My Great Granny, Cora Willamena Finke, lived in a small house on Walnut Street in Osgood, Indiana. The house is still there and every time I go back home, I drive by it and think about all of the Christmases and family dinners that were had there. She was an amazing cook. There was always a coffee cake (made from scratch) ready to be eaten. She used to make peanut butter cookies, too—the kind with the streak marks from the fork tines—and would store them down low in her kitchen pantry in used Folgers coffee tins.
“Why don’t you see if you can’t find something to eat in there?” she would say to my curious and pudgy-self wandering wide-eyed through her kitchen. And, lo and behold, I would always find that coffee tin full of peanut butter cookies.
“Oh,” she would say. “I didn’t know those were in there. Well, go ahead and have one or two.”
And I would take three.
These are small gestures, but like I was writing in my last blog, these are the ordinary kindnesses that tend to be remembered, at least by sentimental souls like me. Now, I sometimes, like to put princess gummies (or some other disturbingly sugar-laden, Disneyfied version of food) down low in my pantry and one of my nieces will “stumble upon” them and I will say something like “Oh, I didn’t know those were in there. Let me open that for you.”
And it will be as if they just had an amazing stroke of good luck. And I want to give them a feeling of having amazing good luck as much as I can.
I still have afghans that Granny made for us. She made me two to match my rooms. One is pink and green, and one is orange and green. They are still in pretty good shape and I use them like I would any blanket. Hayden has recently developed an affection for the pink and green afghan and every time I look at her with it I am stunned at what stays, what survives the test of time. I know Granny would be glad to see that someone was still using something that she made and that the someone using it appreciated it for not only its utility but its cozy character and charm.
Unfortunately, I inherited NONE (I repeat NONE) of Granny’s touch for sewing or quilting or knitting or cooking. I do not make coffee cakes from scratch or grow my own grapes to make homemade wine. I cannot make outfits for my nieces that they design themselves (like Granny did for my mother).
But I do keep a basket of familiar unglamorous toy-things in the same spot always just as Granny always had for me a small china tea set, a Nanny and the Professor coloring book, and probably the same set of crayons.
And I can’t cook a great home-made meal, but I did make a completely decent pre-fabricated meal for Jim yesterday and it was the kind of meal Granny would have made: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, dinner rolls, ice tea. What made me think of her was that Jim ate around four o’clock which is what people from Southern Indiana call “dinner.” Basically, “dinner” (in those parts) is an early supper. I remember Granny used to make these fantastic tables for my Uncle Gene and cousin Tim when they worked as masons. They would stop by and she would have the table set with goblets and china and I can see them still taking the time to sit down and eat, Uncle Gene smoking his pipe, Tim laughing his great laugh, and me just a little girl thinking, “Wow! So fancy for an afternoon” and then traipsing off with my peanut butter crumbled fingers to color some more in my Nanny and the Professor coloring book. The adult chatter in the other room more pleasant than any television show and the aromas of Granny’s house enveloping it all.
I am sure that some of my memories are idealized, but I feel so fortunate to have had teachers like Cora Willamena Finke, who inadvertently (or maybe not) highlighted what was important in a day: a well-laid table, a good meal, a contented child, a sweet treat.
These are the pleasures that slip away. These are the lessons.
I am a teacher, but only in a literal sense. As we all know, teachers are all around us. I feel so lucky to have had so many great ones. It must be I that has had this amazing streak of good luck all these years, like a girl who has stumbled upon a tin full of cookies, I suddenly realize the treasures of my years.