If I was ever given the opportunity to travel back in time, I would travel back to the time when I would spend the summers with my grandparents on their little one-acre farm in Stoughton, Wisconsin. My grandparents, Esther and Raymond, were my mother’s parents and every year during the 1970’s my brother, Steve and I, would go and spend the whole summer with my grandparents in the middle of God’s country. The farm was large enough to house some chickens, bunnies and, for one summer, even a horse named Pixy! This time spent on the farm was my solace, my safe time, a place where the sexual abuse stopped; at least for three months anyway. This is the time that I was able to live a “normal” life, as a child, and far away from my abuser in Chicago. While living with my grandparents, I had a mother figure, a father figure, both who adored and loved me so unconditionally. I had family structure; chores, fun time, having three meals on the table every day. I even had clean clothes to wear, a clean home to live in. There was even a time when Steve and I lived with my grandparents permanently for a couple years and I even went to grade school in Madison. It’s my thought that my mother wasn’t able to take care of us, therefore, asking my grandparents to take over her “parental” role. Spending this time with them was the best time of my life growing up and I wouldn’t give up the memories for anything in the world. They are not only in my mind but forever embedded into my heart. Every child should have the same opportunity to grow up in such loving surroundings; to share and learn life’s experiences and wonders, especially in the arms of two loving grandparents, who adored you as much as you did them.
My grandmother’s name was Esther Adele Johnson, who was nicknamed Tiny, even though there was nothing tiny about her whatsoever. Granny was one hundred percent German and spoke the language fluently. Granny did not have the traditional German accent; she had what we call a “Scansin” accent. “Oh, yea… hey der, you betcha by Godly…” Originally from Germany, granny’s parents journeyed to the United States, where they settled in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. Soon after, granny was born on January 19, 1920, where she topped the baby scale at thirteen pounds!
Fondly remembering granny as I do, she had black hair, with a touch of gray that was starting to make an appearance just about her temples. Wearing her hair short and with a perm, she always pushed it back with a stretchy headband, trying to keep it out of her face. Granny’s nose was wide and somewhat on the plump side with a light mustache that always graced her upper lip. Granny’s lips were full and always seemed to be wet; where after every kiss, you would wipe your own lips dry with the back of your hand. Strangely enough, Frank has accused me of this very same “wet kiss” condition after kissing me. Even now, as if it was just yesterday, I can actually feel granny’s wet puckered up kiss on my lips. Where a person may never forget the scent of their favorite flower, I have never forgotten the feel of granny’s kiss. Closing my eyes, I dream of sharing just one more good night kiss with her.
Granny was an extremely boisterous and thunderous woman, especially when she spoke. As she always talked a notch above others, you could feel your ears begin to ring and vibrate. Granny was loud when she spoke, almost screaming her thoughts at you. To find out, granny was going severely deaf but, of course, she didn’t think so.
Like my mother, granny only had an eighth grade education, but her lack of schooling didn’t mean she was uneducated. Granny was a stay-at-home housewife, doing the laundry, cleaning, and cooking, making sure meals were on the table when grandpa got home from work. On occasion, she would let me help her prepare dinner, asking me to peel the potatoes or collect a couple of tomatoes from the garden. My grandparents had a very large garden that consisted of everything from tomatoes, green beans, potatoes to strawberries and onions. I always enjoyed smelling the array of aromas that drifted through the kitchen when granny was cooking. Grandpa would come home and start his nightly routine of washing the day’s work off of his face and hands. After washing up, he’d sit down in the living room and begin reading the daily newspaper. I can still hear the flipping of the pages, as grandpa turned from one news event to the next. Once dinner was prepared, we all sat down at the kitchen table together, as a family, where Steve and I would say grace before eating. I so much enjoyed this time of the day, where we would each share with one another what we did that day, with me talking about racing bikes with Steve down the gravel road or grandpa telling us which building he roofed in Madison. I was filled with such content and happiness; a feeling of comfort, and a home that I felt completely safe in.
As long as I could remember, granny had a chronic cough that would make you hold your own breath and gasp for air. When her coughing gags would start up, I would stare at her, my eyes locked on her face, watching her turn all shades of red, listening as she coughed from one end and farted from the other, anticipating, just waiting for her to suck in that one breath of fresh air that would calm her cough and allow her to breathe again. At the same time that granny was trying to control her cough, she would also try to continue the conversation that she was having with you, squeezing out a word with every choke and puff of air. Eyes watering and tongue hanging out, she looked as if her head was going to go for a blast off… 10, 9, 8! Sometimes, grandpa would watch her in amazement, with a perplexed look on his face, wondering to himself if she was going to snap out of it. But, we were all so use to it, as we grew up with her cough-n-gags and, after a while, it became routine and we pretty much ignored it. It was like background noise.
