Grandma Cooks

Jean Lowe by Amanda Maruhn

My grandmother, Jean Lowe, was born in the 1920's. She was the oldest daughter of a family of twelve; her mother died before she was eighteen, leaving the youngest child entirely in her care. She took him to live with her, and raised him with her own children, as she came to have a family of her own. 

My granny never had much money. As a young woman, she lived in a poor, extremely rural region of Kentucky, deep in the mountains. The food they had was nothing more than what they grew on the farm themselves, owning almost nothing store bought. 

Their entertainment was homemade, too. It is from this long tradition of oral story-tellers that I come from. Even in my own memory, I recall the family getting together, sometimes in the snowy winters of Christmas, sometimes ranged around the front porch on muggy Michigan nights, with crickets chirping like a fairy heartbeat.

My granny always lead the story telling, our tribal mother. She'd start of remembering something that happened before any of us were born; a story of her mother, from when she was a little girl, or something her father told her when she was a young mother herself. Then my mother and my aunt would take their turns at reminiscing, bringing up the family stories to be shared with the younger generations, laughed over, remembered. 

"Now my daddy was a carpenter," Granny would say, "the best in all of Whitely county. There was nothing that man could not make out of wood if he put his mind to it, and that's the truth. I remember when I was a little girl, he made a marionette. He'd tie one end of the string to his thumb, and another to his foot. Then us kids would take turns at holding the other string. And when he played his banjo, the little marionette would dance, and how we would laugh. We were always asking him to play for us in the evening, and he never wearied of it. That's something I'll always remember about my daddy."

Then it would be my aunt's turn, and she'd get a faraway, teary look in her eyes as she spoke of her dad's mother. "I remember that Mammy had the longest hair I ever saw in all my life, and it just as black as the wing of a bird. She'd sit in the rocker of an evening, and let if fall over the back. Then she'd say to me, 'Nita, go and fetch my comb from the bedroom.' I'd bring it back, and if I was a good girl, she'd let me comb it out. Lord, I could have stayed there all night, if she'd have let me, combing her hair till it shone like silk."

Round and round the stories would go, one after another. Sometimes they followed one another, theme upon theme, or centered around the life of one person. Sometimes one story had nothing to do with any other. 

As I child, I would creep to where the stories were being told, drawn like a bee to honey. I'd hide in the shadows, with my doll or coloring books and crayons, but all the while listening, listening. I'd take it all in, the stories coming alive in my mind as the night wore on. I'd stop to think how we got to the subject they were talking about now, for some of the stories came with commentary or corrections that would sometimes rabbit-trail for a half hour or more at a time. 

These stories will be preserved within the family for years to come, each generation able to add their memories. It is my honor to be a writer, for in time, I will write them down, so that they will never be lost or forgotten. From the oral tradition that started deep within the Smoky Mountains, to the sleepy suburbs of Detroit, the stories, family legends now, will live on.