by Joyce Rapier
Grammaw and Grampaw Ellison, as we all called them, were the pure salt of the earth. They weren’t my blood kin relatives, but adopted grandparents. I loved them dearly.
I remember sitting on Grampaw’s lap, falling asleep with my head resting on his long white whiskers. He smelled of fresh new air and lye soap. His clean clothes smelled like sunshine pouring over rain soaked land. Two of his bad habits? The fondness for “chawin’ terbakkie” and pipe “terbakkie." His hobby, carving.
Grampaw would sit on the front porch, whistle a funny little tune, then spit. His jaw pooched out with a plug of the nastiest, black old leaves, I ever did see. One jaw would get tired from holding the plug and he’d switch it to the other side. Pretty soon he’d pucker up his lips, purse them real tight and spit the juice. The place where all the spit landed was stained with years of terbakkie juice. Nothing grew there either. Didn’t have a chance. You could always find Grampaw, just follow the fresh spit.
When Grampaw got tired of the “plug,” out came the corncob pipe.
Grampaw would whittle down a corncob to “jist th’ right size,” then hollow out the center and poke a hole in the side for a pipe stem. Before he’d smoke it, he’d soak it in water for a few days. “Thet’s jist so’s I don’t burn my whiskers," he’d remind me. Then he’d shake out the water, cram terbakkie leaves down in the hollowed out center, lift up a piece of burning kindling, put the hot burning end on the terbakkie leaves and breathe real deep. Pretty soon, the tobacco would start smoldering. Grampaw wouldn’t smoke it just then. He would set the pipe down and let the terbakkie leaves cure the hollowed out corncob. How he kept from choking to death was beyond me. I could never master his conquest, but that’s another story. I’ll tell you about that, later.
Carving little wooden creatures, figures of men, women and children, birdhouses, whirlygigs and thingamajiggs was Grampaw’s favorite pastime. He would find the gnarliest piece of wood and whittle away. Fine tuning every feature of the face with masterful precision or making a wild animal carving come to life was fascinating. “Been werkin’ all my life, sun up ta sun down. I aim ta n’joy my chaw un whittlin."
Oh, how I loved my Grampaw. He was one of a kind.
Grammaw was just the opposite of Grampaw--that is, in temperament. Grampaw was mild mannered and laid back. Grammaw? Well, now, if she had a mind to, she could strip the bark off a tree with her tongue, spit it in a pile and have fire shooting from it in a matter of seconds. She scared the dickens out of me. I knew not to cross Grammaw and I knew to give her a wide berth when she was on the warpath. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” should have been her middle name.
On the other side, Grammaw was a hard worker. She was smart and dipped snuff! She knew every kind of poisonous and non-poisonous berry, tree, snake, and critter that lurked in the holler. She’d say, “Git thet stuff outta yer mouff. Thet stuff’ll draw yore toenails up in yer liver or git away frum thet, it’ll lay’a bite on ye un rotten up yer blud. Ye’ll stink afore we’cun git ye berried!”
Grammaw always spoke her mind. Speaking her mind is why she and Grampaw didn’t build on the lower forty. “Nope. Ye ain’t gittin’ me in thet hole. Ye ain’t a pokin’ me whar th’ crek’s a’gonna rise’tup. We’s plantin’ er feet ta th’ high ground. Iffen I have a mind ta, I be a wantin’ ta see whut’s croachin’ fer miles." Sure enough, Grampaw gave in and settled on the hilliest part of the holler.
Grammaw loved the outdoors. She loved to cook beans in a big, crusted pot on an open fire outside the front stoop. She had a cook stove in the house but “liked the smell” of the beans cooking outside. She’d throw a chunk of salt pork in the beans and let them simmer till the bean juice was almost thick as gravy. Anyone within smelling distance knew where they could get a good meal. Grammaw would bring out the pewter plates, eating utensils, a plate of the biggest sourdough biscuits, freshly picked wild onions, strips of fried jowl and fresh churned butter. We’d slather those sourdoughs with golden butter, sop the biscuits in the beans, mix in wild onions and jowl, and chow down.
“Um, um, um, yore a good cooker Grammaw,” we’d hum in unison. Oh, how I’d love to sit on Grammaw’s porch right now and have a big plate of her fixins’.
Every Monday morning, the old black iron kettle would be surrendering the aroma of lye soap and lavender. Grammaw always stoked the fire beneath the pot until the embers were so hot you could feel the heat ten feet away. Smoke billowed in the air, then floated gently down the holler.
Grammaw would take the lye soap, rub it hard down the ripples of a scrub board and make lots of bubbles. Submerge the clothes, pound them with a heavy stick and then, one by one, scrub until the clothes were clean. Grammaw Ellison would pour some bluing in the rinse water in hopes of getting her fresh new wash the color of white puffy clouds. I guess that was because the old well water was full of iron and had a tendency to make the clothes a tinge of yellow ocher.
In my mind, I can picture the metal clothes line wire, strung through two trees and propped up by a long skinny pole with notches in the end to support the wire. Clothes swaying in the gentle breeze, while songbirds perched precariously on the wooden clothespins made Grammaw smile with pride.
Have you ever had thoughts of the past, captured everlasting pictures in your mind, remembered scents, sweet aromas and have the feeling of being surrounded by “something special”?
Grampaw’s gentle touch while I was sleeping on his long white whiskers, the smell of his chaw terbakkie, his corncob pipe and watching his long fingers caress the wooden carvings, along with Grammaw’s “smoked beans,” smelling a new Monday wash and remembering her saying . . . that’s my “something special."
Born and raised in Arkansas, Joyce Rapier is the author of Windy John’s, me ‘n tut from which this excerpt is taken. The sequel, Windy John’s Rainbow and the Pot of Gold” is currently in production for release. Joyce’s works, “Butterflies, An Old Tin Cup and A Lighted Candle” and “Treasures of the Heart” have been published in anthologies. Married to her high school sweetheart, Joyce and her husband have three children and eight grandchildren. You may visit Joyce’s web site at this link: Joyce Rapier.
Please visit Joyce’s web site or contact PublishAmerica.com.
The ISBN number is: #1-59129-153-4
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