Much to the consternation of our neighbors (I fear), we have an urban garden. This year the rain and the mosquitos have overtaken it, and we’ve mostly left it to its own devices, including the raspberry thicket and the volunteer mystery vine emerging from the compost bin.
My great-grandmother introduced me to red raspberries. She had a row of bushes growing along her house and a large garden with tall stalks of corn. She also collected dandelion greens, snared rabbits and welcomed gifts of fresh honey from her bee-keeping neighbors who lived next door. Staying with her was like going to the farm wihout ever leaving the city. Culinary adventures with her extended into other areas of survival education. Having reared five children through the Great Depression on her own after her coal-mining husband died of a brain tumor, she took in laundry, used government commodities and depended on the kindness of strangers in order to keep her family fed.
She was poor, yet she had an abundance of faith and hope.
I often stayed with her in lieu of a babysitter. When I was old enough, I would ride my bike the hand full of blocks from where we lived to her home. Hers was an old house, filled with wonder: drawers full of reused drinking straws, drawers full of of twist ties saved from bread bags, drawers full of bread bags. She taught me how to tear old, clean sheets into strips and roll them into bandages on a tabletop contraption she had made from wood and steel. She would attach the strip of cloth, then let me turn the crank. We secured the ends with medical tape, and she would mail them to missionaries overseas. She also taught me how to make a toy from an empty dish soap bottle and a piece of kitchen string: The string was knotted at both ends through the hole of the spout, the extra length tucked inside, and, when you squeezed the bottle – quickly and with force – the string would come shooting out. We played “Go Fish” with Bible character cards, making four of a kind with Moses and Zechariah, and we used a spinner for games that originally came with dice because she believed:”Dice are used by gamblers and are tools of the Devil.” She had a small container she had fashioned from two ends of empty bleach bottles where she stored broken pieces of crayons.
We colored pictures. We swayed back and forth on the porch glider that she called a “davenport.” We ate raspberries.
We’d collect them outside her living room window – the window we would often have to walk around to behind her house where we would peer through and gently knock in order to get her attention, because, hard of hearing and deeply devout, she would become lost in her fervent prayers as she sat head-bowed and hands-clasped at her dining room table, so much so that she could not hear when someone came to the door.
We tried not to startle her.
Much like the now famous image by Eric Enstrom,
Grace was not only her name; it was her way of life.
Having retrieved from the bushes what the birds had left behind, we entered her humble home with our bounty through the front entrance, which had the familiar squeak and slam of the ideal incarnation of a summer screen door. And, there, we would sit, together, in the kitchen, the breeze making ghostly figures of the window sheers, eating our bowls of red berries swimming in white milk and sugar.
“Lord there may be homes much larger than mine. There may be tables groaning with food and drink in abundance. There may be riches in supplies and appointments. There may be conveniences on every hand, and there may be physical assurances that tomorrow will still bring more. But, Lord, you have been with me unto this and supplied my necessary requirements. On that assurance I will rest my belief that you will bless my efforts, if I apply them to the best of my ability to carry on. I am content. Amen.”
– Author unknown, caption for Eric Enstrom’s photo “Grace”
For GCS (1903 – 1985)
Copyright 2013 © Christina Caine. All rights reserved.