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February 2010

My mother and I lived with my grandparents in Oklahoma until she remarried. Before I started first grade, I stayed with my grandmother while Mother worked, and since Granny spent much of her time in the kitchen, I was often there, too.

People often ask me how I can recall things from so long ago; I don't know why, but I can - how things looked, sounded, smelled, felt ....

This shadowbox is a representation of my grandmother's kitchen as it might have been in April of 1944, when I was five years old.

It now hangs above the counter in my own kitchen.

Unfortunately, I can't get a clear picture of the calendar on the end wall, but here is how it looked when I was working on it.

Underneath the picture of the saluting nurse, this calendar for 1944 reads, "Our government needs 63,000 young women to become war nurses this year." Although I didn't know it at the time, Mother had just told my future stepfather that she would marry him, and soon my life, and my grandmother's, would change forever.

In addition to her Hoosier-type cupboard with its glass doors, metal work surface and flour bin, Granny had another well-worn cupboard much like this one. Almost everything in that cupboard was used every single day...

...whereas things she didn't use as often, like the basket and the meat grinder in the green bowl, were kept on top. She used the large crock bowl for her rising bread dough, but didn't bake yeast breads all that often.

I can remember waking to the wonderful smell of baking bread, and would stand sleepily in the early morning doorway to find that my grandmother had been in the kitchen since before daylight to get her loaves baked before the heat of the day.

The Oklahoma countrywoman's daily baking in those days was biscuits and cornbread, which were always tasty, but when Granny baked "lighten'n bread" it was an awesome treat.

She used to cut the heel for me, slather it with butter and sprinkle it with sugar. Oh, that bread tasted as good as it smelled!

Especially with a glass of milk mixed with cream that came from her milk pitcher.

This wooden breadbox is where those loaves will go when they cool. The eggs came from Granny's hens. Somewhere I've written about the gosh-awful chicken coop that Grampa made for her hens, but I can't remember where!

Grampa brought in flour and sugar by the sack. Flour sack dish towels are the best in the world, in my opinion. I don't buy flour that way, but I still use flour sack dish towels and feel very fortunate to find new ones to purchase when the old ones wear out. (I was interested to read that Martha Stewart agrees with me, and purchased some of hers at K-Mart a few years ago.)

Granny made a careful clothing survey on washday and removed the oldest, most useless clothing. Then whoever owned it had to sit for a few minutes cutting it into quilt pieces, using her cardboard patterns. Anything that was too small for a quilt piece was torn (or in the case of heavy woolens, cut) into strips, then knotted together and wrapped in a ball. There were always big balls of rags in the basket by her chair. From those rag balls she made rugs. (Daring to touch her scissors without permission would result in dire consequences, even for Grampa. He was the only person who didn't cut quilt pieces. He said, "I'll rip, but I ain't gonna cut with them precious scissors of yourn that you have such a fit about.")

Except for the ruffles on her kitchen curtains and chair cushions, Granny was pretty no-frills. Her rugs were serviceable, but likely to be any combination of fabrics and colors. One was always just inside each doorway. The woolen strips were used for the heavier mats which lay on the front and back porches. When a rag rug became too frayed or faded to suit her, it became the "foot rag," which was accessible under the Hoosier cabinet. When there was a spill, Granny used her foot to swish the rag around to mop it up. When soiled, it went into the weekly wash. (Sometimes now I use a foot rag, though it's not made from rag strips.)

Because Granny made them from smaller sugar and salt sacks, the ruffle on one chair might be a check or print, the cushion something else - and every chair might be different, providing bright spots of color in that rustic kitchen.

In 1944 people were just emerging from the privations of The Great Depression, and wartime brought many shortages. Dishtowels and curtains were made from bleached flour sacks and larger feed sacks were used for clothes. There were some who tied on any old thing for an apron, but my grandmother made her aprons with pieced ruffles as wildly colorful as her curtains and chair seats, and starched and ironed them to a glistening finish.

Grampa used to make sauerkraut in a large crock. I don't recall exactly how, but I remember seeing him layer in cabbage and salt, put an upside down saucer to cover it and then lay a cloth-wrapped brick on top to weight it down to ferment.

In a rare moment of whimsy, he also once made Granny a cutting board in the shape of a pig. I never knew exactly why. My mother took that cutting board with her when she remarried and had it for years. I am not sure what eventually happened to it. That's one of those questions that I wish now I had asked her before she passed away.

That's probably either a coconut or a chocolate cake under the cover, the two kinds I remember Granny making. My grandmother had a lot of crockery pieces, as I recall.

That's a meat cleaver in the drawer, along with a new-looking folded apron.

I think she must've made this pot holder from a scrap of the same material. Why, it hardly looks as if she's used it yet!

When it was too cold or wet or stormy to be outside, checkers and dominoes were bad weather pastimes.

This little shelf unit served for storage, but also could be used as a stool when needed.The box on the top shelf held the checker pieces. The two flat irons were used on ironing day until Granny got a new gas iron. I remember my mother worrying that the thing was going to explode, although fortunately it didn't happen.

That little jar held raisins!

