A Family Affair

We spent this past weekend with my grandparents from my mother’s side. They are sweet, incredibly special people whose lives are so funny, so drastically different from those of their parents, that I am often in awe of the life they have created for themselves.

My grandparents were both born in West Virginia. My grandfather is the son of a coal miner, was born in a coal camp, and worked in the mines for the first part of his working life. His father died after being caught in a collapsed mine. My heart breaks when I watch the news of any kind of coal mining accident, because my family has been there, suffered that. My grandfather was a coal miner, a construction foreman, a postal worker, and has always been a farmer. His has always been physical labor. After his last MRI, his doctor told him that the bones in his neck “were just like gravel.” And still, as his 70s are fast approaching, he works on his 18-acre cattle farm, baling hay and riding the tractor. He likes it that way. He was not an easy man when he was young … often gruff (to say the least) with my mother and her siblings, his legacy with them is vastly different than my memories. He loves to poke fun, and I have spent a good deal of my life begging God for a shorter nose so that he would stop making fun of it.

My grandmother is vivacious. Short, sassy, and controlling, she loves us more than words can say … but as is so often the case, her love can be suffocating at times. I do love her, though and have learned so much. She too grew up in West Virginia, but not in the mines. She was a rural letter carrier for most of her adult life, whipping the male postal workers into shape about as quickly as any woman could. She was State Secretary of the Rural Letter Carriers Association, which she is most proud of … and she should be. She’s a pretty powerful woman, in her own way.

They were married at 16 … eloped, high school sweethearts. Too afraid to tell their respective families that they had tied the knot, they were married secretly for several months before anyone found out. When they did, my grandmother’s father took his wife away for the weekend, giving my grandparents the house so they could have a “proper honeymoon” for a few days. She was pregnant not long after.

My grandmother today is a mixture of so many things: she’s innovative (she texts, which even my parents don’t do, she loves the Internet, mostly for the politically-bent email forwards she receives), but she’s old-fashioned. She cans like no woman I’ve ever met. We had mason jars at our wedding … well over a hundred, filled with candles and flowers lining every table at our reception. My grandmother took all but 6 and has used them all. (Clean, of course.) She adores everything Marie Callendar has ever created, and tells any-and-everyone she meets just how delicious and easy those frozen dinners are. And yet, she gardens and cans and sings the praises of her farm-fresh food. But Price and I get labeled “yuppies,” for our organic tastes. It’s a mixed up thing. I’m not sure when “organic” became synonymous with “spoiled cityfolk” but it certainly has in my farming grandparents’ minds.

And so it is a sweet, sweet thing to visit them. To actually be on a farm, where the stars at night are so stunning it is impossible to describe. There are no lights in the valley at night, and their farm sits on the top of a hill so we can survey the surroundings for miles. The cows moo … especially the weening calves, who MOOOOOOed for hours, nonstop, the whole time we were there. The air is clear and fresh. The garden is dead for the winter, but you can see where it bloomed all summer and the bounty lines their cellar walls.

Price made an interesting point as we talked about my grandparents’ seemingly ironic love of processed food when they live on a farm that produces so much of their own sustenance. He said, “maybe they appreciate it because they know the labor of farming … like food that is fast and easy is a good thing after decades of toiling the land.”

I’m so spoiled, I think. I sit here in my little condo in the city, stuck up about the organic-ness of my produce and the grass-fed meats that I just have to have. And it’s funny, because I think at the root of it, my grandparents appreciate my philosophy on food … but they understand what it really takes to create it, and deliver it to me in a box or grocery story bag each week. I don’t think I’ll ever know what it’s like to toil the land, but sometimes it’s refreshing to step back and think about, and be grateful for, those that do.

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2 thoughts on “A Family Affair

  1. what a great post! (and you look so gorgeous in that picture, by the way!)

    i recently read an article that was talking about how lazy we americans have become with our appliances and drive-throughs and whatnot. we often are criticized for those conveniences, but many of our grandparents and great-grandparents would marvel at these time-saving inventions. must be a way to take the good and leave the bad. as well as appreciate the hard work that goes into valuable, old-school treasures… like organically grown produce.

  2. ok, i just read this in saveur (the october issue, i think) and it made me think of this blog post…

    “When (Uncle Ray) enlisted me in the dressing of a deer or the beheading and plucking of a turkey, he would make the point that our food isn’t just something we buy, that if we don’t labor directly to produce it, we need to remember that others do labor to provide it for us and that often their labor is of an unpleasant kind that we prefer not to do ourselves. This is true not just of the food we eat but of everything we need in life, and it’s a truth about which we become ever more ignorant as our technological progress steadily distances us from the sources of life’s necessities.”

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