Some of my fondest childhood memories originate from the time I spent with my grandparents. Grandpa was a Brakeman for the Cotton Belt Railroad which meant he could be gone days at a time, but Grandma was home every day. It seems like most of my time in the summers and on weekends was spent at their house.
When Grandpa was home we’d piddle around in the garage most of the day. Grandpa had once owned a toy/magic store in town and had some of his leftover stock in the backroom of his garage. The mysteries of that room totally fascinated me. He would pull different items out and I’d play for hours, but without fail at 3:00 every afternoon we’d stop whatever we were doing so we could go inside to watch “Dialing for Dollars” on the stand up black and white television, then listen to “Swap Shop” over a little transistor radio. Grandpa would listen very carefully to the voices engulfed by static and write down every detail given by every caller about what they wanted to buy, sell, trade, or give away.
As soon as the last caller was finished Grandpa would make a couple of phone calls and we’d rush off to meet someone about whatever it was they had advertised. I never knew what we would find next, but I did know that whatever it was, when he “drug it up in the yard” as Grandma always said, it was probably going to “have wheels on it” – again according to Grandma. All I knew was that amongst the lawnmowers, edgers, and whatever else he found to throw in the back of the truck, there was probably going to be something that I thought was cool and fun, or something that I could ride… at least until he decided to list on Swap Shop himself. I never knew what was going to be out in the garage, what we were going to work on, or where we would be headed next. It was always a surprise and an adventure.
The adventures I had with Grandma were much different. It seemed Grandma was almost always in the kitchen. As she entered the kitchen her apron would go on and when she was done she’d hang it by the door ready to be tied around her again in just a few hours. Grandma “let” me help in the kitchen which meant I had to get the pots and pans out, set the table, take out the trash and help with the dishes. I say ‘help with the dishes’ because without fail after every meal Grandpa would stand beside Grandma in front of the big white porcelain sink with me wedged in between them standing on one of the dining table chairs and cloaked with a towel that was my version of grandma’s apron. Grandma would wash, I would rinse in the dish pan full of hot water, and then Grandpa would dry and put everything away.
Grandma taught me how to make scrambled eggs, scratch gravy, pan-fried steak and sweet tea. These are probably still my four favorite things. She also taught me how to drink coffee. Every morning the three of us would sit around the table and drink coffee. If Grandpa was out on a run it would just be me and Grandma. We always used cups and saucers for our coffee. When I was much smaller Grandma would pour a little coffee in a saucer so it would cool for me. I would then turn the saucer up to drink the coffee. I used so much sugar in my coffee Grandpa would always say I was drinking syrup. Thinking back I don’t know how in the world I drank that concoction I called coffee. I would load it down with sugar and Pet brand Condensed Milk. It was truly probably more like a liquid coffee flavored candy than coffee.
Sometimes we’d use the Hull brown drip coffee mugs. Those were special and were usually used for hot chocolate. When my uncle was a kid in the late fifties, there was a gas station several blocks from the house that was giving away Hull brown-drip mugs with purchases of full tanks of gasoline. My uncle decided he wanted to get these mugs for my grandmother for Christmas, but was not yet old enough to drive so couldn’t buy gasoline to get the mugs. He worked a special deal that would allow him to do get the mugs in exchange for some work around the gas station. He walked back and forth to the gas station for weeks so he could collect a set of four mugs for his mom.
I still have the coffee pot my grandmother set atop the gas stove every morning to make our coffee. Thankfully I no longer load down my coffee with sugar and Pet Milk – these days it’s Splenda and either powdered Hazelnut or French Vanilla flavoring. The pine table we sat around and provided me with a chair stool to use to help with dishes was my first real dining room table and now sits in my breakfast room. The dish pan we used to rinse the dishes hangs on the wall in my office. I have the original four Hull brown drip mugs my uncle gave my grandmother for Christmas that one year. They sparked a collection frenzy in me. I now have hundreds of pieces of Hull brown-drip items many of which we use daily. I even have a few of the fascinating mysterious magic tricks from my grandfather’s store sitting on a shelf, and I usually have a Hershey bar in the freezer… but that’s another story for another time.