The Story of Betsy and Grandma Graham
Betsy Graham stood in the foyer of her grandmother’s home. She clutched her suitcase to her side as though it might be snatched away by the unfamiliar old woman standing in front of her. The woman wore a faded house dress, apron, and shoes like black blocks. Betsy tried to remember anything, one single thing about her, but she couldn’t. Her eyes were drawn to the spikes of gray hair sticking out all over her grandmother’s head.
Betsy’s own head was killing her. Her mother had insisted she brush her hair straight back and secure it in a severely tight bun. Apparently, Grandma Graham thought all girls should wear their hair like boys; short, manageable.
If this woman, her grandmother, was as awful as she’d been led to believe, why was she here? Her memory couldn’t conjure up a single nice thing said about Grandmother Graham.
Yet her parents had shipped her off for the Christmas holiday, assuring her that Grandma wasn’t bad at all. She’d misunderstood.
Suddenly, they had all kinds of nice things to say about the woman who raised Betsy’s father like some kind of slave driver or army sergeant. Suddenly, they forgot all the negatives voiced over the years that had left Betsy grateful she’d never had to spend so much as a minute with such a terrible person. Until now that is; until her parents decided on one last ditch effort to save their marriage.
“Well, don’t just stand there. Take off that coat and hang it in here.” Her grandmother opened the entry closet and handed Betsy a hanger.
“And for goodness sakes child, take off those awful boots! I won’t have mud in the house. Thank goodness you’re not a toddler any more. You were the snottiest little toddler, you know. I mean that literally. You had a runny nose every time I saw you. Couldn’t stand it. Always thought I was going to get sick if I touched you. So, I didn’t. Can’t be too careful.” The old woman chuckled and shut the closet door.
“How old are you now? Your father told me but I’ve forgotten. The memory’s not what it used to be. Now come on. Let’s not dawdle. There’s lot’s to do; lot’s and lot’s to do.”
Betsy, speechless, followed her estranged grandmother up the steps to the second floor. Her grandmother paused before a door and looked at Betsy.
“Are you ready for this?” Her grandmother’s bushy eyebrows were raised high, her eyes bright and mischievous.
Betsy felt ready to faint. This was all too much. What was wrong with her parents anyway? She didn’t know this woman, a grandmother who had ignored her existence until now. Until her parents had no one else to turn to for an extended stay for their only child.
“I guess so,” Betsy mumbled.
“No mumbling now. Good grief you’re just like your father. Speak up girl.”
“Yes,” Betsy cleared her throat. “I’m ready.”
With great flourish her grandmother turned the knob and flung the bedroom door wide.
“Isn’t it great!” She flashed a yellow smile. “I thought you might like to stay in this room. I left it just as it was when he was growing up. I always thought he’d want his trophies some day, or some of these photos of his friends,” She nodded toward a cork board above an old dresser. “These boys played baseball with your father his whole life. They were trouble makers, every one.” She smiled as she said this, then opened the top drawer of the dresser. “See,” she looked toward Betsy, “See here? His sweatshirts and t-shirts are all in here. Stuff he didn’t take with him when he went off to that school. College, you know. Every body’s got to go to college.”
She shut the drawer and stood back looking at Betsy. “You going to college?”
Betsy nodded. “Yes, when I’m older.”
“Well how old are you now? You know, you can wear any of his stuff you want. I guess he’s not coming back for it. Maybe when you leave you can take a few of these photos with you. He probably forgot there here. It might be good for him to be reminded about being a kid once.”
She turned and headed out the door. “Why don’t you unpack. Then come down to the kitchen and we’ll get busy. I hope you like to bake. Do you bake? Hurry up now. We’ve got lots to do; lots and lots to do.”
Betsy stood in the middle of her father’s childhood room taking it all in. There were at least a dozen trophies cluttering a bookshelf, posters of baseball players on the walls, an old basketball hoop attached over the door. She opened the closet and found some old shoes and a few things hanging up. Loose wire hangers swung back and forth. Everything smelled musty and abandoned, kind of like she felt now; discarded and kicked to the curb.
Not knowing exactly where to put her things, Betsy opened her suitcase and decided to hang everything she could. Then she opened each dresser drawer finding two of them nearly empty. Consolidating her dad’s clothes into three of the four drawers freed up one for herself. She arranges her underwear, socks, scarves, hats and gloves then stood back and took a deep breath. She wondered where the bathroom was.
“Hurry up now,” Her grandmother hollered. “We haven’t any time to waste.”
Betsy forced her feet to move toward the door, told herself everything was going to be okay, assured herself half of what she’d heard about the old woman couldn’t be true.
She descended the staircase slowly, not trusting her footing. Following the racked, Betsy passed under the archway and entered an old fashioned kitchen.
