December 5th, 2008 by ~

Gramma, can I pump the water?

My grandmother lived in a house with no indoor plumbing up to her passing away in 1972. I was only 9, but enough memories of that place were formed in me by that time that I can recall them vividly now in adulthood.

To a small boy, pumping water from a well 15 yards outside the back steps was novel and adventurous. I can still sense the taste of that cold, mineral bite from the water drawn out of the shale several feet into the earth. When I went to visit, that was one of the jobs I volunteered to do.

The outhouse, not so much.

No running water meant no indoor toilet, and the adventurous 9 year old turned timid when needing to go number 2 at grandma’s house. Amid the spiders and fear of snakes, I do recall there being toilet paper, however, and not the Sears catalog that my mom and her siblings refer to.

About 8 years ago, during a visit to see my parents, we decided to take a drive out to see grandma’s old home. Having been abandoned since her death, the house had suffered from the elements and was no longer recognizable as I remembered it as a boy. But on further inspection, I could see the stone path to where the well once was, and the location of that old privy, and a few other icons that triggered endearing old memories.

Among those were these two doors that hang in our restaurant to mark the holiday season. While the structure of the old house could not bear up under its own weight, the framework of one of these doors still stood mostly upright. I asked Mom what she thought of me taking them home. She seemed delighted to know that a piece of her heritage would be put to good use.

What makes the story more special is that one of the doors led into her kitchen. And it was her kitchen that I remember best. During a rare overnight stay, it was in her kitchen that she made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after midnight because I drank too much sweet tea earlier in the day and a nervous nine year old shouldn’t have so much caffeine. The kitchen brought comfort and solace.

These two icons remind me that food is a doorway that opens to a path that leads beyond the consolation of the stomach.

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