Archive for September, 2009

Just like Grandma's for $1250 in Picayune, MS

Just like Grandma's for $1250 in Picayune, MS

You, too, can have your very own “Grandma’s Bookcase.” There is one for sale on eBay. The seller calls it a “secretary desk.” Since our bookcase/desk had resided in Grandma Maude’s house for many years, and because its primary function was to hold books, the family appellation for this piece of furniture was, simply, “Grandma’s Bookcase.” Most of the books stored on its shelves are currently available through Internet downloads or Amazon.com as republishings. Even orginal copies of many of the books are available for reasonable prices through Internet booksellers. Anyone can replicate Grandma’s Bookcase and it’s books with a little help from the Internet.

I wish that I could tell that to some girls in my second grade class that gathered during recess to tell fairy tales to each other. Over and over we retold the familiar “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” “The Three Little Pigs,” and “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.”

One day I regaled the group with a new story: “The Necklace of Truth.” My audience listened attentively as I told about a girl our age who had developed a habit of telling lies. Her parents took her to a wise man, and he confidently administered the cure in the form of a beautiful necklace. The girl proudly wore the necklace everywhere. She quickly learned that whenever she stretched the truth, the necklace lengthened to the floor; when she told an outright lie, the necklace choked her. The girl learned to always tell the truth, and she returned the necklace to the wise man so that another girl could wear it.

The response to my story offering startled me. “You made that story up,” one girl insisted. Another said, “You are not telling the truth, just like the girl in the story.” I protested that the story could be found in their Grandma’s Bookcase. “You must ask your mother’s permission to read the books, and be very careful with them,” I explained. The girls insisted that no such books existed, and the story group dissolved that day.

Forty-five years later, I still want to share the library stored in Grandma’s Bookcase. I have cataloged a dozen or so of the books into LibraryThing, beginning with the 1880s readers that I loved in elementary school, and still love to read today. Go to the bottom of the sidebar on the right, and click on “Grandma’s Bookcase” to see what has been entered so far.


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Allie Griswold

Allie Griswold

Allie Griswold

I love Allie Griswold.  Allie was my mother’s maternal grandmother; her given name was Rena Alberta Look, but family and friends called her Allie.  Although I never met her, I love her because my mother loves her.

I took an immediate liking to Grandma Griswold because we share a love of reading. Although her formal education ended with third grade, she continued to learn by studying her grandchildren’s school books.  Mom and Grandma studied together in the evenings, swapping text books and library books as Mom did her homework.

The first thing that I learned about the state of Mississippi was how to spell Mississippi. Mom taught me the fun way that she had learned from Grandma— M-I-CROOKED LETTER-CROOKED LETTER-I-CROOKED LETTER-CROOKED LETTER-I-HUMPBACK-HUMPBACK-I.

Using crooked letters and humpbacks to spell Mississippi is common knowledge in southern states, but I have yet to find anyone outside of my family who can repeat Grandma’s rhyme about “punkins.” 


Several of  Mom’s stories about Grandma included her waist-length hair.  Mom described how Grandma draped her pony tail across her shoulder and twisted it into a rope.  When it was completely twisted, she wound it round and round into a bun on the back of her head, and secured it with hair pens.  Grandma’s grandchildren were fond of combing her very long hair.  Once, after combing it out,  Mom tried a new technique of rolling her hair. Starting at the ends, she rolled the entire length up in the comb, and to her surprise, the rolled hair was now securely entwined in the comb.  It took some work to untangle Grandma’s hair, and Mom learned not to do that again.

I imagine that Grandma would have enjoyed reading the “Little House” series by Laura Ingals Wilder that Mom and I read together when I was 11 and 12 years old.  Both Grandma and Laura were born not long after the Civil War into farming families in Midwestern states—Grandma in “Ioway,” as she called it, and Laura in nearby Wisconsin. The Ingals family lived for a time in Iowa, eventually settling in the West, while Grandma’s family chose to go south to Texas and Oklahoma.  Mom pointed out to me that she was familiar with how Laura’s father drank his tea because Grandpa Griswold (Allie’s husband) drank his tea the same way. Both men followed the custom of pouring their tea into a saucer to cool, and then drinking it straight from the saucer.  Laura and Grandma died within a year of each other: Laura in 1957 at age 90, and Grandma in 1956, at age 84.

Grandma died a few months before I was born, so it was by way of Mom’s love-colored stories that I was introduced to her.  Even as a child, I recognized that Grandma loved Mom, and Mom loved Grandma.  So, I felt special when I learned that I am the only one of Grandma’s family born on her birthday—September 30th.

 Happy birthday, beloved Grandma Griswold!

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Sternbergia lutea

Sternbergia lutea is the name of the bright yellow flowers in the header picture above. Their common name is “fall crocus.” The first fall crocus that I ever saw were blooming around Grandmother Rachel’s backyard oak trees.

In the early 1990s, I read about a variety of crocus-like, fall-blooming flowers in Neil Sperry’s Complete Guide to Texas Gardening, and made the connection that these fall crocus were the same as Grandmother’s yellow beauties. Sperry described sternbergia lutea as an “unusual plant that should be tried more commonly.”

Inspired to grow my own fall crocus, I inquired about the bulbs at numerous gardening stores. “Crocus only bloom in the spring,” was the usual reply to my query about the availability of fall crocus bulbs. Finally, I began to present the Neil Sperry book along with my request, and was told a couple of times that it looked like I needed to contact Neil Sperry himself.

