May 19, 2008
By Lauren Longenecker, Christiana, PA


Downstate New York’s rugged countryside raced by my window as my eyes stared eagerly ahead, hungry for a glance of the familiar little house I adored so much. My great grandparents lived in the small, unfamiliar town of Bath, New York. Although the area was rural and rustic, my young mind knew it as a sacred place. Bath posed as the landmark of frequent kick-the-can games with cousins and Easter egg hunts over the spring holidays.

The best part of visiting the mountainous region was not the house, with its garden of vegetables and songbirds, or even the cozy, dated kitchen, filled with the aromas of caramel pudding and homemade oatmeal. The source of excitement was the person that tended the garden, fed the birds, and made the kitchen her home. My great grandmother on my father’s side, Mary remained the sole purpose of my unyielding anticipation.

Great Grandma Mary stood as the adoration of my young heart. She was in every way unique, from her gray wisps of silk-like hair down to her stocky boots. With contagious energy, she not only participated in the grandchildren’s games, but also cooked, cleaned, gardened, canned, and took care of her husband. Great Grandpa, widely known as Ha-Doo, was unlike Grandma, spending the majority of his time in his easy chair peering intently over his twitching toothbrush mustache. Grandma, on the other hand, constantly moved and worked. When she wasn’t canning pickles and jam or filling her many birdfeeders with seeds, she was selflessly serving other people. She delighted in any company of friends or family and with a pure gift in nature, everything her hand touched in the garden flourished.
She used her low voice to sing along with the sparrows that loitered in the birdbath outside her kitchen window. Her silvery gray eyes flashed when she was angry, and sparkled like tinsel when she laughed. Her skin, tanned and wrinkled, looked like an old brown paper bag. Long laboring hours outside had made her body fit and sturdy, with not even a hint of arthritis, age, or frailty. She knew the name of every tree, shrub, and flower, and her memory served her better than any elderly person I knew.

Firm and disciplined in her way, Grandma Mary tolerated no nonsense, yet she celebrated in good entertainment and practical jokes. Never once did she hesitate to join in a game of hide-and-seek, take a hike in the mountains, make snow angels in the bitter cold, or kiss a bruised knee to wipe away children’s tears. Many times I received an old-fashioned spanking with a yard stick, but Grandma Mary was just as hasty to care as she was to scold. She led me in prayer and worship of God’s creation every time I followed her to the garden to pick bouquets.

Undoubtedly, the sheer essence of my great grandmother’s personality drew me towards her. Nothing could bring more tranquility to my mind than to wake up early with my sisters, tip-toe upstairs to the kitchen for breakfast, and sit by her stove while she poured maple syrup over oatmeal and dished out applesauce from dusty Mason jars. In the evenings, she would tell stories while Ha-Doo snuck us peppermints from his candy dish.
As our family van rumbled along the worn road, I could picture her gentle face, as crinkled and creased as the folds in an old quilt. I heard her instructive voice telling me to see God’s beauty in birds and nature as we strolled among hemlocks on an afternoon’s walk. When I closed my eyes, I could even feel her weather-worn hand covering mine as she lead me to watch the sunset on her back porch over sweating glasses of iced tea.
Finally, Dad pulled our van onto Grandma Mary’s short drive. The sight of the small yellow house nestled at the foot of New York’s pine-covered hills had me squirming at the door, eager to race my sisters to be the first at Grandma’s door. I had no sooner jumped out of the car when I saw her hurrying down the sidewalk, wiping her hands on a dish towel and opening her arms wide for a tight embrace.

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