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A Denney for Your Thoughts: Endure and enjoy

By Connie Denney

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

As you recognize this quote lifted from the opening of Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” don’t stop reading!

Be assured, I do not intend to criticize, aggrandize or otherwise analyze that literary work. Nor will I try to apply it to the state of the world today. The quote does, though, have a personal significance for me, as it ties into memories of my maternal grandmother. I — and numerous others — call her Granny Martin. That is present tense, as her influence is still very much with us. This column is a tribute to my own mama also, as I believe she would have liked attention given her mom whose May 10 birthday sometimes fell on Mother’s Day (May 8 this year).

From my daughter/granddaughter perspective I can tell you they shared some characteristics, such as wit, love of reading and working crossword puzzles, preparing meals that drew others into their homes.

It was that love of reading that prompted me to ask Granny Martin if she would like me to read “A Tale of Two Cities” aloud, although I knew she had read it herself. But, it was something that I thought might interest her, something I could do, although I could not change circumstances that limited her pleasures in life.

When I opened the book, she spoke that opening phrase. At a later session when I announced the chapter number, she volunteered that it was about the grave robber. And, so it was. I do not know how many times she had read that book.

She had little formal education and must have had a harder life than I could know. I knew her only after she and Papaw had made a home and raised a family during hard times. I now realize she knew how to endure and enjoy.

Indulge me. She carried water from a spring as she anticipated a cold drink “right out of the north corner of the spring.”

She sliced potatoes very thinly, then cooked them on top of a wood-burning cook stove till they blistered, sort of like homemade potato chips. That was done only after the stovetop was cleaned of any cooking residue.

Then there was the butter cake she made each Christmas. I’m not sure how far ahead she made it. But, it was long enough for the mixture of brown sugar, real butter and whatever other ingredients she used, to settle in between thin baked squares of dough. The fairly tall stacked creation was covered and stored in a cool place until the right time.

Granny knew the pain of being a mother during a time of war, when even information was hard to come by. I have seen a photograph of her three sons — all in military uniform.

A reader of books — whatever she could get her hands on — and worker of crossword puzzles, she also seemed to enjoy the company of a child who looked forward to her visits. Sitting close to enjoy the likes of “The Twilight Zone” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” television shows made scary fun.

If she could only know how many times we still quote her. Someone in the family even started a list of her sayings. One that comes to mind is “more than John spake of.” Always curious, I once asked her the meaning. She explained that John wrote Revelation and in that book of the Bible he talked about lots of things.

Today the roles of mothers and grandmothers have changed in many ways. Sometimes in very basic ways.

That’s especially so when the care of children becomes the responsibility of grandparents or, in some cases, even great-grandparents. Still the appreciation of essentials such as good drinking water, pleasure taken in reading, enjoyment of providing special memory-producing foods for others, that love of spending time with children are good things. Good memories are still built around them.

As it turned out, Granny and I did not finish “A Tale of Two Cities” together. But she knew how it ends.

I have another precious memory.