Next, I consulted the Travis County Agricultural Agent. Although he, too, was unfamiliar with fall crocus, he recommended that I contact a Central Texas bulb authority known as the “Bulb Man.” I telephoned the “Bulb Man,” who graciously invited me to his home to search his collection of bulb catalogs. Prepared to hear that he lived hours away, I was surprised that he resided a mere five miles from my house.

A few days later, I was seated on the “Bulb Man’s” living room floor perusing a large stack of catalogs, while Andrew played nearby. An hour later, and only half-way through the stack of catalogs, Andrew had eaten all of his Cherrios, and had lost interest in his toy tractors. While entertaining Andrew, I continued to methodically scan page after page for any reference to sternbergia. It looked like I was going to have to contact Mr. Sperry afterall—only one catalog left. But on the very last page, at the bottom, right-hand corner, was the elusive sternbergia!

While I would have found the bulbs more readily if I had had Internet access back then, I might not have discovered the flowerbulb brokers at “McClure and Zimmerman.” Not only do they sell sternbergia, but they also offer another of Grandmother’s difficult-to-find-favorites: King Alfred daffodils. Call 1.800.883.6998 for your very own flowerbulb catalog and planting guide.

I have often wondered where Grandmother learned about the hardy sternbergia. In the fall of 1974, my senior year of high school, I remember admiring her fall crocus which had naturalized to two-foot golden rings around the trees. I measured the same flower rings about 20 years later, and was astonished that they had spread to a dazzling five feet!

My chest will ache at the beauty of my soon-to-be-blooming, brilliant yellow, six-petaled flowers. I can never get enough of looking at them, and that is why they have decorated my blog for almost a year.

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An Affidavit That You Are Sane

Today I came across a 1952 Texas Driving Handbook in a box of miscellaneous items that had belonged to my father.TX Driving Handbook 1952 001 Printed on the handbook’s back cover is a poem by American poet, Edgar A. Guest (1881-1951), entitled “Driver’s License.” I became familiar with Guest when Hannah’s fifth grade teacher required each student to memorize his poem entitled “Myself.”

Guest was a prolific poet, as is evidenced by the great number of his poems published on the Internet. So, it was surprising not to find this particular poem anywhere on the web. Therefore, I offer this cautionary verse about the responbilities of obtaining a driver’s license in honor of all new drivers.


This is your license to drive a car:
To be watchful ever where children are;
To travel the streets and keep in mind
That people are sometimes deaf and blind
And lame and feeble and care distraught
And accidents come from lack of thought.

This is your license to drive and so
All that it means I would have you know.
Though it isn’t printed in language plain
It’s an affidavit that you are sane;
And it also tells that your state has found
Your faculties clear and your body sound,
It says that your state has faith in you;
That never a wrongful act you’ll do;
That you know how dangerous hills can be;
That you’ll pass no car where you cannot see
A long, clear stretch of the thoroughfare
And wherever you’re going you’ll drive with care.

Carry your license to drive with pride,
For how shamed you’d be were it once denied!
It is sworn-to proof that the rules you know,
That you’re neither stupid nor witted-slow;
That your state through its officers find you are
Fit to be trusted to drive a car.

~by Edgar A. Guest~

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I HATE Drought

Drought sucks the life out of all living things. Manchaca has experienced a 28-inch-deficit since the drought began in September, 2007. The drought has cost Texas an estimated 3.6 million in crop and livestock losses.

I am cured of taking water for granted. I daily thank God for water to wash to dishes, water to make coffee, water to flush toilets, and water to wash my hair. The recent rains have brought some relief to Central Texas, but the drought won’t be over until another 20 inches of rain falls.

I even understand the Biblical stories of drought much better. Drought means suffering. Mark has a terse definition of drought: no water, no life. I get it.
petunias2 009 This morning glory hitched a ride from Manchaca in a flower pot. It’s grateful for this afternoon’s rain too.

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Grandma’s Bookcase is crammed full of old books, letters, newspapers, and family mementos. My great-great-grandfather, Samuel Wilkerson Young (1834-1909), initiated the collection, and successive generations of Youngs have contributed various items. The contents are eclectic, ranging from Samuel’s palm-sized Bible dated 1846, to my father’s 1944 agricultural text book on farm machinery, to a lock of Grandma’s hair.

Several months ago, after the death of my father, the bookcase and its contents were passed on to me. Sadly, all the items are in various stages of deterioration, and, in their current state, will not survive another generation. So, what do I do with this cache of family history that “moth and dust doth corrupt”? I am going to share it via the Internet.

Every Wednesday I will examine, and pass on to you “what’s in Grandma’s bookcase.” However, if you are longing for a good whiff of the strong, musty smell of decayed paper, you’ll have to come to my house.

The first item is a handmade card from a little boy to his Mama.

Created for Maude Lee Young (a wonderful Mama, Grandma, Great-grandma)

Created for Maude Lee Young (a wonderful Mama, Grandma, Great-grandma)

Painted by either Papa (circa 1912) or his brother, Hollis (circa 1917)

Painted by either Papa (circa 1912) or his brother, Hollis (circa 1917)

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Katy Person: “How do you like living in Katy?”

Me: “Oh, I really like it!”

Katy Person: “So, is it much different than what you’re used to?”

Me: “Well, yeah . . . Manchaca has critters.”

Grazing in a Manchaca neighbor's yard last Sunday

Grazing in a neighbor's yard

Moving on down the street

Moving on down the street

Big fella

Big fella

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