An Illinois woman tells her grandaughter a story about her own grandmother and her family farm
The wind blew. Thunder and lightning seemed to be at war with each other. Lightning shot, then thunder returned the volley with double force. The sky was dark like a piece of black velvet. Trees bent to the wind, which whistled around corners. Deedee, my little granddaughter, lay curled in my lap trying to be brave.
She was ready for bed but the war outside would not let her rest. I sat rocking her as she snuggled in the big rose-green afghan my grandma had made for me many, many years ago. Deedee loved to be bundled up in it. She would say, "I'm all cozy, like a bug in a rug, aren't I Grandma?" I would squeeze her and say, "Yes, Deedee, my little rug bug." Deedee started to say, "Grandma, did..." when a great clap of thunder boomed. She jumped nervously.
When the thunder subsided she went on, "Grandma, did you ever visit your grandma?"
"Oh, yes, Deedee, lots of times."
"Will you tell a story about your grandma, please?"
"Surely. Let's see now... It was Friday night and the beginning of a long weekend in early summer. Your great-grandma and grandpa drove with your Aunt Connie and me down to my grandma's family farm in the little village of Como, which was located just west of Sterling and Rock Falls, Illinois. I knew we were close to Grandma's house because there was a sign in front of a little gray house that said 'FRESH HONEY' We turned at the corner just beyond that sign, and five minutes down that road was Grandma's house. The gate was open and the yard seemed filled with cars. There was Grandpa's black Ford with yellow spoke wheels; Uncle George's gray coupe, and Uncle Wilbur's maroon Packard that was like a minibus you see today.
"Aunt Dee and my cousin Dean were playing nearby. Aunt Dee was 1 year old, and I was 4 years old. Aunt Laura, my teen-aged aunt, was at the old pump filling a bucket of cold water. Grandma heard us. She came to the front door to welcome us. The sun was just setting as we hurriedly emptied the car and ran to play with our cousins Mavis and Pat. The men went to smoke by the old swing under the big oak tree. The women went into the house to have coffee, and the men had cold beer from cans. We six children chased fireflies. Then it started to sprinkle. Everyone moved indoors. Quickly the house was crowded. Grandma had only three small rooms with lots of large furniture in this house. In the kitchen there was an old stove, a Hoosier cabinet, and a small table with four small chairs. The tiny living room held a big upright piano and a bookcase desk. Grandpa's overstuffed arm-chair sat in the middle of the room, and a six-foot overstuffed sofa-bed was placed along one wall. A 'daybed' stood behind the front door. Grandma's bedroom held two big old dressers, a big baby crib, and a double bed. We squeezed into the house, 15 of us and a few cats and dogs. We had popcorn with lots of homemade butter and tall cold glasses of root beer."
"Where was the bathroom, Grandma?"
"Well, Deedee, it was way down a path out in back. It was called the outhouse or 'privie.' Grandma did not have any flush toilets like we do today.
"Soon beds were prepared. The couch was opened and mattresses were flopped on the floor. Blankets and pillows came from somewhere. The rain fell gently when we went to bed. About 1 a.m. the wind started to blow. The thunder and lightning worsened, like it has tonight. The river nearby was rising rapidly and began to sound angry. Grandma, hearing the storm, got up to close her windows. This is when I had the scariest experience of my life. Grandma's house had no electric lights, so she lit a kerosene lamp. Just as she reached the kitchen doorway with her lamp a big thunder clap shook the house. I woke to the sound, and the lightning shone into my eyes. I opened them to see a person in a long white gown with long golden hair streaming down both sides of her shoulders, and she was holding a bright lamp. It was so bright I could not see beyond the lamplight to see her face. I believed that God had sent his angel to collect me and carry me back to heaven. I screamed and screamed. I was so scared. Grandma finally got me quieted after waking up the whole houseful of sleepers."
"Where were you sleeping, Grandma?" Deedee asked.
"I was on the big mattress on the floor with my mother, father, and sister. It scared me when I looked up and saw that bright light and what I thought was an angel.
"In the morning when we woke, the sun was warm and the sky held a few soft clouds drifting lazily along on their carpet of blue. Birds were singing and the flowers smelled sweet. It was a pretty day. After breakfast we took turns driving the old bodiless truck Gramps had in the backyard. We had to sit on a box on the chassis. No seats, no nothing, just four wheels and a box, but it was fun to speed down imaginary roads to see all the wonders of the world. After our turn with the truck we wandered off to play with the new little puppies and with Snowball, the big white cat. Grandpa took us to see Fibber and Molly, the new calves, and to scratch the big white pigs on their long pink snouts. Later we helped Grand-ma pick strawberries. At least we thought we were helping her, although we were more in the way then not.
"For lunch we had sandwiches and large glasses of fresh milk from Grandpa's Jersey cow. At the supper table, we ate in shifts. First, the kids sat down at the table. We would have pork chops, mashed potatoes and 'hillbilly' gravy, beans, and milk and cookies for dessert. When we finished we went into the yard and the men ate next. After they finished, they went back to the swing and their pipes. The women ate last. Then they did the dishes. They pumped large buckets of water, heated them on the old cookstove, then poured them into a big dishpan on one end of the table. As the dishes were washed they were put into another large dishpan. Hot water was poured over them, then they were dried and put away for another day.
"My aunt put the little ones in the crib for the night, then she and the older children walked down the road to see some pretty flowers in the garden and went to the river tp watch the sunset. We lay in the grass, and I looked for the Big and Little Dippers as the crickets chirped and a dog barked somewhere in the distance. We did not want to give up the day that had been so much fun.
"Sunday came, and at noon the ladies would carry out big bowls of food, placing them on a make-shift table, which was actually a sawhorse and an old door. This was covered with a large, white bed-sheet. There were platters of fried chicken, scrapple, corn, baked beans, mounds of mashed potatoes, fresh garden tomatoes and rich milk gravy. Nothing tasted as good as chicken milk gravy. For dessert there were pies and cakes. With our plates piled high we would go to our favorite corner of the yard and eat, returning for seconds and thirds. The men would read the funnies to us from the Sunday paper: Dick Tracy, Orphan Annie, Toots and Casper and other favorites. At mid afternoon Grandpa took some of the older children in the old Ford to the local store for ice cream. About 5 o'clock in the evening Grandma made cold 'meat and cheese sandwiches for supper, and then we started back home.
"Grandma and Grandpa were plain and simple folks who were so nice to remember. I still smell the honeysuckle, lilacs, and the new-mown hay.
"I wish, Deedee, that I had a place like that for you to visit."
Looking down, I smiled. Deedee had fallen asleep. The moon was shining in the window. All was right with the world, and the world was all right.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.
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