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Give a Gift and Get it BAck


screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-9-01-59-am            It’s a plain white ten-inch tall teapot with a hexagon shape base. I gave it as a Christmas gift and got it back. When Aunt Doris’s kitchen cabinets were cleaned out after her death, my cousin said, “Here, Susan, this is yours. It has your name on the bottom.” I gladly brought the teapot home.

Every Tuesday night in 1970, I scrubbed and glazed ceramic pieces and made many Christmas gifts and then years later, some were returned. The teapot is my style, but that’s not true of the tall vase with pink and blue flowers that I made for Husband’s grandmother. It looked at home on Granny Ray’s living room French provincial desk and now sits in the top of my closet waiting for the right place. However, I love that the white and gold Christmas candy dish was returned. It brings back memories of Husband and me taking Daughter to his grandparents’ house for her first Christmas. Granny Ray held Daughter, her first great-grandchild. The candy dish, centered on her coffee table, was filled with Granny’s homemade chocolate covered cherry candy.

I made other gifts. A green felt Christmas card holder, decorated with sequins and silver rickrack, hung in Mom’s kitchen. When the glue on the pockets gave way, Mom stitched it, as I should have done. It hung in my kitchen for a few years and now it hangs at Daughter’s house. On my sewing room shelf is a needlepoint purse made from plastic squares. Simple nature designs decorate each square. I did the needlepoint and stitched it into its box shape, and Mom lined it and attached handles. Maybe it’s time I carry it; the Grands would like the butterflies and frogs and birds.

One of my favorite returned Christmas gift is inscribed ‘Presented to Dad by Susan, Allen, Alicia, and Eric. Christmas 1983.’ I’m thankful for the large print in this King James Bible and treasure the few notes Dad wrote in it.

When I was thirty, I thought a gift given, stayed given. Now I know better. And if children are smart, they’ll give gifts they want. Things they’d like to own, but wouldn’t buy for themselves. So I’m making my Christmas wish list with that in mind. What would my children like?

Local artists offer some fine gifts. A wood sculpture or vessel from Brad Sells’ Bark Studio or Andy Lane’s Against the Grain Wood Sculpting workshop. Pottery from Addled Hill Pottery where Susan Stone takes her inspiration from nature. Or how about a piece of jewelry crafted by Lenny and Eva? And then there are artists, like Marilyn and Adrienne, whose paintings could decorate my walls.

How about a jigsaw puzzle or a book? Diamonds? Rubies? Silver? Gold? Or make something homemade? Whatever gift my children choose, I hope it’s something they like because someday it’ll be theirs. That’s just how it works. Give a gift and get it back.




Christmas Moments

Version 2Eight Grands. Five, age 4 and under.   Four adults, the Grands’ parents. We had a full house for three and a half days last week when Son brought his family across country to celebrate Christmas and Daughter’s family came from across town.   As I reflect, those days were filled with moments to hold close. Some moments when a camera wasn’t close or couldn’t be captured in a picture.

Eight-month-old Annie lay on the floor when her four-year-old cousin, Elaine, first saw her. Elaine ran and stretched out on her tummy, just like Annie, with her nose inches from Annie’s. Both giggled and squealed, kicked their feet, waved their arms. Then Elaine gave her little cousin a nose-to-nose kiss.

Neil, age 2 ½, sat in the small rocking chair that was his dad’s and hummed to the Cabbage Patch doll he held tightly. Four-year-old Grands, Elaine and Dean, lay side-by-side playing with the Fisher Price playhouse and garage, toys that their parents once played with. These cousins parked cars and lined up the little people and disagreed about who had what first.

While playing in the bathtub, Neil named the three rubber ducks: baby, big brother, momma and hid them under washcloths. Dean held the biggest one, ten inches tall, and said, “This is biggest rubber ducky ever!” (The duck someone left on my front porch a few months ago. Thank you, whoever you are.)

