Memories of Grandma and Grandpa Jarvis

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My fondest memories of Grandma center inextricably around her kitchen. I cannot imagine her, even now, without her apron on. Grandma enjoyed cooking and baking for her loved ones and she was good at it. Now that I’ve raised children of my own and often have my grandchildren underfoot in the kitchen, I marvel at Grandma’s patience toward us. I remember standing on a chair and “helping” her to measure out a teaspoon of this or a dash of that. I always felt welcome in Grandma’s kitchen.

My earliest memories of Grandma and Grandpa are from when they lived in a small trailer on one of Grandpa’s construction job sites. I seem to remember it was quite out-of-the-way, a good long journey for a four or five year old girl to travel. I remember bumping along in our big tank of a station wagon, the sound of the tires crunching on the gravel road, and finally arriving at a padlocked gate that Dad would have to get out of the car to unlock.

The trailer was small, by no means a mobile home by today’s standards. There was a low, wooden porch in front and creaky wooden steps that let you inside. It had a small, enclosed room added on to the side for extra storage. That’s also where Grandma kept her sewing machine. Quilts, pajamas, play clothes, dresses, sixteen grandchildren and many others benefitted from her talent for sewing. On one of our visits there, my sister and I wore the brown taffeta Easter dresses Grandma had made for us. They were beautiful dresses with fitted bodices and full skirts. They made the most wonderful swooshing sound and were perfect for twirling around in. Years later, I remember seeing scraps of that same brown taffeta sewn into the design of one of Grandma’s homemade quilts.

One time, I remember staying overnight there with Grandma and Grandpa. I was by myself, my little sister being too young to stay away from home. The weather was hot. I remember the sound of the swamp cooler in the background working to cool us off. To stave off the heat, Grandma made me a big glass of iced tea with lots of sugar. I can see myself sitting at her little kitchen table, stirring and stirring to watch the sugar swirl around in the bottom of the glass. It’s odd, but I vividly recall the smell inside of their trailer. Because it was parked in the middle of a construction area, the trailer smelled of dust, which I’m sure permeated every crack and crevice available. At night, when I lay in bed, even the blankets and pillows smelled of dust.

Another time, I went to spend the night and go fishing with Grandpa the following morning. My recollection of the fishing excursion has faded, but I do remember going out the night before to gather crickets for bait. Grandpa carried a fly swatter and I carried a jar. There was a small shed next to the trailer with a light to illumine the way. Grandpa would slap a cricket with the swatter, and my job was to hold the jar while he scooped the stunned creature inside. I felt extremely important and trustworthy. After all, my small hand held the key to the next day’s successful fishing expedition.

I remember Grandpa’s big, rough hand around my own, leading me securely through the night. I was safe. If I were an artist trying to recapture this scene, I think I should paint it on an immense black canvas, as if from the vantage point of the summer’s nighttime sky. Radiating up through the darkness would shine a very bright light, the silhouette of an old man, a little girl, and the very warm glow of a memory.

The Tradition

Well, Thanksgiving 2017 is in the books.

For over fifty years, my family has traveled up to the Paso Robles area of California to celebrate Thanksgiving. As a girl, we stayed with my grandparents for the holiday. Later, my parents built a house next door to them and the tradition continued even after my grandparents passed away. As my siblings and I got older and had families of our own, our group grew bigger. And bigger. And bigger! Eventually, some of our kids married and started their families.

About eight years ago we realized that something had to give. My parents’ home was just too small to hold all of us. So, we ended up renting a huge house surrounded by rolling hills and ancient oaks not too far from Paso with plenty of room for everyone.

Not everyone can come every year. On lean years, our crowd numbers about twenty-five for Thanksgiving dinner. When everyone comes to celebrate, we cook for close to forty people!

This is a big production and we pretty much have it down to a science. We all have our food assignments. We spend Wednesday through Saturday together. We cook and eat tostadas for dinner on Wednesday night. Thursday breakfast is casual, usually cinnamon rolls, bagels, cereal, and everyone fends for themselves. And then it’s all day Thursday preparing and then enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Here’s a sample menu:

Thanksgiving Day Appetizers (Pre-Feast Stomach Stretcher)
Spinach Dip
5 Layer Dip
Artichoke Dip
Jalapeño Cheese Poppers
Chips and Salsa

Thanksgiving Day Feast
2 Turkeys (one roasted, one deep-fried)
Two types of dressing (one traditional, one gourmet)
2 hams
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Broccoli and Cheese Casserole
Sweet Potato Casserole
Fried Okra
Macaroni and Cheese
Green Bean Casserole
Creamed Corn
Deviled Eggs
Cranberry Sauce
Yeast Rolls
Homemade Chocolate Pie, Banana Cream Pie, Coconut Cream Pie, and Pumpkin Cheesecake

But wait, there’s more!