The black and white checkered floor was spotless and shining. Betsy’s eyes roved over the space, enchantment eking it’s way into her soul. Her eyes opened wide at the sight of the black iron stove, pots and pans made of copper and cast iron hanging above it and over the island. The island was wooden, a huge butcher block standing on legs sturdy enough to hold up a house. The surface was scared and marred by years of use.
Her eyes found the refrigerator; rounded edges and short. A funny handle like she’d never seen before. A metal bucket on top of the island held an assortment of rolling pins, funny springy things with long handles, and spatulas. The sink, where her grandmother stood rinsing out a large bowl, stood on legs. A cabinet hung above it and free standing cabinets flanked each side.
Dish rags, bright red checkered rags, hung on the handles of everything. Metal canisters lined the tops of the cabinets, and dishes, chipped and mismatched were stacked on an old sideboard.
On the outside wall of the kitchen, a small Formica table with two chairs snuggled into a storybook nook surrounded by windows. The curtains were white lace.
“I suppose you’d be liking a spot of tea before we get started,” her grandmother nodded toward the nook.
“Have yourself a seat, girl, and we’ll have tea and biscuits. We need to be fortified you know.”
Betsy pulled out a chair and sat down, unable to do much other than gawk at her surroundings. She’d never had a cup of tea yet felt terror in asking for a Pepsi. Would her grandmother know what Pepsi was?
She noticed a small basket on the table with a cloth covering something. The kitchen smelled unfamiliar, smells Betsy had rarely experienced. She tried to identify them; cinnamon, maybe nutmeg, and what was that; peppermint?
Her grandmother set two china cups with saucers on the table, a little container of sugar and a small pot with a spoon. “That honey, if you prefer,” her grandmother said. Then she uncovered the contents of the basket revealing golden biscuits. Betsy saw dark bits and deep red bits and something tiny and orange molded into the pastry. She had never seen anything like it.
“Go ahead now, help yourself. You can put the honey on them if you’d like them sweeter. Myself, I like them just the way they are.”
She watched her grandmother scoop a spoonful of sugar into her tea and set a biscuit on one of the napkins she’d set on the table. She decided to do the same. Betsy stirred in the sugar then slowly, just as her grandmother did, raised the delicate cup to her lips, blew softly and took a sip.
She jumped a bit at the scalding liquid as it burned her mouth. Her grandmother chuckled yet didn’t say a word. Betsy self-consciously reached for a biscuit and put it on a napkin. She tore off a bite and carefully put it in her mouth. She sat back and looked into the eyes of her grandmother. Butter, rich and warm, and currants and cranberries and orange; flavors blended together as food fit for royalty. Never had she experienced anything like it. It melted in her mouth.
“These are wonderful!” she exclaimed. “Where did you buy them?”
Her grandmother scoffed. “I don’t buy what I can bake, child. We’ll be baking some of them today. You like to bake?”
Betsy cleared her throat again and looked into her tea cup. “Well, I’ve baked cookies before.”
“Cookies? What kind?” her grandmother scrutinized her.
“Well, the kind from the store in the tube,” Betsy offered quietly. She knew it would hardly be considered actually baking in her grandmother’s eyes. “Chocolate chip are my favorites. Sometimes sugar cookies or peanut butter. Whatever mom brings home for me to bake.”
Her grandmother set her cup down softly and looked into her grand-daughters eyes. Suddenly she smiled.
“Haven’t much in the way of compliments to say about me, do they now?”
Betsy didn’t know what to say. She lowered her cup onto the saucer with a slight clink. She kept her eyes fixed on the biscuit even though she could feel the old woman’s eyes studying her.
“Never been taught to bake? Does your mother bake?”
Betsy nervously lifted her gaze then lowered her eyes again. “No. She works a lot.”
“Well, I think you shall learn to bake!” Betsy’s grandmother stood smiling at Betsy. “Don’t look so worried girl. I’m not going to bite you. I don’t care what your father has told you, I won’t bite.”
She moved toward the sink then shot a look and a crazy smile back at Betsy. “I might lock you in the dungeon and throw away the key, but I won’t bite!” Betsy’s grandmother laughed and laughed as she opened a drawer and pulled out an apron.
“Come here, girl. Let’s get you properly attired.” She put the apron over Betsy’s head then turned her around and tied the back. “There you are. A proper baker now. Stand here,” she guided Betsy around to the far side of the island. “I’m going to set out ingredients. You’ll be measuring then putting them in this here bowl as I tell you.”
Her grandmother set measuring cups and spoons onto the island and the huge bowl in front of Betsy. She set a giant mixer and canisters marked flour and sugar on the table and smiled again at Betsy.
Betsy’s teeth released her bottom lip. “I…I guess so,” she stammered. She knew not what to do, nor what to expect. Betsy Graham had no idea how being in her grandmothers kitchen on this given day, learning to bake, was about to change her life.
To Be Continued