More food crossed our kitchen counter than Husband and I eat in a month. Young to old voices recited the prayer I learned as a child: “God bless us and bless this food.” Every minute preparing and cleaning up messes was rewarded by Neil’s comment after one bite of sweet potato fries: “YUM! This is really good!” And the Grands declared Husband’s ice cream sandwich cake the best dessert.

Gift opening time. Such chaos. Such smiles. Seven Grands sat on the floor. Baby Annie in her mother’s lap. Son and Son-in-law good naturally wore flashing Rudolph noses, treasures from their stockings; their wives donned oversized plastic gold glasses. Lou, age 8, hugged her Little House on the Prairie books and said, “Thank you! I’m so happy to have all of these! Now I can turn down page corners and a bookmark won’t fall out because these are my very own books.”

Ten-year-old David said, “Oh, look! What a surprise.” after he ripped paper from the Lego set that he had chosen months ago and told me, “This one, Gran.” Ruth, age 6, passed her turn to open a gift and explained, “I know what’s in the big box. I want to open it last.” When she did, she hugged Samantha, her first American Girl doll. Amid the ripped paper, ribbons, and open boxes, 18-month-old Micah, his arms stretched wide, ran to me. “Gen!” he said. He snuggled in my arms.

I almost let the biscuits burn while standing at the kitchen window and watching Son and his nephew, my 10-year old Grand, play basketball. Surely, it wasn’t almost thirty years ago that Son was 10 and shot balls through that same goal.

Then came the morning when Son and Daughter-in-Law packed to fly home. Husband and I walked with their sons to our backyard creek. Dean threw rocks in the water, and said, in a pitiful voice that only a toddler can master, “Gran, I sure wish my cousins would come play with me.”

Even my young Grand knows the best Christmas joy is people, not his new matchbox car garage that I thought was the perfect gift.

Merry Christmas from Husband and me to each of you!

An Unexpected Christmas Gift

imagesChristmas, 1978. All the gifts, except two, had been opened. Two big square boxes wrapped in green foil and tied with red velvet ribbon and huge bows. Boxes big enough for small TVs or large radios or long winter coats.

“Open those two last,” Mom had said. So my brother, sister-in-law, Husband, and I opened all the other gifts – shirts, sweaters, gloves, coffee pots. “Now, Brenda and Susan, you can open your presents. But don’t let each other see.” I was perplexed. What would Mom and Dad get for my sister-in-law and me? And they always ‘evened out’ presents and there wasn’t another gift for my brother or Husband.

I tore a piece of the wrapping paper from a corner and saw a brown cardboard box. Dad said, “Your mother wrapped those gifts a long time ago so she’d be sure to have them ready for you girls.” His smile and wide-open eyes told me he was happy. Must be something he thinks we’ll like, I thought. Mom sat with her arms crossed in her lap and a sheepish grin. In past years, Mom and Dad sometimes made special gifts, like wooden magazine holders and crocheted afghans. Must be something like that.

I ripped the paper off one side of the box. “Is this really what’s inside?” I asked. Dad nodded. Mom grinned. The picture showed a pressure cooker. A big canner. Through the years, many times I’d helped Mom fill her canner with quart jars of green beans or vegetable soup or pears. But I’d never canned anything since I moved away from home. Why did I need a pressure cooker big enough to hold seven quart jars?

“Read the note your mother wrote. It’s inside the box.” Dad said.

“At the end of the instruction book,” Mom added.

By then both Brenda and I had opened our gifts, and with Dad’s help, we lifted shiny, heavy metal pressure canners out of the boxes. I took the top off the canner and found the instruction book inside. As I flipped through it looking for Mom’s handwriting, Dad said, “Read your mother’s note out loud.”

Christmas 1978

            Purchased Oct. 3, 1978 – Crouch’s Hardware

            Byrdstown, TN – Price $51.95

            The price is listed so 40 years from now, you can compare prices. I bought this on the last day of canning pears when I was good & tired. I knew if I waited, I’d decide it’s not a good present since you are smart enough to the get the unspoken message.