There was a time when granny started a cough-n-gag in public. People started staring and soon we were to have an audience. Frank and I took her out for lunch at the Country Kitchen. She loved eating there, but Frank hated taking her out to eat in public just for these reasons in particular… he knew she was going to have a cough-n-gag. Not realizing why at the time, Frank quickly ran ahead of us inside and asked for a table in the back of the restaurant, far back, I mean all the way tucked in the in the corner and away from civilization back. It wasn’t until granny went into another coughing convulsion did I realize why Frank wanted to be as far away from the other patrons as possible. Unfortunately, we were placed directly in the middle of the restaurant for all to see, as if we were the main event. Granny turned red and coughing up her left lung, while at the same time trying to eat her crispy fried chicken. Frank was now turning the same shades of red as granny was, feeling completely embarrassed. As for me, I continued with my meal, knowing that within a few moments granny would simmer down and then continue on with our conversation, picking up where we left off. Frank could have crawled underneath the table if there was enough room. Again, it was a part of my life and I was use to it. Besides, granny didn’t care what people thought of her anyway. She would continue on as if she was the only person in the restaurant. Once our lunch was through, it was time to head home. As granny always did, she would carefully wrap her last piece of chicken in her napkin, tucking it safely inside her purse, thinking she would have it for dinner that evening. Frank would always tell her… “Granny, they have doggy bags!”
With granny’s belly full and content, it was much harder for her to climb back into our truck, which was a Nissan Pathfinder and somewhat high off the ground. Standing in the background, I watched Frank try to literally shove and squeeze granny up and into the truck. She didn’t have enough strength to pull herself into the truck and Frank didn’t have much strength to hoist her up! Feeling the aggravation rise within him, Frank spins his head around at me, with a complete look of pissed off written all over his face, as if to say; I can’t believe I’m doing this! Frank using his left shoulder for leverage, he tried to ram granny’s ass up and into the truck. It was apparent that Frank was not a happy participant. Not only did he have to endure her coughing spells inside the restaurant, but he was now entertaining the patrons further by trying to shove a short chubby woman back into a truck! It was like pushing the Pillsbury Dough Boy back into his canister! By this time, I was laughing so hard watching Frank try to shove granny into the truck that I took it upon myself to snap a few pictures. You know…. for remembrance… snap, snap, snap! Of course, this only pissed Frank off even more. After what seemed like forever, Frank finally manages to get granny’s ass inside the truck. He walks toward the back of the truck, where I was continuing to take pictures, and said through gritted teeth that he would never take granny for another ride again! No more rides for granny! Of course, he didn’t mean it. But, since this main wrestling event, we had learned to bring a step stool with us so that granny could get in and out of our truck with ease and not be shoulder lifted instead.
It almost felt as if granny was in a world of her own, doing her own thing as she went on with life.
One of the jaw dropping memories I have of granny while living with her was the time we went to the grocery store. Fridays were grocery shopping day. We frequented a store called Piggly Wiggly, which was a small grocery store in Stoughton. I think every small town had a Piggly Wiggly. With list in hand, Granny would walk up and down every isle while leaning to rest on the shopping cart, making sure that she scanned every shelf, looking from the left and then to the right, from the top of the shelf to the bottom. Midway through a particular aisle, granny suddenly stops, where she came upon the many shelves of different kinds of salad dressings. She looked baffled, as she saw white ones, orange ones and even red ones. Studying the many flavors before her, she didn’t know which dressing to purchase, as they all looked so delicious. Which dressing tasted the best, she thought. As she had done just seconds ago, granny looked to her left, then to her right and not giving it a second thought about the matter, granny selected a flavor from the shelf. She twisted the cap of the dressing bottle until she hears that seal of release, feeling that she had unlocked the safe of what could be yummy goodness. Removing the cap, granny slowly dives her finger into the bottle of dressing. Pulling out her finger laced with a sweet sample of salad dressing, she slid her finger down the length of her tongue. As granny continued to play her role as taste connoisseur, she decided that it wasn’t the right flavor for her. Screwing the top back onto the bottle, granny secretly returns the salad dressing back to the shelf, sliding it into place. I stood behind granny and watched what she was doing and thought to myself…. Does the store really let you taste the dressings like that? Once more, granny takes a quick glance around, eyeing another flavor; she slides another bottle off the shelf. Popping the lid off another bottle, she dips, licks and repeats. We have a winner!!! Recapping the bottle tightly and with satisfaction on her tongue, into the shopping cart the salad dressing went. Some shoppers tasted grapes for their sweetness… granny tasted salad dressings for their tang. Taking a quick look around myself, I made sure that nobody else was in the isle with us, as I knew that what my grandmother was doing wasn’t really right. I was so afraid that granny was going to get busted for her actions and I was going to go down right along with her. Seeing my fast getaway, I promptly left granny in the salad dressing aisle to contend with her own crime and went to look for grandpa and Steve. During checkout, nobody was the wiser.
Granny was unquestionably a very colorful character, with strong beliefs and, sometimes, rules that she felt didn’t exactly apply to her. Her crimes were innocent compared to today’s standards but, ironically, it taught me right from wrong. We purchase… than sample. But, I tried to look at it as her way of saying… Don’t settle for anything less in life. Don’t take life as second-hand… seize the moment! More importantly, believe in yourself, trust and love who you are and don’t be so concerned of what others may think of you. Openly express yourself, your opinions, regardless of their strength… create your own voice.
So, yes, if there was a way to travel back in time, I would journey back to the summers of the seventies, when love, happiness and laughter were as much part of my daily life as the air I breathed. But, until then, I will continue to travel in my mind, where my memories are carefree and endless on my Farm of Eden.