Oasis

100_2933To 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.

  • Teresaevangeline

    Well, I’m in tears for what was, but also hopeful for what can still be when people decide they can become resourceful.  Bill, this is a beautifully told story. I have an indelible image now of Grandma Granger and her oasis. Billyberries. I love that. How very wonderful that you saw it even then as the ultimate art. I had a nearby Grandma Korich, who wasn’t my grandma, but acted like one. She was a bit more heavyset than yours, but the glasses, the blue floral housedress…  My family had a hand pump outside for the first few years of my life, so I can relate to that, as well. So many fine images, lovingly and thoughtfully rendered here.  You’ve painted a verbal picture that’s priceless and timeless in its simplicity and beauty.

  • Emma Springfield

    A beautiful remembrance. Every child needs a Grandma Granger and an oasis like the one she provided. I am now steeped in memories of my own childhood. I feel warm and fuzzy.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you.  I only wish Grandma Granger could have read this, but she passed on years and years ago.  I think we may all have had another “Grandma” in our childhood who was not really related but was nearly as important as a blood relative. 

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Emma, I think we might all have great memories of special people from our childhood.  There were several, outside of my family, that influenced me and helped direct my life and probably never knew it.

  • http://houseofrequiems.wordpress.com Sherry Graham

    The kind of lifestyle I previously thought only exist in fantasies.
    A beautiful, descriptive story.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Yes, a true story from fifty plus years ago.  Grandma Granger was one of a kind. Thanks for stopping by. 

  • http://www.anniespickns.wordpress.com Annie

    I loved this one Bill. It reminded me of a big house with barn and about 5 acres of land we rented when I was in 6th grade. We raised rabbits and goats and had a big garden that helped feed our tribe of seven children. We put on plays in the barn on a stage we made out of found materials and buried every creature we found that had died in our paradise in a little cemetery we created. It was truly an oasis and childhood fantasies filled every square foot fo the land even as encroaching suburbia ate at it’s boundaries. When I was researching houses we had lived during my childhood, which is a considerable number,   I sought out this one first and was saddened to see that it had been sucked up by progress. Nothing remains but the land, which has been littered with new buildings of every sort both residential and commercial. It’s as if it was only a dream, all be it, a wonderful dream that I will hold in my memories always. Thanks to Grandma Granger for her oasis and to you for your fond memories.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Yep, Grandma Granger’s house was also eventually consumed by urban sprawl.  A last vestige of rural life in a city, it’s too bad someone didn’t have the foresight to preserve this lost piece of American culture.  Of course there are lot’s of old rural farms left nearly everywhere, but few surrounded by city!

  • http://nature-drunk.com Nature-Drunk

    I love picturing Grandma Granger’s wild island! Her oasis sounds like the perfect place to go to find distance from the hustle and bustle; space for the mind to sort things out. Thanks for sharing, Bill.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Yeah, given this all went down at the middle of the 20th century I wonder if there is still a remaining oasis somewhere in some city where life is a lot slower, a lot more wholesome, and very different. 

  • http://everyday-adventurer.blogspot.com/ Ratty

    This makes me think of a woman I used to know when I was a kid. She lived a few houses away from us. Us kids used to all gather around while she told us stories of what the neighborhood looked like when she was younger. It was fascinating. We felt like we were transported to that other time while we listened to her.

  • Find an Outlet

    I never had a kindly person like this in my life when I was a kid, but your description of the homestead is one I remember well years ago in Connecticut on the edges of growing towns. My first husband’s grandparents lived in New Britain CT before its decay in a poor but tidy and self-sufficient Polish neighborhood. Fruit trees, vegetable gardens, chickens, and swept sidewalks were the norm back then. Hardworking people who took care of themselves and each other. By the time they died the neighborhood had greatly changed but remnants remained. Tomorrow my partner’s 18-year-old son is coming for a two-month visit from Springfield MA. He is so excited to get out of the city he’s already packed. The Arizona border hardly reflects the soft rural peace of a New England oasis, but it beats Springfield. This is a beautiful and vivid story, and as other commenters have said, it sounds like a fantasy. How fortunate you are to hold this in your memories.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I’m amazed at the number of people whose memories were jogged by this post.  Seems many of us had someone in our lives that was a vivid part of the past.  Day6s gone by are worth remembering.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I have known many Polish people who kept gardens, chickens, even small livestock in the the suburbs or the edge of a city.  Such a rich culture attached to the land!  Have fun with your partner’s sun.  Arizona will be so much different from Spfld, MA.  Springfield and the vicinity recently had a fierce tornado where whundreds of homes were damaged or lost and tens of thousands of trees destroyed.  The tornado, and F3 or F4 stayed on the ground for 40 miles!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I have known many Polish people who kept gardens, chickens, even small livestock in the the suburbs or the edge of a city.  Such a rich culture attached to the land!  Have fun with your partner’s sun.  Arizona will be so much different from Spfld, MA.  Springfield and the vicinity recently had a fierce tornado where whundreds of homes were damaged or lost and tens of thousands of trees destroyed.  The tornado, and F3 or F4 stayed on the ground for 40 miles!