            Love Mom & Dad

           I got the message. As did Brenda, my brother, and Husband. Canning pears was the grand finale of my parents’ summer work. For many years, they had grown, harvested, and preserved berries, beans, corn, peas, potatoes, apples, and more – for themselves and for all of us. And they were tired.

Mom grinned. Dad’s face lit up with an ear to ear smile, and he said, “Next year, we’re playing more golf. We’ll grow a garden and even pick most things. And you’ll learn to use a canner just like your mother did.”

The next summer with Mom’s help, I canned beans, made pickles, and froze corn, berries, and apples. I made strawberry jam, grape jelly, and applesauce.

And when Christmas 1979 rolled around, Mom gave me a gift I truly appreciated. Four quarts of canned pears that she and Dad had picked from the tree in their backyard.

A Christmas Joy

IMG_1747Lou opened our box of ornaments. “What’s this?” my eight-year-old Grand asked, and she tossed something toward me. A four-inch long, green bird with a long curved tail fell in my lap. “Do you really put that on your Christmas tree?”

“There’s another one,” I said and laughed at Lou’ frown. “I have a bird collection that I hang together. When I sit in my chair drinking morning coffee I like seeing them.”

Lou held the other bird high above her head. “These don’t look like Christmas ornaments. Why do you put them on your tree?”

“A student, a girl, gave them to me for Christmas. When I opened the gift, she said, ‘Mom said you better like those. They cost a lot of money!’ ”

“Really, she said that?” asked my Grand. I nodded. I don’t hang all the ornaments from students, but many I do, to remember classroom days.

Lou prowled through the ornaments while I hung ten birds. I encouraged her to help me decorate the tree. “How about this?” Lou said, “I’ll lay the ornaments out. You hang them.” I’d envisioned that she and I would decorate Husband’s and my tree together, but she continued to sit cross-legged on the floor and lined up ornaments on the coffee table.

“Okay,” I said. “But I’m not hanging everything in the box. Nothing blue. And some are too fragile to hang. I just like to keep them.” While Perry Como sang “White Christmas,” Lou sorted and I decorated.

“What do you want me to do with this plastic broken-legged white reindeer and its funny looking Santa?” My Grand asked. I took it from her.

“That goes on a limb. In the middle of the tree where it’s safe and won’t fall off. It was on the tree at my house when I was a little girl. This Santa is at least seventy years old,” I said. My Grand rolled her eyes. I reached across her to get a plastic cream-colored lantern from the box. “This is really old too,” I said.

“It looks old! You don’t hang that, do you?” Lou said.

“I do. It was decoration on my Christmas gift from Pop in 1968.”

“And you kept it?”

“Guess what was in the box?” My Grand raised her shoulders, threw her hands in the air. “This diamond ring.” I held out my left hand. “When Pop gave me this engagement ring, we decided to marry the next August.”

Lou pointed to the small lantern. “Well, I hope there was more that on the outside of the box.”

“There was. A beautiful red bow and another lantern. ”

Lou searched in the ornament box. “You mean this?” She held a matching plastic lantern. “I hope they looked better when they were new. Good thing there was a special gift in the box.” Someday my Grand will understand.

Finally, Lou joined me in decorating. She held a red glittery glass ball, “This better be up high so Micah and Henry (her 18 month old brother and 2 ½ year old cousin) won’t break it.   You do the high ones and I’ll put the things that won’t break on the bottom.”

When every tree branch held at least one ornament, I said, “I think we’re almost finished.”

Lou picked up another ornament. “Uh, Gran. You said no blue. But this is pretty special.” Her eyes were opened wide and she held a clay blue heart that she’d made two years ago. She hung it front and center.

One of the greatest joys of Christmas is remembering Christmases past. Especially with someone you love.

December Reminders

searchI flipped the calendar to December and a small piece of paper fluttered onto the floor. A note from me to me. Across the top of the page I’d scribbled CHRISTMAS 2015. Reminders written last year: December 30, 2014.

