Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Small details big part of full family history

It’s likely that many of us have a sense of guilt for not knowing more about the lives of people in our past. I know that Dad’s father was born two days after his parents landed in New York on their way to a farming community in St. Charles County. Dad was 4 years old when his mother died at the time of his brother’s birth. Four half-sisters took care of the boys

through the eighth grade; they worked on the farm after that. I have names and dates of births, marriages and deaths of a few of his other relatives, but we know little about their lives.

On Mother’s side we have a bit more information but little about the everyday lives of early ancestors. The facts are available somewhere, and I feel guilty for not taking time to search out the details. Advanced age is a time to get acquainted with the people who "made" us, and it’s the time for us to pass along the life stories we recall about our parents, their parents and our own families. Someone would like to know how to regulate the heat on a wood cooking stove or how to trim the wicks on a coal oil lamp. Family statistics are important for genealogists, for legal records and other purposes, but when we want to know about our predecessors’ everyday lives it’s the little things that count. Young people ask, "How were you punished when you were bad?" A school boy asked, "What did your school have for hot

lunches?" Their questions call up memories, both happy and sad.

When a young woman recently asked, "What plants would I pick for a mess of wild greens?" I recalled a wonderful Sunday afternoon in 1937. Chub went to the dairy to help Dad while Mom and I went to pick wild greens. As we walked around she said, "Dandelion, mustard and pepper grass are bitter because they’re already blooming." We found lamb’s quarter, mouse ear, carpenter’s square, dock and wild lettuce in the grass between the garden and the fence. We cut each plant at ground level or below, shook off the root dirt and tossed the cleaner part into Mom’s big 4-gallon aluminum kettle. "It takes a lot of greens to make a nice mess for four people," she said. Two hired men ate with them.

I knew how she’d prepare them: Cooking makes fresh plants wilt. She’d stir in some cooked, home-cured bacon after the greens were cooked tender and slice hard-boiled eggs over the greens in the serving dish. The men would add a few drops of vinegar from the cruet that always sat on the dining table.

Mom was a town girl who fell in love with a farmer who worshipped her. Her parents thought she’d be lonely in the country, but she loved being outside gardening, raising chickens or going along when Dad went to the woods or to help another farmer with his work. She was not yet 50 years old and had learned from friends which wild plants were edible; they passed that information from generation to generation.

We walked along fence rows outside the chicken yard and down by the pond and filled the kettle with greens and memories, totally unaware that this would be our last outing together.

Tuesday morning Dad called to say, "Nancy’s on the way to Boone County Hospital." I was there before the ambulance arrived. Two surgeons agreed: "peritonitis" — not treatable in 1937. She died on Friday.

Wild greens bring sad memories and happy ones.

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