Surprising Back Story
I wrote this for the writer’s group I attend. the topic was Surprising Backstory. While this story is based on the truth I took liberties and embellished it just a little. I hope you enjoy
Surprising Back Story
Her name was Grandma. Not that that was her actual name. The introduction went “Grandma this is Teresa, Teresa, Grandma”. I was young and it never occurred to me to ask her what her name was. At 14, I took things as they were. Grandma was her name.
Grandma turning 98 was the occasion of the potluck birthday party. All was there, the cousins, the aunts the uncles, the kids, my boyfriend, myself. The tables were loaded with food of all kinds and bright happy packages and bags. Happy birthday balloons had been fastened to chairs and picnic tables. Streamers with a foil Happy birthday sign was strategically hung on the entryway between the kitchen and the living room. Someone had removed the cows from the lower meadow so the scenery was superb. Everyone was having a grand time, there were children running about, grownups talking about the beef market, making trades, discussing politics, latest fashions. It was a party for everyone except the birthday girl.
Grandma was sat down in a comfortable, floral, easy chair in the living room. She had a wonderful view of the lower meadow ringed with pines, cedars, the occasional oak, and crowned with a pond that sparkled with diamonds in the afternoon sun. After all had come in and greeted Grandma with kisses, hugs, happy birthdays, and awkward “How are you feelings” they quickly wandered off to join the others. She was alone. I could not just let her be alone so I went over to her to sit and talk. I did not expect much of a conversation as I pulled an ottoman close and sat down. She was frail, almost 100 years old, what could this old lady have to say that would make sense. Since she had been guided to the chair, she had sat with her hands in her lap looking with dull eyes at the wall. She might not even be all with there, but I went to sit with her anyway. I could not tolerate someone being alone on a festive occasion, especially if that someone was the honoree.
To my surprise, the first thing she said, this old frail lady with the wispy white hair, the thin legs ending in diabetic socks and black orthopedic shoes, the skin so pale one could almost see the blood pumping through the blue veins, the first things she said was.
“Can you get me some steak and a bottle of whiskey. Don’t forget a shot glass”
I brought back a paper plate laden with steak, chicken, birthday cake that I’m sure I was not supposed to cut yet and, under strict orders, no vegetables or anything “mushy”. I sat back down on the ottoman and Grandma poured shots for the both of us. She told me that since she was turning 98, she deserved a shot and to hell with the doctors. She devoured her food, rolled her eyes with pleasure when she chewed the first bite of steak. When she was done, Grandma let the paper plate fall to the floor on the side of the chair and she started to talk.
“I was five years old when I came to this meadow.” She said. “ It was 1883 and my father had received some property in California. So we started out, my family and me, from New York in two wagons. Both stuffed to the top with our things and supplies. Mother said we were going to live in California where they had nothing so we had to bring everything. She was convinced California was a land of heathens and abject misery. She really didn’t want to go and leave her fine house and friends, but in those days a woman went wherever her husband went. The train wasn’t truly an option although it would get us closer faster, the lines didn’t quite go all the way to California and were not reliable. It was also expensive to bring all our stuff with us on a train, so wagons it was.”
Grandma took another shot and continued.
“I think mother cried all the way here. I was disappointed that the only heathens I saw look liked normal people who wore pants and shirts. None of them had human scalps or war paint. Some did have weapons, but they were just regular rifles. We were not attacked, as my mother had feared and as I had hoped, kinda, not really I had heard the stories of girls being slaves. I was five, what did I know?”
Another shot and the story continued.
“We arrived in California without incident. Going over Kit Carson’s trail was so beautiful that even my mother fell in love. we never made it all the way to Sacramento. Our property was here, where the foothills kissed the Sierra’s. There was a small cabin and we stayed in that. I was wildly afraid of the bears and the cats that screamed once in a while. I was sure the cabin walls would not keep out either one nor would the cold be kept at bay. My father had quite a bit of money. He made the trip to Sacramento to buy a stove and hire men to help build a proper house and fencing. I was frightened the whole time he was gone. Father had also picked up cattle and hired men to help keep them safe from the very cats I was worried about.”
She took another shot. I was worried she was getting maybe a little tipsy ( I was, as I had matched her shot for shot). She laughed and took another
“Our ranch thrived and soon my father had bought the properties close to us. The little town down the hill had a school and I was sent almost every day by horseback. I had my own pony named Jack and he would come when I called. When I got to school I would just let him loose to graze instead of tying him up like I was supposed to. I always got in trouble for that. I got in trouble for a lot of things and the teacher was more likely to hit my hands than any others. But I still liked school. I just had trouble listening.”
“ Once a month the tinker man would come by the ranch. He would have wonderful things. Glass bottles from France, ribbons from back east, silk fabric from the Orient, and so many wondrous things. I loved to see all the things and tried to talk my mother into buying me unnecessary items. my mother always bought sensible things like jars, needles for sewing, and the seeds for such things as pears apples. The ones down by Pat’s house are the offsprings of those seeds. The first pear we got was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten.”
“My father always got my mom the best of everything and people would come from miles to attend parties at the house. You know the house? It still stands in the upper meadow.”
I wasn’t going to tell her, but that place was half fallen down and there was talk of taking it all down as transients, hobos had used the place more than once. The hands were busy with the cattle and everything a large cattle ranch requires so they could not be up there as often as they should for security sake.
“You know Inspiration Point? “I nodded my head. “I named that. I loved to sit up there and paint. “
Inspiration Point was a large flat boulder that hung out from the mountainside. The views were spectacular and the sunsets from there were even more so. It was a difficult path to get to it and the idea that grandma lugged up paints, canvas, and easel was impressive.
Grandma went on to tell me how they had the first automobile in the area, which was fun until it broke. They had the first television as well but rarely used it until they got electricity to the house which by that time the TV was obsolete and they had to get another one. Electricity to the house had changed everything and her father got mother a modern kitchen with a refrigerator and stove. It was nice, but she missed the stew that used to sit on the woodstove. When she was much older they got propane to the area and replaced most of the electric stuff as it was unreliable.
She told me how her sister died of the measles and her brother of polio. How she loved to go on cattle roundups, chop wood, and was quite the tomboy even after she got married. Her husband was abusive. He stopped when she finally knocked the hell out of him with the lid from a cast iron pot. She laughed as she told how she spent the night in the Jackson jail. She was a volunteer fire fighter and did a stint as a school teach
She would have told me much more, but we were interrupted by a crowd of smiling faces holding the cake and singing happy birthday. I don’t remember who had the cake, but they apologized, it seems someone had taken a piece of cake already. Grandma looked at me, winked, and transformed back into a feeble, almost 100 years old woman as the family fussed over her. That was the last I ever saw of her, but I have never forgotten her and her story.