I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. Times of change and uncertainty tend to bring out in me the desire for simpler times. I woke early this morning thinking of my Grandpa Wayne and Grandma Eloise Hohimer. Whenever I awake before the sun is fully up, I am reminded of summers at my Grandparents’ house.
Each summer for a couple of weeks, I would fly “home” to Illinois to spend a few weeks with my grandparents – both sides – and would be submerged into a world complete foreign to what my 10 year old, city girl self was accustomed. (On a completely unrelated note – it still baffles me that my parents would allow a 10 year old to fly from California to Illinois unaccompanied – but those were different times).
The Hohimers lived on a farm in Oakford, Illinois. It was a two-story, white farm house that I always imagined had a bunch of stories it was dying to tell if I could only figure out how to get the walls to speak in a language I could understand.
My Grandpa was a good ole boy farmer. He was a big man who in my mind’s memory always wore denim overalls and woke before the sun. Summers in central Illinois are hot and humid, and summers on a farm in Illinois meant crickets were in no short supply. When I would stay at my grandparent’s house, my grandma would fix up the day bed in the guest room for me and I would lay awake for hours in that little room (filled with a desk stacked high with mysterious farming paper work, a file cabinet stuffed with years of bank statements and a picture on the wall of two little boys in overalls and a caption that read “Have you been farming long?”) and listen to the crickets. I hate crickets. I am not one of those people who adore falling asleep to the sounds of nature – I much prefer the quite hum and glow of T.V. But there were only 2 T.V.s in my grandparent’s house and both only got 3 channels. One lived in the living room and was turned off for the evening immediately following the 10 o’clock news, and the other in the kitchen which was only used (as I recall) in the morning for the early morning farm news. It is possible my Grandma watched her “stories” in there while preparing lunch, but I never witnessed it so I can’t say for sure.
So there I lay – in a mysterious house; in a strange bed; with the crickets.
Often when I would stay at my grandparents’ house, I wouldn’t fall asleep until well after 2 a.m. because – well the crickets – and wouldn’t get fully into a good REM sleep until nearly 5. That schedule did not serve me well in the Oakford Hohimers’ house. Every morning at around 5 a.m., sounds and smells would begin to fill the house that indicated the day had begun.
They never tried to be loud and wake their lazy city-loving granddaughter, but they didn’t try to alter their routines either. They would get up, get dressed, flip on the kitchen T.V. for the morning’s farming news and my Grandma would begin to cook. Breakfast for Eloise and Wayne was never a soggy bowl of Captain Crunch or a piece of toast with peanut butter shoved into mouths as they ran out the door. Oh no, Cracker Barrel had nothing on my Grandma and her morning spread – eggs, biscuits, gravy, sausage and/or bacon, toast, coffee – the works. Every morning. I vaguely remember a couple of boxes of cereal being tucked away in a cabinet of the kitchen, but I’m pretty sure that was purely for my benefit – it is doubtful my big and brawny Grandpa would have been satisfied with such a paltry morning meal.
The kitchen of that old farm house was my favorite place of all. It was huge. A U shaped work area complete with stove, oven, sink and refrigerator (the kind that had the pull out freezer drawer – I loved finding popsicles or ice cream treats that might be hidden down in that drawer – just out of sight of Grandpa and just for us kids) but no garbage disposal or dishwasher. Food was disposed of in a garbage bowl and then dumped out back for the cows and every precious dish was washed by hand.
Past the working part of the kitchen was a massive (at least in my mind’s eye it was massive) eat-in section of the room. Every holiday we spent there was sure to see the kitchen tabled expanded with leaves, chairs pilfered from all around the house and a card table on the end for the kids. But in the summer, the table was round and small, with just four chairs. As I would stumble out of my guest room and into the kitchen, my eyes still so blurry from cricket-denied sleep, the scene that would great me is probably one of my favorite and lasting memories of all those summers.
Grandma puttering around in her “work” shirt, soft pants and an apron (probably with a curler or two in the bangs of her hair) and Grandpa hunched over a cup of coffee and breakfast – watching the news and muttering under his breath about the state of things. He would look up upon my stumbled arrival and say “look who finally woke up.” Every morning, every time – “look who finally woke up”.
My Grandpa and Grandma Hohimer were a bit of a mystery to me. Stories I have heard about them from other family members paint a different picture from the one I had of them as simple, sturdy and steadfast people. They lived quite an exciting life before I came along, so maybe they were just ready for more normalcy after their kids had grown, but whatever the details – I never really felt like I knew them as well as I would have liked to. But those summers – even with the crickets – and those early mornings with them are like treasured gold to me now.
I’m pretty sure I learned how to love John Wayne movies in a deep and abiding way during those summers – my Grandpa would come back home in the early afternoons after a full day working on the farm (when you get up and out the door by 6 a.m. your day is long and hard by 2 p.m.) and sprawl out in his recliner in the living room. Most days one of those 3 channels would have an afternoon John Wayne movie playing; and as the living room was one of the only places in the house with a window unit a/c -that is where you would find me camped out in the middle of the hot, summer day.
My grandparents didn’t have a couch – they had a davenport (I have no idea what the difference is, but we never called it a couch at their house) and in front of it sat a long coffee table. The coffee table had a “hidden” compartment inside that was always stocked with an old cookie tin full of crayons and more coloring books then I had ever before seen. So, there Grandpa and I would sit and waste a couple hours of our summer afternoon – I sitting crossed legged on the floor coloring away and he laying in his chair, snoring, with John Wayne fighting the bad guys in the background.
My Grandma never seemed to stop moving during the day. I have two very strong memories of her daily activities from my summer visits – her cooking, cleaning and straightening and her reading her Bible. I’ve often wondered what became of her old King James Version Bible. She read it every day – she read it through every year – she was a faithful woman.
Sometimes when it was clear that her granddaughter was about to lose her overly stimulated city-girl mind, Grandma would press pause to her daily work and would pull out a tattered and well-loved box. This box was sure to stir up in me a strong sense of competition. It still does. Grandma would clear off the kitchen table and take out the pieces of Yahtzee and commence her trouncing of me. Game after game she would win – all the while we would sing songs in funny voices. My favorite – Georgia on my Mind. Years later, I would find myself humming that song the entire day of her funeral. “Georgia, Georgia no peace I find, but that old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.”
I love those memories – I love early mornings when I wake before the sun and am brought back to those simpler days. I am thankful for that time this morning to remember and reflect – over coffee, at my kitchen table. Hoping my own little one will come stumbling in here so I can look up and say “look who finally woke up!”