Friday, December 4, 2009

Firecracker Granny

Firecracker Granny

By J.A. Heitmueller


“Hit the ditches boys! Here comes Miss Ludie.” This warning, issued by a county road worker, typified the excitement created wherever the red haired, ninety three- year old, firecracker of a female blasted through life. On this particular day she was at the helm of her cherished, shiny, black, 1949 Plymouth Sedan; barreling down main street, totally oblivious to pedestrians, road workers or traffic signals. For her entire span of life Louisa Elizabeth Woodard Knight, my grandmother, known to all as Miss Ludie, ruled the roost and lived as if she alone inhabited this planet.

Ludie and her husband, Mr. Bob, reared four children…three boys and a daughter….who learned, at a tender age, how to work under the tutorage of their demanding mother. Each summer the immense family garden yielded monumental amounts of vegetables for canning . As the child with the smallest hands, five year old Mae had the arduous task of thoroughly washing and rinsing the hundreds of glass jars to store corn, peas, beans, tomatoes and okra for the upcoming winter. All the children assisted in gathering and preparing the garden’s yield.

Middle son, Barfel’s chore was to dust the furniture and mop the floors until they glistened with nary a speck of dust in sight. Little Barfel rinsed the string mop numerous times until, following orders from his mama, the water in the bucket was absolutely clear…nothing less than perfection.

Oldest son, Ezekial, milked Bossy, the cow, gathered eggs, and mowed the large front and back yards. He was responsible for the monotonous chore of churning Bossy’s milk each week to provide fresh butter for the family and surrounding neighbors.

Only the favored child, the baby, Robert, escaped the drudgery of the daily labor. However, Robert was once toppled from his cherished pedestal when he accidentally soiled his overalls and was promptly marched to the outside well, where, shivering and screaming, he was repeatedly doused and with buckets of ice cold water.

What a feast Ludie and her hefty, black, wood cook stove could deliver. Nothing tasted better than her crisp fried chicken, hot cornbread slathered with freshly churned butter and juicy, succulent fried apple pies; whose contents had been picked, cut into paper thin slices and dried on dish towels, laid, on hot summer afternoons, over bushes in the front yard. Tucked securely in the dining room buffet for weeks prior to the holiday, Ludie’s highly anticipated Christmas fruitcake languished and ripened with its acceptance of her diligent, generous weekly dose of home made grape wine. A profuse platter of sweet potato balls rolled in corn flakes and concealing within the prize of a warm, soft marshmallow and cherry always graced the holiday table, along with mouthwatering creamed corn, bright red tomato slices, steaming, plump homemade rolls and refreshing sweet tea. Yes, Miss Ludie knew how to present a sumptuous southern spread and particularly relished the opportunity when hosting visiting preachers during revival week each summer.

Spending the night with Grandma Ludie meant being luxuriously swallowed by her soft feather mattress in the sunny front guest room. Of course, following strict orders, one had to fluff, puff and make the mattress completely flat before exiting the room the next morning, which was not easily accomplished. However, reward for a job well done meant indulging in a hearty breakfast of Miss Ludie’s home made fluffy, buttery, blueberry pancakes, savory scrambled eggs and chilled buttermilk. In season a special side treat was watermelon, peaches or strawberries. Adding to such royal pleasure was the chance to eat all this from her cherished, and seldom used, Blue Willow dishes.

Mr. Bob, as Ludie called her husband, was a rather timid and placid fellow. A rural letter carrier, Mr. Bob was dearly loved by his numerous postal families and often returned home with a hefty bounty of their appreciation. Many afternoons his back seat was piled high with watermelons, Irish potatoes, corn, eggs or cantaloupes. Following retirement he often remarked, in jest, that he never again wanted to see a chenille robe because he had seen far too many wrapped around the ladies on his route, as they patiently waited beside their mailboxes for Mr. Bob to deliver their daily parcels.

Miss Ludie demanded that Mr. Bob not indulge in one of his cherished pleasures…smoking. In an attempt to avoid her wrath he would take a puff or two when out of her sight, particularly when driving alone. Bob and Ludie went in separate vehicles to church on Sunday. He usually attended early Sunday School and then came home. She went to both services and, on some occasions, when she was running late, they met on the road. One Sunday morning, as Bob slowly drove home enjoying a leisurely smoke, he flicked his cigarette out the front window and had no idea that the still hot embers had landed in the back seat. Ludie, being late that day, thundered to church in her trusty Plymouth with her red mane flying behind her out the window. She drove with one hand on the steering wheel while the other held firmly to the ever present Sunday hat perched securely atop her head . Rounding the curve on two wheels and streaking pass Bob’s blue chevy creeping toward home she spied him, as well as the clouds of billowing smoke escaping from his back window! Innocently oblivious to his predicament, Bob, mellow and happy, smiled and threw up a hand in friendly greeting to his startled, angry wife.

Apparently, Miss Ludie had not attended a class on telephone etiquette and some subliminal talent enabled her to know exactly when her adult children sat down to a meal. As if by magic each household would receive that dreaded “ring, ring, ring” precisely at dinner time. Never inquiring as to the convenience of her call, or the possibility of disturbing anyone Ludie never said hello; simply stated her business, moaned and groaned, screamed... as she threatened to kill herself and then abruptly slammed down the receiver.

Quite a legacy that feisty woman left behind and one big question by all who knew and dealt with her…I wonder how poor St. Peter is coping?


j.a. heitmueller