Friday morning after Thanksgiving Day, we prepare a huge breakfast. Bacon, ham, eggs, biscuits and gravy (including white and chocolate gravy… yes, you read that right, chocolate gravy), and fried potatoes. Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch and dinner on Friday. Saturday breakfast this year we enjoyed chorizo and eggs. On Saturday after breakfast, we say our goodbyes and everyone heads home.

That is a lot of food and a lot of people. A lot of cooking and cleaning up. Kids everywhere. It gets noisy. It gets messy. Some turn in early, some stay up late. A few of us are up at dawn to watch the sunrise and drink our first cup of coffee. Others sleep in. We talk and reminisce. Sometimes, we cry. We laugh, play games, take walks, and have time to do our own thing. Everyone helps and everyone contributes. I’m convinced that our commitment to Thanksgiving together is the main reason our family has remained close over the years. And for that, we can be extremely thankful.

In March of 2013, my mom passed away. Although her absence is profoundly felt by all of us, we honor her at Thanksgiving by making the pilgrimage to Paso Robles each November.

I hope The Tradition never ends.

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. -Psalm 107:8-9 

Thank You, Aunt Anita


Several months ago, my dad gave me a journal kept by my Aunt Anita. Aunt Anita wrote a little bit each day, what she did, where she went, what she had for dinner, things like that.

Aunt Anita lived in Oklahoma. She was married to my Uncle Ned who died in 1995. She passed away in 2011. Aunt Anita and Uncle Ned never had children of their own, but they would’ve made great parents. As young girls, my sister and I spent an entire month with them one summer. With Aunt Anita’s patient instruction, I learned to sew, mastered the delicate art of milking a cow, and experienced the excitement of making our own butter. Aunt Anita spoiled us with pancakes for breakfast and by taking us out to eat 25 cent hamburgers at a local food stand.

Aunt Anita loved animals. Her dog, Patty, was like a member of the family. Aunt Anita paper-trained her pet bunny and gave it free reign of the house. That summer we played with turtles, lit real firecrackers on the Fourth of July (quite an experience for California girls accustomed to the “safe and sane” fireworks back home), and played house in her fully stocked and comfortably furnished storm cellar. Aunt Anita was a talented artist. I have one of her sketches framed and hung on my wall. It’s the one you see pictured at the top of this post. (I’ve heard it said that Aunt Anita sketched this picture with my Uncle Richard and Aunt Shirley in mind.)

The journal I have of Aunt Anita’s is from the year 1999. From it I learned that she still loved to draw and paint, made use of the public library, and did not like Bill Clinton at all. She wrote about her friends, Audie and Bonnie, and how she worried about Audie when he became ill. She recorded a prayer asking her Father in Heaven to “let Audie have a few more healthy, happy times on this earth.” She often gave her friends rides when they needed them or picked up items for them at the store.

I read about her two dogs, Jet and Tammy. Jet lived out at “The Ranch,” a piece of property outside town Aunt Anita owned. She traveled to The Ranch every day to check on Jet and feed him. She worried about her dog, Tammy, getting old. She wrote, “Got up about 1:00 a.m. and Tammy was not feeling well. Made some coffee and ate a roll. Wrapped Tammy up in a bed roll and laid her in bed next to me.”

Aunt Anita wrote about the heartbreak and anger she felt when she discovered vandals had trashed her house out at The Ranch. She wrote about killing ticks, repairing her lawnmower, and that she carried a gun in her pickup truck. She noted when she received mail at the Post Office, pulled weeds in the garden, and the date she paid her bills. I read about her fears, her disappointments, and how much she missed my uncle Ned. She wrote of how much my parents’ phone calls meant to her and how excited she was when they would drive out from California for a visit.

Some would look at Aunt Anita and conclude that her life and times weren’t all that important. I beg to differ. First of all, as an image bearer of God, her life had profound intrinsic worth. But on a personal level, Aunt Anita was important to her husband, her family, and her friends. She loved and was loved.

Without Aunt Anita, how else would I have known the warmth of hands helping guide fabric through a sewing machine and the pride of wearing my homemade dress to the ice-cream social at the Methodist Church? Where else would I have experienced the heavy humidity of a Oklahoma summer or the incomparable taste of fresh-churned butter melting over homemade pancakes? Who else would have comforted me when I cried myself to sleep for homesickness?

One short summer in a lifetime of summers, Aunt Anita poured her heart into mine. My history would be all the poorer without her.

Aunt Anita wrote about life as she saw it and thereby played a part in inspiring me to start this blog.

Thank you, Aunt Anita.