By Rosie Preston
Growing up with my grandfather Papa (his real name was Jerome Meadows, also known as Shorty) was amazing when I look back on his positive lifestyle habits. He learned so much while growing up on a farm in Collinsville. He was one of 13 children, and I know that his family was poor. His parents continued to live in the same small two-bedroom stucco house until they could not care for themselves. After that, their children would take turns caring for them. I guess that’s called coming full circle.
When I was a teenager, Papa’s parents, my great-grandparents, drank water from a well, which fascinated me. I remember being terrified to look into the deep well hole. I knew of the danger and yet I always got as close as I could to look down into it.
My great-grandparents had a large container on their back porch where they kept clean well water. We would drink from it using an aluminum cup. I remember everyone using the same cup, and no one ever got sick from it. Maybe “blessed” would be the word to define that!
My great-grandparents had an outhouse that I was afraid of. My fear was that I would fall into it and no one would know I went. To get to the outhouse, I had to pass by two beautiful Collies. Needless to say, their health was a product of the food cooked for them. My great-grandfather used scraps, bones and leftover food and mixed it together. Every time I buy dog food, I laugh when I look at the different advertisements on the bags of dog food as it focuses on the humans buying what looks the best, which has not it a thing to do with their dogs’ health.
I once stood beside a young couple in a grocery store and listened to their conversation, which was about which brand of dog food they would buy. They were looking at the outside of the bag to make their choice.
My great-grandparents raised chickens that they kept well fed. One Sunday while visiting, I was shocked as my little petite great-grandmother grabbed a chicken and quickly broke its neck. She proceeded to a table in her backyard, where she plucked the feathers and washed the chicken before cutting it up to fry. I think that was the best chicken I’ve ever tasted!
My great-grandparents also had a garden, and I believe they lived mostly from their vegetables of potatoes, peas, green beans and corn.
They usually had one pig a year, which if I remember correctly, was killed to be divided and eaten. Another pig soon replaced the departed pig and would be fattened for a later date.
My Papa was an outdoorsman, and I thought it was cool to see the large fishing worms that he would farm in his back yard. He would take all the scraps from any food that was peeled or cooked and add it to the soft dirt, which he kept turned to feed the worms.
In a little shed in his yard he had a cage where he raised crickets. Using a natural fishing pole, he would show us how to fish with worms and crickets as bait. It’s amazing how many fish we caught with that simple method.
My two sisters and I took our Papa’s garden for granted. We thought it was such a treat to rush from our car to pick an apple or a peach to eat from the many kinds he raised. He never had just one variety. He also had huge pecan and walnut trees.
I don’t know if I’ve met anyone in my life who was as smart as my Papa was on the way he lived frugally and used the land the same way as he learned to as a boy.
I often observed Papa sewing on my Mama’s sewing machine to patch the holes in the pants he wore to lay bricks. For being of such small stature, he never hesitated to do anything. He was a great cook, as well. He would can soup stock and other vegetables.
Papa made wine in his basement (which he paved with concrete) and would often let me taste it. Papa allowed me and my sisters to stomp the fruit in a huge aluminum tub. After the wine was ready to drink, he would let us taste it. I remember it was good and sweet. If I buy a bottle of wine, I still prefer the sweet and fruity kind.
One time after I was grown, married and owned a day care center, I was with the kids in the backyard. My dear, sweet Papa drove into my parking lot, and when he got out of the car, he was carrying a plate. To my delight, he had made homemade fried peach pies, the most delicious you can imagine. To this day, it makes my mouth water!
My sisters and I were blessed to have had Papa in our lives. Lately, I’ve been looking at some old photos, which is what brought me to write this week’s column.
Keep smilin’, Rosie Preston
Contact Rosie Preston at email@example.com.