This little cupboard was very old. Each drawer had a special use.

I recall the bottom two were Grampa's but all I remember seeing him put in there was new plugs of Brown's Mule Chewing Tobacco.

Granny kept odds and ends in the other drawers, including, among other things, a pencil, candle stubs (I think she melted them to pour atop her homemade jellies), a tin of Cloverine salve, and a ball of string, which she kept adding to when they made a rare purchase of meat or cheese at Mr. Land's store. I remember she kept the paper for reuse, too, in those days before cling wrap and cellophane wrapped meats.

Granny had a fly swatter, but homemade flypaper also dangled from the ceiling on strings over the wood supply (and in the other corners of the room) and it was my job to make it by smearing sorghum syrup on narrow strips of that butcher paper.

Sorghum is a cereal grass with broad leaves somewhat like corn plants, used in making sugar and syrup. My grandfather used to make sorghum syrup when my mother was a child. When I was a child you could buy it in the store in a can, or a bucket with a lid and a handle. When the syrup (referred to just as "sorghum") was gone, the buckets were often used as lunch pails. I never particularly liked it; it was too dark, too heavy, too-something for my taste. My grampa, however, ate it on biscuits and pancakes all his life. I suppose it's still around in some grocery stores.

Anyway, when the homemade fly strips were curly, dried out and peppered with flies, Granny used her precious scissors to cut strips from her saved paper and got out the sorghum can and I made more fly paper to put back up. Then I removed the items on and in that little stool, and used it to climb up and take the strips down. Although I kind of enjoyed smearing on that sticky stuff I sure hated having to take the nasty things down to throw away.

Since I was just a child I don't know how I could reach very high, even on that stool, but I do remember fastening the sticky strips on the strings somehow. Maybe I tied them onto longer strings that were permanently attached....

Granny kept her ironware hanging on the wall where it was accessible. Her favorite large iron skillet stayed in the oven when it wasn't in use.

She prepared large breakfasts and noon meals (called dinner); however, the evening meal (supper) was left-overs.

Normally, the oil and vinegar cruets, salt and pepper shakers and sugar bowl remained in the center of the kitchen table. When Granny used the table for her baking or other extensive preparations, however, she moved them to the cupboard shelf.

The stack of glass plates under the bowl came from boxes of Mother's Oats. Other pieces, like cups and saucers, were often given away at movie theaters, my mother said, although I don't remember seeing this happen personally. Frankly, I don't remember seeing many movies when I was very small because people only went to town on Saturdays, and that was a time for shopping.

I remember eating peanut butter, oatmeal and ginger cookies from that yellow cookie jar. Funny, though, my mother never recalled that Granny made ginger cookies, although I clearly remember that she did. My grandmother seemed always to be busy, but I remember her saying, "I'll get us a glass of cold buttermilk and we'll take a little break." I have a special memory of sitting or standing next to her as she sat in her rocking chair and we drank cold buttermilk and ate ginger cookies. I have loved gingersnaps all my life because of their distinctive taste that resembled those cookies. Maybe she made them only for the two of us!

I store my glasses upside down, just as my mother and grandmother did. This pitcher was used primarily for iced tea, although in the summertime we also had lemonade occasionally. Granny used to let me ream out the juice from the cut lemon halves. I still have a glass reamer that belonged to my mother; it looks just like the one Granny owned.

I don't believe I have ever tasted any lemonade as good as hers, or "sweet tea" like Granny brewed and then carefully poured over the ice that she chipped from the block in her icebox.

Not one scrap of food was ever wasted. Even if there were only a few handfuls left on the vines and plants, Granny "put them up." In addition to the standard vegetables and fruits, even meats, that she canned, "chow chow," peach preserves, apricot jam, and pepper jelly provided great taste and bright color in the dreary winter months. I think that may be beets in the corner.

I used to take my little dolly into the woods (actually I was probably only a few yards from the house, but it felt like I was far, far away) and make her hats and clothes out of flowers and leaves. Looks like that's what I've been doing here; must've brought that daisy for Granny.

Granny's slatted sunbonnet (rather crumpled hanging on the chair here) was made with a deep straight brim that had long stitched channels into which strips of cardboard were inserted. A ruffle hung down in the back to cover the neck. She almost never went out the door without her bonnet, or her hat when she went to town, and made every female in her family do so, too, until they left home. She did relent with my mother when we lived with them, as long as Mother wore a sun hat with a big brim.

I felt like I saw the outside world in such a limited fashion when I was a child, because it was like looking out through a tunnel to wear one of those bonnets. (Pesky boys like my cousin Jim could sneak up on you, too!)

And besides that, they were hot! I used to fuss, "Granny, I'm smotherin'," but she just said, "Well, you'll die with a smooth skin."

What I didn't think about then, of course, was that I sunburned so easily and she was protecting me even more than she may have realized. I have had to wear hats and avoid too much sun all my adult life, and probably would have had more longterm effects had she not protected me so well during the first six years of my life.

After ten children and a lifetime of hard work, except for the ravages of her final illness my grandmother's skin was soft, smooth and relatively unlined when she died.

