To the best of my knowledge everyone called her Grandma Granger. She was the grandmother to the children of our next-door neighbors on the street where I grew up. Grandma Granger was a slight woman, you might even say very thin. She had rosy cheeks, white hair neatly pulled back to a bun that was held in place with a silver hair comb, and the slightest wire frame glasses that I have ever seen. The frames of these glasses could barely be seen, and each round glass the wire frames contained were not too much bigger than a fifty-cent piece. Grandma Granger always wore a floral-patterned dress, usually blue, and I never saw her one time without an apron.
Our neighbor, Mrs. Adamczyk, often took care of me. I would frequently travel with Mrs. Adamczyk to her mother’s homestead. The homestead contained a modest, fading-white, two- story house, complete with a side porch that overlooked the yard, chicken coop, small orchard, and field. The kitchen, located just off the side porch, had a hand water pump (boy, was my five-year-old mind fascinated with that!), a complete set of pantry shelves, and a wooden floor. In the summer the screen door that opened up to the side porch would creak open and slap shut with each entering or exiting person. I remember the kitchen best because that’s where I spent most of my time in this happy house.
The house was surrounded by shade trees, and was always cool in the summer. There were gardens bordering the perimeter of the house. Yes, they contained a few weeds given that Grandma Granger was getting on in years, but they seemed to reflect her warm and welcoming spirit. Chickens could be found scattered about through the yard picking up bugs out of the grass like some living decoration that helped to paint the picture. Grandma Granger could often be seen crossing the yard with a few eggs nested in her apron as she searched the bushes for breakfast.
Grandma Granger was a pleasant, happy woman. She especially loved children and treated each and every child as if he or she were her own. Upon arriving I would always look forward to her soft hand on the side of my cheek and a quiet, welcoming “hello” that seemed to warm me up inside like the first spring sun gently warming my face.
Not too far to the south of her house was a very, very old apple tree that had branches that were about one and a half feet thick. A swing comprised of two ropes and a board seat was suspended from one of the larger branches. The ropes were short, so you could not swing too high, which was just a little disconcerting to my adventuresome spirit.
The small apple orchard had six or seven old Baldwin apple trees. They did not bear fruit every year, but when they did it seemed to be a bumper crop. Further to the south there was a swale buried in jewelweed. After a rain storm the jewelweed would turn to a silver cover looking like something in a Brothers Grimm fairytale. Along this swale there were all kinds of fruit bearing brambles: blackberries, red raspberries, black raspberries, wild roses, dewberries, and large, flowering raspberries. Grandma Granger would have us pick berries when they were ripe. I, in particular, had a hard time separating the different kinds of berries. Her pantry shelves were lined with pint-size jelly jars of raspberry and blackberry jam and jelly and a few marked “mixed fruit” bearing the name “Billyberries” from one irreverent picker. There were also Mason jars of whole fruits preserved in sugar water for a delicious addition to cereal or a stand-alone dessert. I was fascinated with the combination and contrast of the colorful jars on the pantry shelves. In my young mind this was the ultimate art! And now, years and years later, I realize that it was the ultimate art.
There was a small vegetable garden just to the east and south of the house, near the edge of the meadow. There she grew a few heads of lettuce, peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and corn. She only worked in the garden in the early morning when the temperatures were cool and the bugs were fierce! Gardening always seemed to make the smile on her face just a little bigger.
A small meadow to the east of Grandma Granger’s shaded the house. There the sun warmed up the soil and sprouted wildflowers from one end to the other. Daisies, hawkweed, Queen Anne’s lace, bluets, buttercups, goldenrod, asters, and even some cardinal flower in one wet corner, graced the field. In the early morning and evening cottontail rabbits could be seen grazing the clover to their heart’s content.
The most amazing thing about Grandma Granger’s little homestead was that it was completely surrounded by city! This homestead, once thriving as a farm on the outskirts of the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, was now surrounded to the north and east by a residential neighborhood to the south and west, and asphalt, a shopping center containing an A&P grocery store, a drugstore, and a pizza palace.
At night you could still hear crickets, and in the spring you could hear peepers from the nearby swale, but during the day the hustle and bustle of the ever-encroaching world invaded the edge of this wild island. Grandma Granger seemed to take it all in good stride. She went about her daily business of picking fruit, tending to her garden, and putting up the fruits of her labor. Even as a young child I noticed a distinct irony of hearing traffic in the background while she operated the creaky hand water pump filling a kettle to make her afternoon tea.
I was a country boy used to the good sights, sounds, and feelings of rural life. I felt a little intimidated by the world of the city. I knew that in this environment my wanderings had boundaries. There were dangers out there, traffic being the most threatening enemy. There were also lots and lots of people, not all of them were friendly, and not all of them were nice. The heat gathered on the blacktop and filled the city with waves of oven-like temperatures. NOBODY seemed to stop and look at their surroundings. There was little to look at that was beautiful or pleasant. There was little to hear that was melodic. There was little to feel that made you warm and secure.
And there you have it: Grandma Granger’s perfect oasis. It was a place where a small boy could see the contrast between the old and the new, and realize he liked the old. It was a perfect refuge from the city. A small museum of what used to be, all summed up in a shaded homestead, a resourceful and gentle woman, a creaky hand water pump, and a pantry full of colorful canned fruits and vegetables, all within a stone’s throw of a hot, black parking lot, blaring horns and exhaust from the city traffic, and rows and rows of food, trucked for hundreds of miles, at the A&P.
Originally written for the Heath Herald in July of 2007.