Last month I was enjoying a rare night of sitting with Dad and watching television. I had my usual glass of ice tea but on this night I added the healthy addition of an apple. I had a sandwich size plate and a paring knife as well as I planned to peel the apple before eating it.
As I sat there with apple in one hand and knife in the other and the plate on my lap I had a memory flash through my mind of my maternal grandmother. If my parents were visiting friends or had a function to attend, my brothers and I would spend the evening with my grandparents. We’d be sitting on the floor watching television and my grandmother would be sitting in her chair. She would have a couple of apples, a paring knife and a tin pie plate. She set the pie plate on her lap and begins peeling the apples. Once she’d get one peeled she’d slice it up and offer slices to each of us.
I hadn’t thought about those times at my grandparents for many a year. It was my mimicking my grandmother that brought it back as if it was yesterday. I suppose that is why I will sometimes eat an apple that way while watching television. Having experienced it so often with my grandmother, I guess it kind of stuck with me and now I do it without really thinking about it.
It makes me wonder what else I do that is really just a copy of what Mom or grandma did as I was growing up. Those learned actions seem natural to me now so I don’t stop to ask if I do something a certain way because that is how I like to do it or if it is simply because that is how Mom or Grandma did it.
Thinking about it too hard could play with one’s mind – is it really my idea to eat an apple this way in front of the TV or have I been conditioned to eat them this way. So we won’t even go down that path.
Instead I think more about how such a simple thing as having an apple as a snack has been a link to my past and to my grandparents. I’m not sure if my grandmother ever held a job. Her mother did. She was a midwife, worked in a hotel, and also sold homemade cakes. I think my grandmother must have married early in life because her first husband, Jack, and she lived in Ohio for a while. She would eventually divorce him, as he was a “skirt chaser” and later marry a widower, who was the grandfather I knew.
I’ve tried to research her life with Jack but I’ve not yet been able to find a census or listing of her being married to Jack. Without his last name, I have not been as successful on Ancestry.com as I have been for others but I’m still working at it. Until this trek down memory lane, I hadn’t realized that there was still so much I didn’t know about my grandmother. When my grandparents would stay over on Christmas Eve, grandma would share my double bed with me. We would talk before going to sleep and I can remember asking about what her life was like when she was a young girl, but I never asked about Jack because I didn’t even know at that time that she had been married before marrying grandpa.
It’s amazing how facts about family sometimes come to us in dribbles across our lifetime. In recent conversations with Dad, I’ve learned that both Jack and grandpa worked for the railroad. I knew grandpa was an engineer for the railroad, driving the train from DuBois to Salamanca, New York, and other places. I’ve found one of his logbooks that listed the time he spent on various duties at work. Clues such as this will hopefully help in finding out more information about Jack and in turn about grandma.
The memory stirred by the simple act of eating an apple is just the beginning. As I think of those times, I remember listening to old songs like Tom Dooley (1958) from the Kingston Trio; the Ballad of the Green Berets (1966), co-written by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler and Robert “Robin” Moore Jr.; El Paso (1960) by Marty Robbins; Hambone, sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford; and Sixteen Tons, also sung by Ford. My grandparents had an old cabinet record player that played very thick, heavy Victoria records. I remember being amazed by how thick and heavy they were. When we found the record player upstairs at my grandparents’ house I thought we had found a treasure. I don’t ever remember seeing it at their former house, which was once an old school house. I remember being there as a very young child but I don’t recall seeing the record player. It wouldn’t be for several more years before we found it in storage upstairs at a house in Falls Creek that they had moved to when Interstate 80 was being laid out.
I was not several years from being a teenager when we found the record player and on many visits to my grandparent’s house I’d ask to be allowed to play it. Some songs, such as El Paso and the Ballad of the Green Berets, would bring tears to my eyes as I’d sit and listen to them and the tales they told.
The memories had me seeking out these old songs on the internet. Today one can find a YouTube film or a clip with someone singing them. While I haven’t heard any of them in many a decade, they still bring back those days visiting my grandparents.
Peeling an apple, listening to a song – one never knows what will bring yesterday to mind, a smile on the face and the feeling of love in the heart.