  1. Treats on the porch for delivery people
  2. No new food
  3. This year’s menus worked
  4. Same gift for all.
  5. Treasure Hunt for older Grands’ gifts
  6. One big gift bag for each Grand

None of these ideas are original. Like most things I’ve ever done successfully, I’ve learned from someone else.

I buy a few gifts that are delivered. If America Girl dolls and men’s coats in tall sizes were available locally, I’d buy them here. Last year to say thank you to the delivery people, I put a basket filled with bottles of water and packaged snacks on our front porch. The UPS deliveryman knocked on the door. When I opened it, he held a water bottle in his hand. “I just wanted to see you. This is the first time anyone has ever done something like this for me. Thank you,” he said. He smiled, waved, and hopped into his truck. The woman who delivers our mail left letters and small catalogs, bundled with a rubber band, on our doorstep the day after she’d chosen a package of cheese and crackers. If you want to leave treats, put a sign in the basket. DELIVERY PEOPLE PLEASE READ and write a note inviting them to choose something; otherwise, they never know it’s for them.

I have to remind myself to keep food simple during the three days that Son and his family visit for Christmas. Those are days that Daughter’s family also eats meals with us. Six adults. Eight Grands. No new food. If the kids don’t recognize the food, they’re hesitant to eat. If they don’t eat, no one – neither the child nor parents nor this Gran – is happy. Thankfully, I saved menu notes that include kid choices: ham rolls, Angel biscuits, chicken strips, sweet potato fries, cut up apples and oranges.

Our Grands are ages six months to 10 years. Their wish lists, which I ask for, are long. Like other grandparents, I’d like to get everything, but I don’t. And I’ve learned a way to make shopping easier. Last year, one Grand asked for a soft, cuddly blanket, so each Grand got a twin size, soft, cuddly blanket. They liked that they got their favorite colors and that their blankets had their names embroidered along the top. (Yes, each Grand got one gift that was only on his/her list.)

After all the gifts were opened last Christmas, my older Grands asked why I didn’t hide the their gifts and write clues for a treasure hunt like I’d done before. I forgot. The gift becomes bigger and better as my Grands follow clues: where you sleep when you visit. Where Gran hides candy. In your baby brother’s car seat.

New this year: I bought 8 identical big gift bags and I taped a Grand’s picture on each bag. No matter the size of the gifts, they go in the bag or a note that will lead to a gift stashed in the garage. And for my four Grands who can’t even read their names, they know their pictures. I’ll let you know if this works.

I taped the CHRISTMAS 2015 note on my kitchen work desk. Reminders to keep this holiday time simple and to focus on people. Isn’t Christmas all about people?

Love, Janet

start_bg.ny One more Christmas card came in my mailbox today. A card from Huron, Ohio. From Janet Gordon, who became my aunt’s best friend when they were young housewives and raising children.

Aunt Doris and Janet and their husbands developed a friendship that emerged from living far away from their families and in the same neighborhood. It was the late 1940’s. Akron, Ohio. That close relationship continued even after Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh moved to Tennessee in 1962. The two couples vacationed together and stayed connected through Sunday night telephone calls.

As a kid, I played with Janet’s daughter while visiting Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh in Akron, and I saw the Gordon family a few times when they visited here in Tennessee. In more recent years, Aunt Doris had shared the Gordon family news with me. Of the four friends, only Janet survives. After Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh passed away within a month of each other in 2013, Janet’s daughter called me. She said that her mother needed to connect with Doris and Hugh’s family. Janet had talked with my cousin and her daughter asked that I also call her.

Janet and I talked about Aunt Doris keeping up with fashion and her determination to act young. We talked about a time that I played at Janet’s house when I ate too many marshmallows and had a stomachache. Janet lamented that she never thought she’d be the last of the four friends and declared that she was doing well. I hung up the phone and added her name to my Christmas card list.

