Note: This post is the exception to the ‘all photos in this blog were taken by the author’ statement.
I’ve been blessed to be raised among several grandparents. My maternal grandmother lived with us in upstate Vermont, from the time I was very young and I visited my paternal grandparents and Great Grandmother, several times a year throughout my childhood. Fortune was with me to have all of those wonderful people in my life until early adulthood.
When I would visit my paternal grandparents in New Hampshire, I would often stay a week or more, so I just fit into their routine. For instance, I remember when I was about 5 years old and my Grandmother Tobey still worked at the local Junior High School as a Home Economics teacher. I would go to class with her during the day and she would draw pictures for me on paper, then she’d set me up at a sewing machine so I could trace the pictures with the machine. That was my first sewing lesson I think.
For many of those early years, my grandparents lived in the house my grandfather moved to when he was 4 years old. He would tell me stories about growing up there with 4 younger siblings, all born there. They had so many adventures. There were several acres of land behind the house, where blueberries apple trees grew and big old pine trees, perfect for climbing, beckoned me. It was easy to see the property as the farm it once had been. The old chicken house still sat in a remote corner, swaying and the remains of an overgrown rose garden rambled over other unidentifiable structures. The original outhouse sat behind the large looming barn. That barn was full of old carriages and harness. The stalls that lined one side still smelled of dusty hay. Dust motes swirled to the lofts whenever Grampa would open the big double doors to get a tool from the workshop inside. The sun would peek in and make patterns on the floor and add to the mystery of the big intriguing space.
Grampa was an insurance man by trade but his real love was making things from wood. When I was twelve or so, he built a house next door to the homestead, for himself and my grandmother. It was a reproduction of an old saltbox cape. He used old boards and beams for all the walls and floors and ceilings, salvaged from other antique buildings. Old bricks made the chimneys and hearths. It was a real work of art. The house itself had a lot of small rooms with little closets and cupboards and built-in shelves everywhere. The kitchen had an old cast iron range in it. Some rooms had big fireplaces and I just loved exploring all the nooks and crannies. When my Grandmother wasn’t working, she would take me to the beach and we’d play for hours in the sand, creating wonderful sculptures with baking tins and old mixing spoons. Sometimes we’d go strawberry picking or helping a church group to organize some event or other. At times, I’d just keep her company in the kitchen and bake miniature cinnamon rolls with tiny pans and bowls, while she was making the adult version at the counter next to me. Sometimes we would go and visit her Mother at the other end of town, ‘out in the country’ at a farmhouse where they both were raised. I even spent overnight visits with my great grandmother at farm on occasion. Another cast iron range commanded that kitchen, in fact it is the same as graces my own today. My great grandmother would tell me about her childhood at that house, ‘in the old days’, when he parents worked the farm and several aged relatives lived there with them. As a small child I helped my Grandmother in her rose garden. My great grandfather had been a master gardener in his day, working at some nearby estates along the ocean, when he wasn’t tending to the farm. She would play the piano for hours from memory while I looked through old books and asked a lot of questions. We’d play ‘knock on the wall’ between our adjoining bedrooms until I would fall asleep listening to the crickets. My paternal grandmother, who lived with us, was very patient and would read to me for hours, teaching me to read and write at an early age. She was an expert needlewoman and would spend hours teaching me to sew, embroider and crochet. Alas, I never got the knack of knitting. Not a day goes by that I do not think about my grandparents and the lessons they taught me.
I am sure my love of things old and days past is a direct result of spending so much time with my Grandparents, absorbing their enthusiasm and being nourished on their tales of childhoods spent in generations past. They brought alive for me, relatives I would never meet because they had passed before my birth, yet I feel like I know them too. I love old houses and old tools and traditions, well-worn furniture and making things with my own hands. I have tried to share these experiences and tales with my children, keeping those spirits alive, I hope, for several more generations. I never fail to feel fortunate in my time with all of my grandparents. It helped to shape me into the person I am today. I feel doubly blessed that my sons have always been close to their own grandparents and have many wonderful memories of their own to cherish and pass down in their turn.