Manzano Mountain Review is an online New Mexico literary journal affiliated with UNM-Valencia.

Little Wolf #10
October 2018 

Lasting Memories
by Cyndee Gustafson

Whenever I smell tortillas baking, I think of the butterygriddlecakes my Granny made. When the aroma of her hot griddlecakes wafted out the screened door to my post on the porch, I’d run to the kitchen where I knew she must be. She fed her entire family from that one modest, coal-black stove that stood in the middle of her oversized kitchen. In late 1950’s Deep South, you didn’t find high-tech kitchen appliances like microwaves, nor would you find quick breakfast fixes like Pop-Tarts or Eggos. Everything was homemade.

Having the latest new product, however, wasn’t important to my grandparents. They never thought about central heat or air conditioning, or the need for a telephone. They still watched a small 18”, black and white television set. They had screened and opened windows and doors at both ends of their shotgun-style house. On humid, summer days they would open up all of them. In winter, a small, potbelly stove in the kitchen heated the
entire three-bedroom, one-bath wooden house, and I was never too cold. On the rare cold day, I cuddled a little closer to Granny under heavy, homemade quilts and stayed toasty warm.

My times with my grandparents were the happiest of my life. My memory of them always brings a smile to my face. I preferred being with those two elderly souls rather than being in the crowded, hectic house next door that I shared with my parents and four siblings.

I don’t recall my Granny saying she loved me, but I felt it. Every day she made special treats for me: pies, cookies, cake, anything sweet and Southern. I was not old enough to go to school, and I was the only child at home, so I thought she made these just for me.

My Granny used an old Singer sewing machine, one with a foot pedal, to make me bonnets and child-sized aprons from leftover 50-pound flour sacks. She never bought me anything new; she made things for me from recycled pieces of material laying about the house. That didn’t matter to me. Her surprises were treasures made just for me because she made them with her own hands. I never complained; indeed, I was fascinated watching her small, pale hands threading a needle and then pushing it through those cotton quilts. She magically transformed pieces of cotton into loving quilts to keep her family warm.

Granny was a quiet, petite Southern woman born in Florala, Alabama, a small town of maybe 1,000 people on the Florida-Alabama state line. A beauty in her youth, she had many suitors and she married several times. She inherited a large farm and needed a man to run it. It was unacceptable in those days for a young woman, especially a widowed woman, to have men in her house unless she was married. Unfortunately for those men she married, she outlived most of them.

My parents both worked during the day and left me next door at my Granny’s house. In the mornings, I would sit in front of my Granny’s vanity mirror and comb her long, thin, gray hair, twisting it into a small bun at the nape of her neck and pinning it with tortoise-shell combs, while at the same time, listening to her tell me stories of her youth. When my parents came home from work, my dad would then work in the orange groves plowing or
hoeing until dark. The older kids in my family usually worked in the groves or on the farm, too. I was too young for all of that, but they had little time for me anyway, so I entertained myself at Granny’s.

I should have known I guess, that I would get a little brother eventually, although I definitely didn’t want one. In those days, though, you didn’t say the word “pregnant,” just like you didn’t talk about “cancer” or “abuse.” Those were dirty, scary, or adult words, and they were not to be used in the company of children. So when my dad drove me to the hospital in our ugly, brown Chevy station wagon to pick up my mom, I was thrilled when she came out to the car without a new baby. I remember patting her shoulder on the way home, proud of her for coming home alone. I was too young to realize or to understand that my new little brother had to stay in the hospital a few more days and would eventually come home to us.

Granny always called me her baby, but I didn’t like that and would put my hands high up under my arms, stomp my foot, and insist, “I’m not a baby, I’m a little lady.” This inevitably made Granny laugh. Things changed though the day my baby brother came home from the hospital. 

​The relatives packed the house and oohed and aahed over him. Even Granny adored him. The next time she called me “her little lady,” I quickly reminded her that I was still the “baby girl,” which then sent her into fits of giggles.

It was pretty apparent to all my uncles that I didn’t like having a baby brother at home getting any attention I felt I deserved. My Uncle Bob offered to trade me his prize sow for my new baby brother. I suppose everyone thought that was pretty funny until I emptied the baby’s dresser and brought all his clothing out to my uncle and asked when he could deliver the sow.

My life with Granny was ideal, until the day it came apart. Like most six-year olds, I liked to climb trees. I was in the pine tree in Granny’s front yard, high up in the branches, watching traffic, when I heard a shrieking noise coming down the road. I’d never seen such a noise before since we lived in the country.

It was an ambulance coming to Granny’s house. I watched as two men dressed in white rushed into Granny’s house and brought her out on a stretcher. By then, I had shinnied down the tree and was at the backdoor. The men brought out my Granny. I saw that she was scared. Something was wrong. Then they drove off with her. I stood on the porch confused and wondering what had happened. My granddaddy tried to console me, but I was too worried about Granny to hear anything he said.

Later, my dad said Granny had died and we would be having a funeral. I didn’t know what a funeral was, but I understood Granny wouldn’t be coming home again. I don’t remember anything about the next day. Once a happy little girl, I was now listless and confused. My Granny’s death was the most traumatic event of my then short-lived life. 

Things were never the same for me. Not long after her death, my granddaddy moved in with his brother in north Florida so they could look after each other. My Granny had done all the cooking, cleaning and housework, as was the custom in those days, which left my granddad unfamiliar with cooking and cleaning. Everyone I loved was leaving me, as if I had committed some terrible wrong, but as I got older, I realized granddaddy needed someone to look after him, and our house, which was full of kids, was not a good place for him. I saw him only once more before he died.

The next year, while I was away at school, a man tore down Granny’s house, and with the house, all those precious trinkets and happy days were gone too. I still have the memories though, wonderful, loving memories, and I still find myself smiling when I recall Granny singing to me while she stitched a quilt, pushing the needle in and out with her wrinkled, busy hands. To this day I miss her griddlecakes. Smells that remind me of her kitchen remind me of her unconditional love. Granny will always be with me, even if just in my memories. Someday my kids will have children and I’m hopeful I can be to their children everything my Granny was to me. I want my grandchildren to have the same kind of happy, loving memories my Granny gave me.