My earliest memory of Grandma is a frail lady at breakfast time standing before the kitchen stove with a coffee cup. I was 6 at the time, enjoying one of my grandparents' occasional two-week visits.
Since Grandpa found so many things to do around the house and farm, it was hard to keep up with him. Grandma, more settled, spent leisure time reading John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress" or the Bible. This gave me the privilege of her company - if I didn't pester her too much.
Sometimes she would tell me stories about her girlhood during the Civil War, when times were hard. Coffee was scarce, so the family drank a brew made from parched corn. Sugar was rare; molasses served as a sweetener.
Her home in Arkansas was near a family of Indians. From them she learned to count to 10 in their language: unra, tura, sicra, sacra, seen, holibon, tolibon, tilra, tolra, teen. I memorized these numerals and sang them to my own tune.
Once, when our family attended a community musical program, I fell in love with the violin. The next morning, I lay down on the floor with a mail- order catalog and studied its violins. Grandma heard me cry out, "I've just got to have a violin!"
She put her book aside and sang a lively song:
And pea-vine bow.
Jenny stuck a needle
In her knee, by Jo.
The outburst brought me to my feet. Asked if I would like to have a cornstalk fiddle, I said yes, though I was certain it wouldn't be like the catalog instruments.
Grandma gave instructions for materials, which sent me to the cornfield. The plants were very dry, since it was late October. Fortunately, I ran into Grandpa, who was selecting a pumpkin for a pie. He helped to pull up the stalks and strip them of leaves.
According to Grandma's requirements, I chose a large stalk with long joints for the fiddle and a small one for the bow. Back at home, I brought the maker a piece of rosin from my father's tool and harness house.
Grandma began to work with a sharp little kitchen knife. She cut a piece from the big stalk the length of my arm. Running down a long joint of the stalk were two ridges. Lifted up with the knife, they made strings. At one end of this joint she inserted a bridge that raised the strings.
Making a bow from the small stalk was a simple operation. Finally, she rubbed rosin on the ridges of the bow. Handing me the fiddle, she told me to play.
And play I did, surprised and delighted that my instrument sounded so loud. In fact, I played all over the house. The entire family, except Grandma, thought it was the most raucous noise the ear had ever heard.
I played and sang the Indian numerals at the same time, and Mother suggested that I continue the performance outside for the benefit of the chickens and birds. Grandma laughed so hard she said her side ached.
One morning, I found Grandma turning through what she called a memory book. It was well worn and filled with handwriting. She rested her eyes on one page and sang with pride:
The needle's eye that does apply
A thread that runs so true,
Many a beau have I let go
Because I wanted you.
She said that my grandfather had written those lines to her a long time ago.
Today, I am certain that I understood why he did.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society