  • http://www.anniespickns.wordpress.com Annie

    Here in Sacramento there is a place called Soil Borne Farms that has been into urban gardening for years now. They bought a house in the middle of an urban area and transformed the backyard into a huge organic vegetable garden, years later they bought the adjacent property and opened up the fence and used that property too. Since then they have purchased a larger parcel, still within an urban area, and not only have gardens but space for chickens, a few goats, pigs and some cows. They have a farm stand where they sell the fruits of their labor and most important they have an education program that teaches children about growing and preparing their own food. I know this happens in other cities across the US and am grateful to know that some of what I experienced and learned as a child will be passed along to another generation.

  • Barbara

    Another beautiful story – and one that seems to  have evoked many memories in others of days gone by Bill. You have that gift of painting pictures that jog our minds – lucky you, lucky us.

    In Toronto which as you may know is Canada’s largest city, when I lived there about 30 years ago people were organizing garden plots. I used to walk my dogs on a spit of land that was constructed from the rubble dug out to make Toronto’s first subway in the 50s and 60s… it was there the first of many such gardens started. But while there were people enjoying their 20 x 20 foot plots and there were all kinds of flowers, and vegetables, there was no one like Gramma Grainger nor her chickens and hand pump. There is a small zoo and working farm though in the middle of a residential area along the banks of the Don River – called Riverdale…and many children get to pat donkeys and sheep and see chickens. Similarly there is a farm on Toronto Island a 15 minute ferry ride from the city across a small bay. 

    But stories like yours Bill, will no doubt stimulate some to think that perhaps in some corner of their city, it’s possible to create this kind of oasis. I hope so. 

  • Lbiederstadt

    You couldn’t have created a better, truer world for us if you’d made it up–which of course you didn’t. Thank you for the lifted spirits, Bill. Gram Granger is the person I want to be, even now.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Creating gardens, of any sort, in a city is wonderful.  I believe that people would care more for the earth if they grew vegetables or flowers.  Still, this is different than a last hold out of a long gone era.  The swalolowing up of our heritage is a little hard to stomach, for sure, and in this person’s eye not progress.

    Thank you for your wonderful contribution to this “forum”. I liked the image of the gardens in Toronto and the farm on the nearby island.  There should be more of that in urban settings!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Lynn.  You can be Grandma Granger if you want to be.  Now get out a hoe, buy a few chickens, and install a creaky hand pump.  You can do it!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    What a wonderful piece of information.  It lifts my heart to know that there is common sense being applied in different parts of this country.  We need more enterprises like this and progressive zoning that allows it.  It should be a right to grow food in almost any clean setting.

  • http://alsphotographyblog.blogspot.com/ Al

    What wonderful memories!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Al.  Yes, these are good memories and I’m glad they struck a chord with so many readers!

  • http://crazymountainman.blogspot.com Out On the Prairie

    We had a “aunt” like this that turned out just to be a friend of my dads parents. When we went to visit there was always an adventure. My dad put a bathroom sink in her dining in the 60′s and brought the first running water into the house, but there still was a two seater out back.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Sounds like a wonderful lady.  It’s nice to know there were still people living the old style life as late as the 1960′s.  Actually I lived like that until the 1980′s, so I don’t know why I seem surprised.

  • http://twitter.com/kiwiaussiejo Jo Bryant

    What a fantastic bunch of memories to have. I wish every child had a Grandma Granger in their lives. :)

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you for stopping by Jo,  I too wish everyone had a Grandma Granger!  Such a wonderful anachronism to have banked in my memory.

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