what they could tell me if I could hear them. 

The old safe is well over one hundred years old by now and is as strong and sturdy as ever.  The screen on its doors is a little loose at the top but still protects its contents.  In the bottom, behind the doors that open out, Granny and Mama kept the biscuit pan.  This was the pan that held the flour used to create a “flour bowl”. All the ingredients for the biscuits were placed in the flour bowl, buttermilk added until the dough became just the right consistency to become a ball of dough.  Then they pinched off a chunk of the dough, rolled it around in their hands to smooth it and placed it in a greased pan ready for the oven.  After cooking in the old wood stove or a modern gas or electric oven, the big, fluffy biscuits would almost crawl out of the pan. 

Today those doors can be opened and the “flour pan” is still there in its spot.  No, it does not have flour in it and has not been used to make a biscuit in many years now.  But I can open the doors and see my grandmother or my mother’s hands as they made ready to provide a pan of hot biscuits for breakfast in days gone by. 

Yes, it is just an old piece of furniture.  It could be replaced by an expensive modern hutch with etched glass doors and shelves that are not warped.  But what would I do with those memories that belong in the old safe?  I don’t know and I’m not ever going to find out.

 

 

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Summer Days of Long Ago

I remember the summer days of June when sunshine, hot days and nights with no air conditioning, were the norm for Southeast Texas.  As a child, I looked forward to running outside, arms outspread and feet unfettered.  The feeling of warm sand squishing between my toes, or tromping through the early morning dew mixing the dampness with the dirt was a heavenly joy.  The total abandon of being a child, not a worry in the world, feeling loved and cherished, I could spread my arms wide and take it in by running as fast as I could around and around.

The peaceful days were filled by lying on my back in the grass looking at the clouds drift slowly by.  There I saw ice cream cones, a dog’s head, turtles, and cotton candy.  At least that is what they looked like to me.  I could be still and take it in, or I could sing loudly and off-key and nobody minded. I could think about what I was going to do the rest of the day or the rest of my life.  It was my time, my place, my world to conquer.

There were chickens running about clucking and “talking” to one another in the chicken yard.  The old rooster strutted about like he was in charge, until one of the old hens got enough of his racket and flapped her wings at him and ran him to the other side of the yard.  I watched it all.

Birds flitted about in the big trees and at the right moment skydived to the fig tree, helping themselves to a piece of sweet fruit.  Squirrels and birds raced one another to the overloaded pear tree so burdened with fruit its limbs were bending to the ground.  Plum trees were laden with sweetness that wasps and yellow jackets loved to suckle and they actively pursued their goodness.  I watched it all.

Of course there were treks to the ever present “necessity house” where dirt daubers loved to built and lizards scampered when I opened the wooden door.  The heat and the smell could be sometimes overwhelming in the heat, yet when my girl cousins came, we’d retreat there to hide from the boys and tell secrets.  Of course, they stood outside and threw dirt clods at the outside of our hideaway.  It was fun.

The grown folks were busy shelling peas, shucking corn, digging up potatoes. The kitchen sweltered with heat as the wood stove chugged away canning the food for a cold winter’s day.  Watermelons cooled in the shade for our afternoon “treat” and cantaloupes were brought up from the bottom field for lunch.  I made my way out to the garden carefully filling the pockets of my dress with cherry tomatoes for snacking if my hunger grew.  I was busy.

 

Cousins came to visit.  We played chase, hide-and-seek, cops and robbers, hop

 scotch, jump rope,  jacks, and “you be the mom and I’ll be the dad” play-house

 in our make believe house under the big pecan trees.  We played with our one

 little car we had and made “roads” with a hoe that included driveways and

 little houses made from sticks and dirt.  I played it all.

 

When we got thirsty, we all drank from the same dipper, dipped in the same

bucket of water drawn up from the well in the back yard.  The water was cold

 and we were dry.  None of us were ever very sick.  Cousins all

played together, fought each other and made up shortly thereafter.  We played

 it all.

 

We never went in the house during the day until lunch time and suppertime.

 We played outside.  If we said we did not have anything to do, Mama was

 always willing and able to find a chore that needed to be done.  We knew

 better than to say we were bored, as a matter of fact, we did not know that

word when I was growing up.  Mama did not allow us to be idle.  She said, “Idle

 hands are the Devil’s workshop.”  We did not argue with Mama.  Outside was

 our world in the summer, our playground, our haven of learning and growing.

 

There was no electricity in many of the years when I was growing up at my grandparents farm in the summertime.  At night, we bathed on the back porch in a tub brought in for the occasion.  I was scrubbed until my skin was red trying to get the filth off me so I could touch a sheet on a bed.  Sometimes I was allowed to sleep on a quilt pallet on the floor.  My cousin and I slept there in front of the screen door leading out to the front porch and went to sleep watching the fireflies cavort in the yard.  We called them “lightning bugs” when I was a child.  We told scary stories about people who would come up on the porch and try to break in on us while we slept until we scared ourselves into a frenzy.  Mama or Grannie assured us we were safe because the latch was closed on the door and nothing could come in.  We were gullible and we believed them and tiredness took over as our eyes closed in rest.

 

I do not know what made it so special.  I do not know why I never have forgotten any of it.  Many things from many other places I cannot remember, yet these summer days and nights at Grannie and Papaw’s I shall never forget. They were simple.  They were easy. We had nothing but ourselves with which to entertain and make our summer fun. We had no money, no cokes, no electronics, only lamplight and the great outdoors.  Yet I cannot forget the feeling I get in my heart when I think of those summer days on Manor Hill at Grannie and Papaw’s.

 

 

 

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