Grandma Martha

So Thankful

In 1998, my paternal grandmother was killed in a car accident. She and my grandfather had been married for 54 years. They were both the children of homesteaders, and quickly followed in their parents' footsteps by homesteading their own parcel of land. The house they built there, as money allowed, is the house where they raised their nine children, and the house they lived in until the days they both died.

After Grandma's death, Grandpa spent almost two years proving to the world that he was no good as a bachelor before re-marrying to another very capable woman--a widow from Iowa. He and Virginia were actually married very shortly after Jason and myself. (How weird is it to be getting married the same year as your grandfather?) They enjoyed over five years together in amiable companionship before Grandpa also died of a heart attack. Virginia still lives in her own home in Iowa, and the kids and I were fortunate to get to see her last fall on our way south to Arkansas.

The very year Grandpa died, I found out some things about him that I never knew before. In fact, when I later told my dad that Grandpa had at one point wanted to be a professional cabinet-maker, even Dad was surprised. I was so sad that he died before I got to know him better as a man, not just as my Grandpa. I mourn even more for the years I lost with my Grandma Hilman--even though, as the oldest grandchild, I certainly got more time to get to know her than any of my cousins.

As I sat out in the snow this afternoon, bundled up in my winter clothes and finally digging up my potatoes from the frozen ground--on Thanksgiving day, which is generally considered a little too late in this part of the world for gardening!--I wished I could have been able to consult with my Grandma, or at least compare notes, now that I am homesteading my own place. She would have known better than to leave her garden in the ground until the second week of October. Granted, winter is not usually here by then, but there is always the odd year--and this year has been very odd. She would probably have some great stories about the first few years on the farm, before the farmhouse was built, and when it was just the two of them plus one or two little boys.

It makes me wonder how much wisdom has been lost in the last century about how to really live on this earth--how many children have grown up from the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries without knowing the wonderful things that their grandparents could have taught them? How much are we having to re-learn, not at our grandparents' knees, but through trial and error or electronically via the internet? Thank goodness that someone took time to learn from their family's previous generations, so that humanity as a whole could benefit!

I would not wallow in misery for what is no longer retrievable, though. These thoughts made me grateful for the wisdom that is still available to me--both of my maternal grandparents are still living (and from good farming stock, too). My father and mother both have farming backgrounds, and knowledge about many, many other subjects, besides. I have numerous (and I do mean NUMEROUS!) uncles and aunts that know pieces of Grandpa and Grandma Hilman's stories--pieces that could be fitted together to make an interesting picture of their lives, even if necessarily incomplete. Their legacy is not dead--it lives on in us, their family.

I have the world's best husband, three adorable kids, and a roof over my head. There is food in my fridge and friends close by. In this twenty-first century, with uncertain economic times, a changing climate, and predictions of doom and gloom all around, there is still so much to be thankful for.

One of the best parts of the legacy that my grandparents left was faith--the kind of faith that gets you through fifty-four years of marriage, many hard times, and many good ones. The kind of faith that reminds you through all of it that at the end of the Book, the Good Guy wins.

So why not be thankful? After all, it's all going to be okay.

"Pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." I Thessalonians 5:17, 18 (NIV)

The Pot's On, C'mon Inside

I was raised with a "community" mentality.

Yes, we were considered "rural", being seven miles from the nearest town. But we lived in a pioneering community whose roots--and neighbourly ties--ran deep. My family, and many others in the area, had been prolific breeders, and many were inter-married with the other pioneering families. So not only was everyone within a five-mile radius your neighbour--they were most likely your relative. (My friends and I used to joke that I would have to move just to find a boy I could date! This didn't turn out to be true, but only because Jason was born in Saskatchewan, and didn't move to Red Deer area until he was in Grade School.)

