Every spring, my grandmother would do a major spring cleaning. I do mean major, because her home was heated with coal. After a year of cooking and heating, her walls were dingy. She couldn’t wait to wash down those walls, repaint them, take down the dirty curtains and put up fresh starched ones. Of course the windows needed washing, the floors scrubbing, and the stovepipe taken down, cleaned and shined. It was very labor intensive. I’m sure Grandpa winced at the thought of all that work when the temperatures started to warm but he knew keeping Grandma happy was very important. She was the heart of the home. Without her, nothing happened: no laundry, no ironing, no cooking, no canning, no sewing or mending, no disciplining of the children (as Grandpa was gone all day working on the railroad.)
How did she do it all? She worked non-stop 24/7. Just getting the fruit bottled during the summer and fall was exhausting work in a hot kitchen. There was always more fruit maturing. Much of it she got free from her own trees, neighbor’s trees or wild fruit trees. Her most memorable recipe was Pottawatame plum and chokecherry jelly. It was exceptional. Her canned fruit was a work of art with its carefully peeled pears artfully placed in the bottle with a slice of orange in the bottom. Her pantry had to be filled during the warm days to prepare for the long winter when fresh fruit was unavailable.
I loved eating her bottled peaches, cherries and pears. She also made fresh homemade bread and delicious fluffy rolls that were legendary. Visiting her, one was sure to put on some pounds as she delighted in seeing you finish off her rolls with melted butter and great homemade jam. In those days, everything was made at home. Grandma even made her own house dresses and aprons on her treadle sewing machine, an amazing machine that didn’t need electricity. You used your feet to push the treadle up and down to move the machine needle up and down to make stitches.
She made all my baby clothes, cute little slips, and dresses with special hand embroidery. I was her first grandchild when she was only forty-four. She had me call her “Auntie” rather than Grandma, so that she wouldn’t feel old. That’s how I got an extra aunt who was really my grandmother.