In my mind, there is always hard-packed dirt under my feet, and a not unpleasant scent of warm hay, sweet grain and a hint of horses.
There is a wall-hung phone. Heavy and black. It rings shrill due to an outside ringer and can probably be heard for a country mile.
We are taught from a very young age to always say “Hello, Studers.” She runs a boarding stable and we should project an air of professionalism even if the phone is being answered by a barefoot 8-year-old who just moments earlier had been swinging on a gate.
She has a blue and white Ford tractor and a red manure spreader and hay wagons that double as a stage for impromptu backyard shows put on by grandchildren.
She isn’t one for travel. She will pilot her enormous boat of an Impala in a 10-mile radius to the grocery, library, feed store, drive-through (for Doritos and Coke).
All are welcome
Still, for someone who doesn’t go gadding about, when I am small, I think that everyone in the whole world must know my Gram.
At least half the world stops by her kitchen regularly. They sit in her kitchen around a huge, old table. She makes coffee in a glass percolator. The old vet who visits calls it “Cowboy Coffee” and swears it could keep him awake for a week.
She takes care of almost three dozen horses morning, noon and night.
Around the table
A child of the Depression and teen during World War II, she could turn anything into a feast. Her work with leftovers was legend. On Sundays she made roasts and room at the table.
She made a special birthday meal including the dessert of our choosing for every child and grandchild, as well as friends who became like family along the way. Mine was banana split cake.
She had a crockery cookie jar and kept a bowl of magazines on a sideboard next to the kitchen table. To an avid reader this was just about perfect.
She never refrigerated salad dressing and I’m not sure why we never died. She liked fried egg sandwiches for lunch, always had Ritz crackers and is the only person in my life who served me Tang. Also something called “Russian Tea,” which was unsweetened ice tea mixed with Tang — served warm.
I want some right now in the worst possible way.
Her home was massive and very old and had the steepest stairs I have ever seen. I don’t think a grandchild or great-grandchild of hers doesn’t have memories of learning early to climb those stairs, or sitting at the top waiting for someone to “spot” them coming down.
Her home was also an icon so much so that over the years she received countless paintings, ornaments and decorations all depicting it. Her home was literally filled with paintings of her home. When I grew to have a home of my own, I had to have a painting of it too. I assumed everyone did.
She had collected antiques since before that was cool. Her home was full of them. I have a dim recollection of a guest exclaiming in wonder when a Civil War era upholstered chair was pulled up to the table and a small grandchild set down upon it. We grew up respecting old things, but also knowing that people are to be cherished and things to be used.
She was not always a grandma, of course. The beloved child of doting parents, she was a kindergarten student in an impeccably starched dress with a fluffy collar. It was kind of like if Zsa Zsa attended grade school in the 1930s. She was a teenager astride a horse, in a plaid shirt and “dungarees,” hair blowing in the wind. She is young, and beautiful. Like Ava Gardner.
She is a young mother usually holding a small child in one arm and a horse’s lead in another.
Some things only make sense to a grandchild. I will never smell the faint scent of cigarettes without thinking fondly of my Gram. Kool Menthols, an ashtray, a cup of strong black coffee and a day planner. She kept lists every day, as far as I know. Her life hardworking, orderly and precise. I always said that my grandmother, into her 80s, did more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.
And on a quiet Sunday morning before sunrise, my grandmother’s spirit slipped away from us and passed on. She was 86 years old.
I am 47 years old and she has been my Gram my whole life. I have no idea what we are supposed to do now.
I feel like there is a hole in the world. It is swirling with these memories and moments and a thousand — a million — little things that hit me throughout the day. I am good and then I am not.
My Gram’s time on this earth would span 31,652 days. 1929-2016. It was so much more than numbers. My Gram lived the hell out of that dash.
I am 47 years old and I refuse to believe it. She cannot be gone. It is impossible. If she isn’t in the kitchen, then she is surely in the barn. I think part of me will believe this forever.
This is the first column I have ever written that I’m not wondering if my Gram will enjoy it. Then again, I hope she will.