We didn’t have to go over the river and through the woods to get to my Grandma’s house, because she lived right down the street from us. That meant that I spent lots of time in that little red-brick house.
I spent much of my time in her kitchen “helping” her cook. As a former home economics teacher, she knew how to manage a kitchen and prepare delicious meals. As I watched her cook, she would teach as she went, sharing tips along the way. We made strawberry preserves from figs that grew on her tree in the back yard. It was a great climbing tree — a side benefit for us when we helped to pick them each summer. She also made luscious pear cobblers from her backyard pear tree. Her crawfish bisque, which took nearly all-day to make, is still the best bisque I’ve ever tasted. On her kitchen counter in a tin canister held a treat that was waiting for us every time we visited — home-made, old-family-recipe, tea cakes. These cookies were thick, fairly dense and chewy, short bread cookies that were flavored with a touch of nutmeg. Also on her counter was a large jar of sweet pickles that we would help her make. These pickles tasted as sweet as candy, which meant we were only allowed a few at a time. They were made from store-bought sour pickles whose juice was poured off and replaced with an entire bag of sugar, cloves, and garlic. I know the ingredients may sound peculiar, but the pickles were so good that I still make them today. Plus they remind me of her every time I open a jar. “We” prepared so many scrumptious recipes in her kitchen!
The best time of day at her house was around dinner time (noon) which was her biggest meal of the day. Roast, rice and gravy, “Mississippi-style” potatoes (boiled potatoes in a white sauce), string beans cooked down so much they wilted into a heap on your plate, corn, and pickled beets, were part of a common meal that she would often make for my Pa-Pa when he came home from his store for lunch. I’d wait for him to come out of the back door of his store and walk across the yard to the house. The kitchen’s screen door was on the side of the house that faced the back of his store, so he only had to walk across the side yard everyday to go back and forth to work. My grandma married Pa-Pa after her first husband passed away. When they got married, he moved my grandma and her two daughters to live with him in the red-brick home that was built by him and his sons. A couple of years after they were married, they had another daughter together. Her two daughters, my mother and my aunt, were at the perfect age to enjoy a new addition to the family.
My mother and her sister shared a bedroom upstairs room that ran from one side of the house to the other. It was hot for a bedroom, but there were windows at either end of the room that helped encourage a cross breeze to blow through in the summertime. When it was really hot, the side yard was a cool, shaded, lush retreat where one could sit in an Adirondack chair or glide in the bench swing while the cool breezes blew through the large willow tree. And of course there was always a cold watermelon or a tall glass of sweet tea to enjoy that helped ward off the heat.
In the back part of the side yard, my grandmother made a garden every year. She had one of the greenest thumbs in Baton Rouge. Grandma could make a stick grow. She taught me how to turn the dirt in a garden and when to plant what. But there must be more that she didn’t tell me because my gardening abilities and hers don’t quite match up. She would say, “Just take a cutting, make a slit in the ground with a shovel and stick it in. It worked for her, but it hasn’t worked for me.
I often got the privilege of spending the night at Grandma’s house, but she didn’t have many toys for us to play with while we were there. She did, however, have three children’s jigsaw puzzles that she kept on a shelf in her den that I put together over and over again — trying to increase my speed from the last time I put them together. She also usually had an adult-sized puzzle laid out on her coffee table that I remember helping her put together. I still love to do jigsaw puzzles.
My mother and her sisters lived in that house until each of them got married. After my mom married my dad, they lived in a garage apartment behind my grandma’s house and later moved to a house only half-a-block away. But no one in my family lives in that neighborhood anymore. I’ve always wanted to go back and see inside the old house again and look around the place, but the neighborhood where the house is located has deteriorated in recent years to the point that it is unsafe to spend any significant time there.
Grandma’s house sits boarded up. My Pa-pa’s store has been torn down and the once-shady side yard is now a parking lot. The garage and fig tree are gone as well.
If people who passed by it today could only know what good times were had there and that it is not just an old abandoned house. It was a place of love and family, good food, and fellowship. My heart breaks for the old neighborhood and Grandma’s house. One day things may change and the little red-brick house may have a chance to be lively again.