Janet’s card included a copy of her Christmas letter. She wrote, “2014 has been a happy year for me. I accomplished most of the goals I set for myself. The goal that stands out the most is that I know if I put others first in my life, and try to encourage someone every day, I am happy and able to cope with living alone.” June 2014 was a special time because her granddaughter visited for a week and had a surprise 91st birthday party for her.

In March, Jane fell and required hospital care and caregivers during a three-month recuperation. She learned “to never underestimate what a fall can do to slow you down.” About a mild ischemic stroke that she suffered in November, she wrote “The Good Lord still wants me here as I had help immediately.” She spent four days in the hospital and continues to have speech therapy and the care of a home health nurse twice a week.

Janet ended her letter. “I am doing very well. I will start setting my personal goals for 2015. I wish you and yours joy, peace, and loving warmth as you fellowship with your family and friends. Have a safe, happy, and blessed Christmas. May you have a prosperous 2015.”

She’s 91 and lives alone. After two hospital stays in 2014 and a three month recuperation from a fall and while currently working with a speech therapist and receiving care from home health nurse, Janet is happy and doing well. She accomplished most of her 2014 goals and I’m sure she’s set 2015 goals.

I tucked Janet’s letter under my writing calendar. When there’s a day that I feel the least bit down in the dumps, I’ll read Janet’s words again. And be blessed.

A Surprise Gift

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 5.22.57 PMA Griddler. A surprise gift that I’d admired at a friend’s house. A countertop appliance that’s a grill and a griddle and opens with two sides or closes and cooks top and bottom at the same time. “We can cook everything on this!” I said. “Pancakes, hamburgers, quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, steak, fish, grilled veggies. Even bacon and eggs – bacon on the grill side and eggs on the griddle.”

Husband smiled and nodded. “You’re right,” he said. We checked out how the Griddler worked, switched the plates from grill to griddle, and then there was the question. Where will we store it? I don’t like countertops completely covered. Coffee pot, small toaster oven, cookbook stand, knife block, and a bowl for fresh fruit – enough clutter for me. Husband said, “How about in the cabinet over the microwave? Take out that griddle that Grannie Ray gave us?” A wedding gift – a griddle that is also a waffle maker and even though it’s 45 years old it makes perfect waffles. It stays.

I knew what Husband was thinking. The pantry, aka the mudroom*. A walk-through room from the front porch to the kitchen and with shelves on both sides. Filled shelves. Recycling, reusable grocery bags, canned and boxed food, paper products, serving platters and bowls, pots and bowls too big for the kitchen cabinets, baskets to serve chips, and more. Stuff crammed. Stuff falling.

“The best place would be in the mudroom,” I said. Husband raised his eyebrows. “And I know it needs cleaning out.” Husband nodded slowly. It’s my space. An annex to the kitchen.

Standing on a ladder, I started at the top, the shelf I stand on tiptoe to reach, but have avoided since two baskets attacked me when I grabbed for a package of Fourth of July napkins. How many baskets does anyone need? Certainly not one with broken reeds, or one with dried cheese stuck on the bottom, or four the same size.

I culled treasures. A grater, with a turning handle and small metal drums. A stovetop coffee pot. A set of flatware that I took out of my kitchen drawer years ago. A George Forman griddle. The perfect chip and dip dish, so I thought twenty years ago. It’s been used twice. Three bread-baking tubes. What a clever idea! Bake a 2” round loaf of bread. Slice it thin, toast the slices, and top each with cream cheese and green pepper jelly. I never got past the bake it; the dough in the middle didn’t bake.

Gone are plastic cottage cheese lids and more than a few take-out boxes. A can of sauerkraut dated April 2012. Packages of stuff to mix with sour cream for dips. A can of 2010 tomato juice.

I rearranged. I cleaned. I organized. And that brand new Griddler now has a home. On a mudroom shelf, right at waist level. All I have to do is buy a couple of steaks and Husband and I will have supper. Right?

