I doubt there is a person who met Marie Miller who wasn’t engulfed in a big, Avon and Dove soap scented hug and eventually offered a bowl of home-made soup. Lucky indeed were the stray cats and people who found their way to her door. They were immediately adopted and offered a saucer of milk or a chair at her table.
The top of the piano, the hutch, all the walls were lined with pictures. Her extended family and friends meant the world to her. She and Grandpa made every effort to spend as much time as they could with their “precious” grand-babies, or where-ever they felt their family needed them. They would just pack up the Buick, tuck in a bag of fresh popcorn balls (or Christmas cookies, depending on the season) and drive!
As always, they stayed until it was time to go home…sometimes 1 week, sometimes 2 months as was the case when my own mother died at the tender age of 45.
All of us grand-kids spent a lot of time with Grandma when we were young. Our parents always reminded us NOT to mention that bothersome hangnail for fear of getting Marie worked up about it. All of us knew that a scab on the knee would invoke all manner of cooing and coddling and could almost guarantee a Popsicle or a nickle for penny candy at Kings’ grocery just up the street. We’d take our prize out to the front porch and gently sway in the big porch swing, stretching our toes out over the hydrangea bushes, trying desperately not to smack up against the house in the process.
Yes, we spent a lot of time with Grandma Miller.
We went to prayer circles in darkened parlors in homes throughout Elida and sipped iced tea or ginger-ale in the cool shade of tea rooms on the shores of Lake Erie. We shared the sweltering week in August known as the Allen County Fair where corn dogs, cotton candy and root-beer were the specialty of the day. We always came home with cardboard fans from the tent meeting and a new yardstick to add to the ominous collection on top of the refrigerator.
On the weekends when Grandpa Ed could join us we went to parades and antique car shows and were treated by a stop for a Big Boy or Kewpee burger. We went to the cafeteria at the Lima Mall where we could have had four desserts if we wanted them and all her friends pinched our cheeks and told us how much we looked like Bob and Carol. On the way home, we’d stop at the Penquin to pick up more Teem and ring bologna or dried beef in a jar for the lunches she packed in Grandpa’s metal lunch bucket.
On Sundays we went to the First United Methodist. We’d try to sit quietly next to Grandpa in the pew, making a game of finding and marking all the “o’s” in the printed bulletin with those stubby yellow church pencils; sharing knowing grins with each other when we recognized the clear warble of her voice in the choir.
We went on picnics at the playground by Lake St. Mary’s and once even packed up fried chicken for a picnic at a roadside park less than a mile from home! She found all kinds of ways to keep us busy.
When we had run out of places to go, she would pull the snooker table out of the front closet or send us outside through the back porch crammed with high chairs and playpens, cribs and tricycles, skates, hula hoops and baby dolls. We’d play for a while with the kids next door or pick rhubarb so she could fix us a nice compote for dinner that night.
Many a time I’d quietly watch as she deftly mounded flour and salt on the Formica table-top, carefully adding eggs and milk, working the dough with her fingers until it was just right. She’d roll out and cut long strips of noodles which would cook up moist and fat, floating in home-made broth stuffed with chunks of chicken. Sometimes we’d even eat it over mountains of mashed potatoes.
We’d eat and eat and eat until we thought we would burst. I think she was happiest with us all there in her kitchen with the notches on the door-sill, remarking on “my, how much we’d grown”.
She was the Grandmother of all Grandmothers. She fussed and hugged and sang and listened and emerged triumphantly from the mysterious recesses of her dark pantry with all our favorites. For every visit, she stocked up on cans of Chef Boyardee Ravioli, Ruffles potato chips and Lipton Onion Soup Mix (the secret ingredient in her home-made dip, ceremoniously prepared and presented in the two-tiered glass bowl made expressly for serving chips and dip “party style”).
When she was my age, she made her grandchildren feel like they were the most important people in the world. She fed us with love – a love that I hope I can share with my grandchildren some day.
For now, maybe it is time to utter those four words Marie could never bring herself to say:
The Kitchen is Closed…
unless perhaps I could interest you in a tiny slice of pecan pie?