As part of our childhood memories series, is a story by Barbara Stanifer, as she reminiscences about the idyllic summers she spent with her grandmother. “A grandmother is a little bit parent, little bit teacher and a little bit best friend”. Grandmother, grandma, nana, or as I called mine, ‘dida’, by whatever name you call her, is a synonym for love, comfort, peace and the best food ever!
When I sat down to think about my favorite childhood memories, there was no question I would write about the summers I spent with my grandmother in Oklahoma. To this day at the first sign of warm weather, every fiber of my being wants to make a pilgrimage back to the red clay dirt of that tiny town. But when I started to write I wasn’t exactly sure WHY those were my best memories, what was it that pulled at my heartstrings even now in middle age? Everything in and around my grandmother’s house was a universe that felt so unique to my ordinary life, the landscape, the smells, the people were all different and I think mostly, it was calm and quiet. I was free to be completely me. With a great deal of patience and never a critical word my grandmother taught me things, she seemed to understand me in a way that others didn’t. I learned to bake bread and do needlepoint and the absolute fine art of “visiting”, something cultivated by her generation or in the Midwest / South I’m not sure, but a skill that I relish when I recognize it in this fast paced, all digital world.
I was four the first time I went to visit my grandmother by myself and I went every summer after that until I was 23. Nothing ever changed, every couch, chair, wall hanging was a living time capsule for all the years I was there. For a gal whose family moved often and suffered times of great tumult, there was such unbelievable comfort in that sameness, in the static traditions that encompassed every visit. We’d sit down first thing with a cold glass of sun tea, ice cubes tinkling softly against the glass, paper towel wrapped around the outside to catch the condensation and look through her box of tintypes. She’d tell me stories of our ancestors that in retrospect I believe were all untrue! “We are related to Chief Quanah Parker leader of the Apache tribe…” she’d say. His picture was in that box and I do have a broad face and large nose but…
She never denied my request for the first meal to be a BLT and fried okra, with the L, the T and the okra coming straight from her garden, there is something so transcendent about a homegrown tomato. In the evenings I’d sit outside in a blue canvas chair next to the magnolia tree and contemplate life while my grandmother watered. Fireflies choreographed their fairy dance to the cicada’s low slung, eerie song and it was pure magic to me – each and every time. I would fall asleep to the sounds of my grandmother laughing softly at Johnny Carson, dreaming about what adventurous traditions would come the next day, decorating gingerbread men in the heat of summer, going to her beautiful gold domed church dressed in a hat and gloves, playing with her typewriter and my dad’s erector set from when he was young, visiting with Mrs. Babs next door who would always read me a book or tell me a story… It was a magical place for me not because it was in any way grand, but because it was an amalgam of adventure, traditions and calm. A perfect blend that matched the odd and quiet rhythm of my soul.