*It’ll always be the mudroom to me. When my children were young, it’s where they sat on a bench and took off their snow boots or muddy shoes. They hung their coats on hooks and put gloves in baskets. Or they left everything on the mudroom floor.



Are Ornaments Necessary?


DSC03225For just a moment, long enough to take a picture, I decided our Christmas tree was beautiful with only lights – no ornaments, no angel, no red ropes -just lights. It was late one night in early December, and I was really tired when I posted that picture on Facebook and wrote “Are ornaments necessary?” And Facebook friends chimed in.

Nell: Real Simple magazine recommended this style of decorating about twelve years ago. I tried it and got zero votes of approval from my grown and gone children.

Kim: If they are special to you.

Janet: Well, you know the hard part is over. Go for it. (I didn’t even do the hard part. Husband did.)

Carolyn: I found out I could do without some ornaments this year. Got tired of finding a place to hang all of them. I looked at them, remembered, and put them back in the box. Does that count? (Yes!)

Jimmie: I’ve made the grievous move from a live tree to an artificial one. I’ll enjoy going through the ornaments, but there will be serious downsizing. Things change, but the tree will be pretty, just different.

Sara: The ornaments tell stories of our life and Christmas past and present. I’ve seen many lovely trees, but for us, the ornaments matter because they connect us to one another, whether present or absent, living or not, family or friends.

Becky: I’ve passed the ornament memories to Staci (daughter), which she loves, and I simplified my tree, just red ornaments and frosted pinecones. Different tree, same Christmas memories! It’s all in the heart anyway.

Carol: (a retired teacher) I still enjoy the ornaments because I have names of students written on many and I say a prayer for each of them as I hang their ornaments. The ornaments bring such fond memories of days gone by and remind me of the love we shared during the school year and beyond.

Tanya: I love personal ornaments. It warms me so when I open my box of decorations and see all those handmade ornaments given to me by my children and special friends.

Daughter: Yes!!!! I’ll send some elves over to help tomorrow. So you only have to do the top third and maybe a little rearranging on the bottom. And don’t forget the train underneath!

My friends encouraged me. The next morning I strung the red bead ropes and hung my fragile ornaments near the top of the tree and my bird ornaments nestled in a flock. My two oldest Grands and I decorated our most beautiful tree ever, and then they helped Husband set up the train.

I didn’t rearrange a single ornament that my Grands hung. Not even the three that touched each other on one branch. A plastic glitter bell from the first Christmas that Husband and I celebrated as man and wife. A glove ornament cut from one of Granny’s quilts. An elegant green and red ball that was gift from a friend.

I knew the real answer to my question. Ornaments aren’t necessary. Neither are lights or angels or electric trains or even a tree. None are necessary to celebrate Christmas. But my tree is beautiful and late on Christmas night, I plan to sip tea and cherish each ornament. Its memory. Its love. Its story.






Last Minute Gifts!

