By Sandra Hutchison
While helping my mother clean out my 96-year-old grandmother’s house before and after she died at the beginning of this year, I was of course tempted by a number of items, mostly old tools. They became my grandmother’s legacy to me. But my favorite items are not what I would have expected.
My great grandmother’s bread bowl
Thelma’s mother set her bread to rise in this bowl. It’s not in perfect condition at this point but is clearly beautifully made (and easy enough to restore, when I get around to it). I used to make bread before I did the math and realized the increase in my electricity bill more than offset any savings in the bread budget. My current stove is gas, though, so one of these days I may actually use this bowl for its original purpose again. (Of course I have a solar roof now, so electric would save me even more money.) In the meantime, it holds just about anything that isn’t wet. In the picture above, it’s the temporary home for a stalk of flowering balsam my neighbor gave me for next year’s seeds.
This really ugly food mill
I actually bought one of these in shiny stainless steel some years back to help me process tomatoes. Maybe I didn’t know to adjust it or something, but it ended up trashing 90% of my tomatoes, so I happily ditched it in a garage sale when we moved (and warned the person who bought it that it might only be good for applesauce). But I figured I’d try again when I saw this in my grandmother’s kitchen and could see that it had clearly been used a lot. This one works like a dream, so homemade tomato sauce and tomato soup are finally in my repertoire.
A clothes brush
I only recognized this because of Downton Abbey. This is a cheaper version of the brush John Bates would use to clean Lord Crawley’s beautiful wool suits. All I can say is that I’ve finally found something to clean wool and fleece of cat hair that actually works! Yes, lint tape works, too, but it takes a lot and that stuff isn’t cheap. (And in case you haven’t already figured it out, those little red velvet lint “brushes” you may see for sale are just a good way to fill up the landfill with useless plastic.) Of course, the challenge for me is finding a cat-hair-free spot on which to brush clothes down.
Tweezers and scissors
I found a whole set of different kinds for personal grooming. No one ever warned me getting older would mean growing hair in places I never had before (and losing hair in places I had it, not that I mind that when it comes to my legs). I’ve reached the age when I occasionally just take a razor out and shave my face and neck, but plucking is way more satisfying — if I can just get a grip on the little buggers. Over the years I’ve accumulated innumerable cheap tweezers that have proven useless for anything but cleaning dirt from under my fingernails. Most of these hand-me-down instruments from Grandma’s house, on the other hand, actually do what they are supposed to. (Yes, of course, I gave them a good cleaning.)
Just kidding. Except not really. In the back room we found a stash of relatively wholesome old girlie watercolors that probably belonged to my grandfather. And in the bedroom, near the bed, we found a pretty heavy-duty electric vibrator. My mother was appalled and threw that thing away faster than I could say, “Hey, let me see that!” Still, I thought it was pretty cool that my grandmother’s libido had clearly persisted well into old age.
Of course, I’d had clues earlier, like when she gave me a bunch of really kinky science fiction novels by John Norman back in my teens. And just a couple of years ago she passed along a big bag of old perspiration-stained lingerie, as if she thought it was all too precious not to find new use. Then there was the time she insisted my mother take her recently-deceased last husband’s penis pump back to the urologist so someone else could use it. (Poor Mom!)
In truth, Grandma Thelma was always a bit more hot mama than doting grandmother. She could be self-centered and manipulative (especially of my mother), and some of her lies stretched far beyond the social lies of the traditional Southern female. Yes, she could cook up great fried catfish or lima bean soup, but she didn’t do much other grandmotherly stuff. I never got the feeling she was aching for a conversation with me. It honestly surprised me to discover she’d carefully saved every card or letter or school photo or homemade gift she’d gotten from us over the years.
So we were never all that close, but she was still my grandma. In the end, she showed me what ninety-six years of fairly cheerful persistence looks like. I think I’ll take that as the most valuable gift of all.