I sometimes think that the reason driveways tend to be a little longer in the country is that you have a little more lead-time to get the coffee-pot on. You see the vehicle slowing down as it approaches your mailbox, and you holler "Put the coffee on, Martha! Ned's comin' in!" By the time he approaches your doorstep, the fragrant aroma is already wafting on the breeze, and there's no way a good neighbour would turn down a friendly cup with good company. (Everyone knows that's the reason he came over in the first place--to "set a spell.")

Actually, Martha really was my paternal grandmother's name*, and she was probably the personification of this country hospitality in my mind. If anyone ever always had coffee on, and always had cookies in the cookie jar, it was her. Growing up a farm wife, with nine children (eight of which are boys!) and numerous farm-hands and shop-hands around for every meal and coffee break, no wonder she cooked for twenty all the time, and the coffee-pot never ran dry. I wonder what would've happened if it had? Would the household's whole social order have fallen into chaos?

This "pot's always on, and there's always more room at the table" mentality was passed on to my father, and then to me. Jason often jokes that I don't know how to cook for two--which I don't. When it was just the two of us, I'd still cook for about eight and we'd be eating it for the next two weeks, because at that time we did not even have a deep freeze, other than what was included with the refrigerator. Even now, I often (purposely) plan for about double the portion we need. If someone shows up just in time for supper, great! We can throw a few more plates on and we're good. If no one does, great! We can throw the leftovers in the fridge or the freezer, and enjoy another, less labour-intensive meal later in the week.

If you ever happen to drop in on me when it is not mealtime, one of the first questions out of my mouth is likely to be "Would you like some tea? Water? Hot Chocolate? Coffee?" (Okay, the first four questions.) We are not coffee-drinkers as a general rule, but there is something about having a hot beverage in your hand that gives you an excuse to linger, to not rush out the door and back to your busy life. In this day and age where heading over to the neighbours just to set a spell is almost unheard-of, we need these excuses to slow down and catch up with each other. Our door is always open for visitors. (Okay, realistically, not really. If we're not here, we lock the door. I mean, c'mon people. We live in town--right across from some high-density housing! We're friendly, but we're not idiots. But! If you show up before we actually have to leave, you are welcome to hang out as long as you want--just lock the door and turn off the lights behind you!)

When I first moved in here, it didn't take me long to realize that I had some very interesting neighbours. I first noticed it when I saw some of them peeking in the window, hands cupped over their eyes to block out glare, watching what we were doing. One of them had their ear pressed to a glass against the window. I went to the door to tell them they were welcome to come in for a cup of tea, but as soon as they saw me, they bolted--I barely caught a glimpse of their faces.

However, they kept coming back. I would see their footprints in the snow, or the flowers in the front bed might be a little trampled. Sometimes I would even be talking with friends or family in other places and they would say, "Oh, I read your blog watched you do such-and-such the other day."

"Really?" I would ask, a little non-plussed. "Why didn't you knock and tell me you were there? We could have had tea."

"Oh," they would say, looking a little lesser-plussed than myself. I'd feel bad for making them feel bad, so eventually I stopped asking that question. I was just glad they were coming by to see me, even if they didn't stop in to say hello.

I've lived here at the Winters' Day In for over a year and a half, now. Some of the neighbours have managed to overcome their shyness and make themselves known, while some remain, lurking by the window, watching from the outside. I allow this voyeurism--the curtains remain open, and I just hope that someday, they will get up the nerve to come in out of the cold, sit by the fire and drink some hot cocoa with whipped cream on my couch, so I can get to know them a little better.

This is the first day of NaBloPoMo '07. I have made the commitment to post something to my blog every day for the month of November. I would just like to open up the month with this invitation:

Whether you have been reading my blog for a while now, or just started, I invite you to comment on at least one post this month. If you want to protect your anonymity, that's fine--you are allowed to comment anonymously on this blog. Don't fear the security system--it is only meant to protect the WDI from random drive-by shootings, not those who actually want to partake of its hospitality. And do check back--I respond to comments 95% of the time.

You never know--you might find you like it.

*To my knowledge, we (and they) had no neighbours by the name of "Ned".