the pressure cooker prattles
on the avocado stove
while I help Grandma
set the table for ten.
All is green:
tiny flowers rimming plates.
I stack Roman Meal
and sneak a lick of Country Crock before she sees.
Grandma rolls thick dumplings
for the simmering chicken
and cuts them with a butter knife
before dropping them into golden broth.
I love their rich pillow softness
with sharp pepper and salt.
I look out on the garden:
corn reaching tall
tomatoes vining wild
cantaloupe spreading wide.
Our sweet and savory sides.
Grandma turns sheet cake
into Mississippi Mud
with chocolate icing and pecans.
I steal just one nut
and fix the ragged hole with my pinkie.
I turn round and round on the bar chair
kicking my legs
waiting for the family
Sunday dinner to begin.
My Grandpa Byron passed away one year ago this weekend. I want to share this memoir poem and my painting of the family farm in his memory.
Butchering Day—age three
Today is a big day at the farm.
All of Daddy’s family is gathered for butchering.
The ladies stand around the table side by side
so close I can’t see.
Mommy lets me poke my head in
and I watch them shake salt and brown sugar
over fat pink hams.
I hear thick white paper crinkle
when they wrap the hams tight.
Great-Grandma’s sink is full of feathers
like a pillow burst open.
I squirm when I see chicken feet
sticking out over the edge.
But the pot on the stove smells wonderful—
we’ll have chicken and dumplings for dinner.
I follow Daddy and my uncles to the smokehouse
where they hang the hams.
The sun lights up spider webs
in the holes of the wooden walls.
I breathe in the crackling fire’s smoky scent.
Outside I tiptoe up to the circle of men
and Great-Grandpa sees me hiding behind Daddy’s legs.
When he asks me to come closer
his blue eyes smile behind thick glasses.
“Watch, little Sarah,” he tells me
as he holds a chicken very still
on the old tree stump.
Suddenly I hear a thud
and the chicken chases me
without a head!
Great-Grandpa chuckles loudly
as I run inside like a scared little mouse.
Great-Grandma gives me a snack
when I tug at her apron—
graham crackers and sweet homemade juice
with grapes inside the jar.
She brings out the box of old toys
that Grandpa played with as a boy.
I play Farm with the metal tractor and wagon
and I play Kitchen with silver dishes and marbles
and little spice tins she saves just for me.
Best of all I like the old picture book
and I snuggle on the flowered couch
to find the story of the fox and crow.
Later I wake up just enough
to feel Great-Grandma tucking me in
with one of her homemade quilts.
I smile inside when she kisses my hair.