searchAll I want for Christmas is my Christmas shopping finished! I’m not a shopper so shopping for gifts can be a chore. But I love to give gifts. Don’t like to shop and love to give. How contradictory! That’s why I search for ways to keep shopping at a minimum, and I steal ideas from friends and family and printed articles. Anyone, anyplace.
Subscriptions. Buy a magazine, keep a subscription card that is tucked among its pages, and give the magazine along with a handwritten note that says, “Merry Christmas all year long! You’ll receive an issue every month.” If your brother opens the gifts and says that he already receives this magazine, ask what other one he’d like and be glad you haven’t sent in the subscription card yet. Magazines are available on all topics – something for every boy and girl, man and woman. Or give a newspaper subscription, even if your aunt gets the local paper, pay for the next three months’ issues.
Buy one for everybody. I hope all my Grands like their blankets with their names embroidered on them. One Grand ask for a soft blanket, so all are getting one. If your Uncle John asked for a flashlight, wouldn’t other relatives like one? If sister needs a water bottle, the kind that holds either hot or cold beverages and made of the safest materials, get a water bottle for everybody. Or how about giving all your neighbors and friends a hunk of good cheddar cheese, a box of fancy crackers, and a jar of olives?
Gift cards. Not the plastic kind, the personal kind. In July, four of my Grands gave me handmade birthday cards that read, “I’m taking you out for a treat at _____.” (They each chose a different place.) The time we spent together, just the two of us, licking ice cream cones or munching cupcakes was worth much more than the cost of the treat. And not just grandmothers would like this gift. Grandfathers, aunts, uncles, parents, neighbors, and even children.
How about a gift card for chores? Clean out the kitchen cabinets, paint a room, make home repairs – you know what your parents or children would like done. Put a cleaning cloth or paintbrush or wrench, whatever fits the task, inside a beautiful gift bag and when the gift is opened, determine a time that the chore will be completed.
And most everyone likes a trip or a special event. One of my all-time favorite Christmas gifts was a promise for a ticket to a Ray Charles concert. Husband and I sat center front, three rows back, while Ray Charles and the Nashville Symphony performed on stage.
Make it personal. It’s probably too late to order and receive a cell phone case with the grandchildren’s picture printed on it, but there’s plenty of time to write, “You get to choose your favorite picture for a new phone case!” And wouldn’t a recent bride or a teenager love this gift?
There are very few shopping days left. Surely, on Christmas Day, I’ll have a gift for one and all.

Granny’s Christmas Gifts

searchMy Grands would never ask me “Will tobacco sell high this year?” but that’s a question I asked my granny when I was a young girl and sat beside her on her couch. In her lap, Granny held a cardboard gift box lid filled with cracked black walnuts, and she held a metal nut picker in her hand.

After Thanksgiving, Granny spent most days fretting about the price of tobacco and picking black walnuts out of their shells. She’d say, “I don’t know how much I can give you for Christmas. It depends on what my tabaccy sells for. At least the walnuts are good this year.” The tobacco had been grown on the family farm and although Granny never came close to it – not to plant or sucker or hoe or cut or stalk or strip or haul it – it was her tobacco because it grew on her parents’ farmland where she grew up.

While Granny, my paternal grandmother, fretted about tobacco prices, her hands stayed busy. She kept a list of people to give a pound of black walnuts and she touched every nut – several times. Two walnut trees stood close to the tobacco field. In October when the nuts, enclosed in green and yellow thick hard hulls, began to fall, Granny picked them up –filling many five-gallon buckets. Not a single nut was left on the ground. She and I searched for nuts that rolled far from the trees or hid under leaves.

Granny was impatient waiting for those green hard hulls to soften and turn black. She laid some nuts on her wooden back porch and used a hammer and chisel to remove the hulls, but most nuts were taken to our house. When the hulls began to turn black, we spread the nuts on our gravel driveway. The mushy hulls fell off under the pressure of the cars’ tires. Then Granny and I wore brown cotton gloves, designated the walnut gloves, and rubbed the remaining scraps of the hull from the thick shell. It was a nasty job.

After that, Granny spread the nuts on flattened brown cardboard boxes to dry and cure inside her house for at least two weeks. Again, she was impatient and because she and I liked the flavor of green walnuts, she’d crack and pick out nutmeats for us to eat. (More than once I had a green walnut stomachache.) Granny used a hand operated lever nutcracker, mounted on a two-foot tall log, to crack the thick, hard shells. She held each nut securely, in perfect position so that the shell practically fell away from the nutmeat.

Granny’s sharp nut picker was a precise tool in her hands, and she didn’t let me or anyone else, use it. She removed half and quarter pieces, and then she’d spread those nutmeats on newspaper to dry out for a few days. Figuring that a quart jar measured a pound, she measured and then filled empty Christmas card boxes with walnuts.

Granny’s Christmas gifts depended on the growing season. Family and friends were always glad when the walnuts were good. And if tobacco sold really high, I got a crisp five-dollar bill stuck inside a Christmas card, but some years I got a one-dollar bill. No wonder I asked about the price of tobacco.