My mother and stepfather were married in May of 1944 and we left Oklahoma for the Texas oil fields. I was never to live with my Granny again. Mother used to lament, "It broke Mama's heart when I took you away."

In May of 1945, my brother Mike was born, three days before my grandmother passed away at the age of 59.

My grandmother never left her kitchen until everything was scrubbed clean, the floor was swept, and the dishrag rinsed and bleached to whiteness and hung to dry. She (and later my mother) always said, "You can judge a housekeeper by her dishrag," and to this day I think of her when I clean up my kitchen, knowing that, even with all my modern conveniences, I probably wouldn't meet her standards.

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NOTES:

I have collected and made items to use in duplicating my grandmother's kitchen for a long time, but always intended to put it in a full-size breadbox. However, I never got it done because everything had to be just-so or something always intervened.

Recently, however, I decided not to second guess myself all the time (nothing is ever going to be perfect) and began to use my collection of small shadowboxes to do more scaled-down versions of my original ideas.

The weathered blue hutch used here was a gift from my friend Michelle, who was downsizing her own mini collection, and it reminded me of a little wooden breadbox with geese on it that my friend Sandi made for me back in the 80s. The hutch and the mini breadbox provided the impetus to finally do this project. I decided to remove the items that were already in Michelle's hutch, fill it with the items I had been saving, and be done with my plans for anything more complex.

I used an 8x8 Furio shadowbox frame to hold my hutch (I think this came from Michaels), and although the box is only 2 1/2 inches deep, it turned out to be large enough for a chair and small stool as well.

The interior is an open-corner box that just slides out. Here I have taped the corners together.

Although I hated to cover that nice black velvet interior, I knew it would not be appropriate for this project. Granny's country kitchen had a wood floor scrubbed almost white with lye soap, and weathered unpainted wood walls.

This weathered board scrapbook paper, however, worked nicely.

I used three sheets (with some left over) to cover top, sides and floor, matching the boards at the floor line, as well.

On the left are the original purchased flour sacks which I have shaped more realistically by using glue and pressure. Deciding they looked too new, I used chalks to add a bit of normal grunging.

The basket is made from a strip from an unraveled old pink straw sun hat glued to a piece of cardboard and then given a coat of stain.

I also used chalks to make the metal and plastic pans look more realistic.

I laid the box on its side to glue the ironware in place.


I forgot to take a photo of the original chair, but it had a very light finish and I also used chalks to grunge it up a bit.

I began the process of making the chair cushion by just finger pleating the ruffle around the chair, and used thread to tuft the cushions at the corners of the patchwork squares. Sure looks awful, doesn't it? lol

 

This Debbie Mumm fabric reminded me of the way Granny mixed materials. I went to a lot of trouble to make the chair ties and they don't even show with the chair in place in the box!

This "milk pitcher" is actually the creamer for a wonderful small tea set (although not scale) that was painted for me by a lovely woman called Babe, whose daughter Pat has been my best friend for over 30 years. Several beautiful items painted especially for me by Babe, most of which were gifts from Pat, occupy places of honor in my real house. I have been collecting miniatures resembling those pieces for many years.

These "Babe-like" miniatures can be seen throughout my website, including these two in one of my display lamps.

It was a privilege for me to make something that reflects the love and high regard I have and had for all the special women in my life - my grandmother, my mother, my friend Pat and her mother Babe, and the affection I have for my miniaturist friends Michelle and Sandi.

Now as I putter around my own kitchen every day I can see Granny's kitchen and think of all of them.

NOTE 2: January, 2013

I used Granny's Cupboard as the starting point for an article which I wrote for the NAME Miniature Gazette, Jan-Feb Issue, 2013. After the magazine appeared, I received the following email from Larry Herman, from whom I had just ordered a quarter scale adobe.

Hi Wanna, We just opened up our Miniature Gazette and when we got to the article with your picture of Granny's cupboard, we recognized the distressed blue hutch as one that we have been selling for many years.  I assume your friend Michelle bought it from us at a show either in Southern California or Dallas. We enjoyed reading the article on your website. Hope you enjoyed the adobe. 
Larry & Betty Herman

So, I wrote him back:

Dear Larry,
Well, I'll be darned!  I had no idea where that hutch had come from originally and just assumed Michelle had distressed it herself!  Did you sell it with the red checked towel and pot holder attached?
I shall make note of this on my website, and thanks for letting me know.
I haven't received the adobe yet; will let you know when it arrives.

And he responded:

Wanna,
We sold it plain, Michelle must have added the towel and pot holder. 
Small world. 
Larry

Then I wrote Michelle, who responded:

Hello Wanna 
I had to refresh my memory and look at the photos of Granny’s Cupboard.  Patsy McNally [known professionally as PatsyMac] gave me that hutch and she must have made the red checked towel and potholder.  I am sure she bought it originally and probably got it when she did one of her shows.  I am glad it found such a good home in your Granny's Cupboard. ....
Michelle

So, now we know! Granny's Cupboard originated with Larry and Betty Herman, was purchased by Pat McNally at a show, then went to Michelle, and then eventually came home to me!

It IS a small world.

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