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Grandmas Boxes: Letters From 1918

by Roberta McReynolds

My parents called it an annual open invitation, but it may be more accurate to consider it a rite of passage. One or two weeks out of each summer, for many consecutive years, I stayed with my grandmother. However the arrangement came about, the fact is that my visits were expected. No discussions were involved, especially on my part. It was mainly a matter of when, not if.

She lived in the mountains in a small cabin after retirement. The wide spot in the road where she resided had a population of 250. The cabin was heated by a wood-burning stove and any necessary hot water was boiled in a kettle or a bucket on the stove top. The place was modern in the sense that there was indoor plumbing, for which I was especially thankful. Even though I was a quiet, introverted child, things could still get boring during my vacation.

Grandma was a no-frills, reserved woman. She made her own clothes from the same pattern. The fabric was usually in a shade of brown, although I remember one very pretty green dress. She never cut her hair in her life and wore it in an old-fashioned bun on top of her head. I considered her to be watchful, but aloof, from my youthful perspective.

Reception on the black and white television was so terrible it was limited it to mostly news broadcasts. Radio was slightly better, but Grandma reserved it for weather and local reports rather than musical entertainment. Thats how I remember it anyway.

The highlight of the day was walking to the post office at 11:00 in the morning to collect the mail. The post mistress knew everyone by name, even the tourist flat-landers like me. All I needed to do was walk up to the window without uttering a word and shed hand over the mail. That suited me just fine, because I was too shy to speak. The tiny building also contained the library, which amounted to a narrow bookcase with about eight shelves. It had cabinet doors that were generally kept locked.

My day held an added bonus if I was allowed to stop and purchase a loaf of brown bread on the way back from the post office. Grandma knew exactly how long it took to complete the errand, precisely how much bread cost and what the change should be. I regularly received warnings about staying away from the edge of the highway and to beware of speeding logging trucks. That was probably the bulk of our daily conversation.

Grandma could communicate volumes with a look, so why bother wasting her breath on words? The morning I came downstairs for breakfast wearing what I thought was a colorfully coordinated outfit resulted in a lasting impression. I turned the corner into the kitchen where Grandma was standing in front of the wood-burning stove eyeing the griddle of pancakes for doneness. She turned and stared at me, with the crease in her brow deepening.

Thats the moment I realized my plaid shorts and striped shirt were not an approved combination. Not a word was exchanged, but I spun around in mid-stride and headed back upstairs to promptly change clothes.

I entertained myself after the morning errand was completed. Sometimes I borrowed a book from the limited selection at the library. I often amused myself for hours by drawing pictures on butcher paper. Grandma showed me how to make a doll-sized quilt one year and never critiqued my crooked seams or choice of fabrics from her scraps. She saved her old McCalls magazines throughout the year and let be cut out the Betsy McCall paper dolls.

Sometimes we went for a walk which might include picking apples from an abandoned orchard so she could make applesauce. One year I experienced picking gooseberries (I think I only picked a handful before my fingers were too tender from the thorns). She made it a point to show me wildflowers and insects along our path, testing me to see what I remembered for past summers. Occasionally we discovered and old bottle, its clear glass turning amethyst from decades of sun exposure.

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