Monday, February 1, 2010
Beulah Irene Gill was born and raised in central Illinois where she helped cook and serve meals to the hired men on her family farm. It was good practice for feeding her own large family during the lean years of the great depression. At Gran’s well attended funeral service there wasn’t a person there who hadn’t eaten a meal at her table. She was well known for serving hearty and delicious country fare. Gran taught me how to bake bread and cookies, preserve food and make homemade sour kraut, among other delicacies. As we cooked together, I can still remember her telling me, “I only put good things in there”. It showed.
My grandmother was my hero. She was an angel of mercy in her small community, providing meals, distributing clothing, and tending to the sick, while raising eight children of her own. Although Gran never finished high school, she was trained as a nurse. When the local doctor couldn’t come fast enough…neighbors called on Ma Dalton. She delivered over one hundred babies, losing only one. It still made her sad to talk about that “one” 40 years later.
Gran loved people and never spoke unkindly about anyone. She was saddened when folks didn’t do as they should and always said, “We’ll just pray for them”. She read to us from her bible, sang hymns and taught us how to fold our hands and pray.
Gran sewed on a treadle sewing machine for as long as I can remember. She made quilts and teddy bears for every baby born into the family…and everyone was family. When I was a girl I watched as row upon colorful row, her nimble fingers braided a room size rug, fashioned from her father’s old wool clothing. Nothing went to waste.
As a child, Gran’s house was my favorite place to visit. I recall hurrying up the stone lined path, the “smack” of the screen door, and then my own mother’s voice calling out “Mom?” Gran greeted us in an apron and a smile, always asking, “Are you hungry?” no matter what time of day it was. Then we were off to the garden to pick strawberries, or green beans…or maybe a bundle of daffodils.
In the winter, if there was snow, Gran bundled us up and took us sledding. She slipped plastic bread bags inside our boots and woolen socks over our hands to keep us warm and dry. In the springtime she led us through the woods and pointed out “Jack in the Pulpit, “Dutchman’s Britches” and “Snowdrops”. She taught us how to identify trees and songbirds.
It was at Gran’s house that I had my first taste of a Burger King “Whopper” and heard The Beatles singing on the radio (although she didn’t approve of their long hair). Gran pointed out “fairy rings” in the grass, taught us to make daisy chains and to dance the Charleston. She read to us from “The Tall Grass Zoo”.
The thing I remember most about my Gran was her love of children. She was always surrounded by them; from wiggling, squirming babies to teenagers…they naturally gravitated to her. She sat at the “kids table” at holidays, and always had a babe in arms. I recall the squeak of her wooden rocker as she soothed my oldest son. I am thankful that she got to hold each of my babies and pronounce them, in turn, “brilliant and beautiful”. Gran holding my youngest son is one of my last and best memories of her.
My Gran was kind, loving, smart, funny, creative, frugal, and industrious...and until the last, her gentle hands were never still.