As a little girl, Madelyn enjoyed visiting her grandmother.

Visiting My Grandmother: Part Two

I loved being at my grandmother’s house. It was such a cheerful place. As soon as I opened the kitchen door, I felt that there was no other place I could want to be. Just a foot or two from the kitchen door was the white wood-burning stove, spotlessly clean and always hot–very hot–not to be touched by your bare hands. There was a rocking chair near the window facing onto the porch door. On the other side of the room was another rocking chair, and here I hoped to see my grandmother, sitting looking off towards the fields on the other side of the house.

If my grandmother was not in the kitchen I would go look for her. Sometimes she would be sewing on her Singer hand-pedaled sewing machine.  Other times she would be cleaning around the house or taking a nap in a small room off the kitchen. Whether she was working or napping, I would have to tap her on her shoulder to let her know I was there. You see she was deaf.  Almost instantly her eyes would light up and a smile would come across her face. I would give her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. I would have to be careful not to squeeze her, as her hearing aid was wired, and it would screech if there was interference. Then we would head for the kitchen, where I would go to the cupboard and find the large coffee can with homemade cookies: molasses, old-fashioned sugar, or date-filled. There would be milk in the refrigerator.

We would sit and talk awhile. I always faced her, talked slowly, and enunciated each word carefully. My grandmother was a smart lady who always seemed young and everyone loved her. She had a sense of humor and was as keen as a whip is fast. She was industrious and never complained; my grandmother lived to be 98 and was cooking and caring for her home until the last year of her life.

After I had my snack I would get ready to head home. My grandmother always had something to send along with me: a quart of milk, a few eggs, or a pound of butter. Going home wasn’t a problem except for the cattle gate, where I would set down my load of food and push it under the gate. Then I would climb up the wobbly poles, sit on the top, swing over, drop on to the other side, step down, and jump off before retrieving my load.

As I returned home, I would listen to the sounds of nature and sometimes sing along the way. Upon entering the shed, I would stamp my feet to remove the snow or mud. Then I would enter our kitchen, greet my mother, and tell her all that had happened on my trip to my grandmother’s house. I was never afraid and was delighted to occasionally see birds, rabbits, or a deer. Visiting my grandmother was always worth the trip.

-July 22, 2014

As a child, Madelyn Given often enjoyed walking to her grandmother's house.

Visiting My Grandmother: Part One

My grandmother owned a small farm in New England, originally settled by her grandparents many years before. It sat up on a hill, with views of distant mountains, in a lovely country setting. The house was situated on a dirt road about a tenth of a mile from a main highway. My parents’ property bordered the dirt road abutting my grandmother’s property and our long driveway met the main highway. Due to the danger of speeding traffic, I was never allowed to walk along this highway, but I could walk through the woods to visit my grandmother.

I can’t remember when I first got permission to go–perhaps age 5 or 6–but I never went with an adult and no one had walked with me prior to my first solo walk. I decided I wanted to do it. Once I started, I continued to go on a regular basis several times a week in the fall, winter, and spring, but rarely in the summer as I spent summers away helping with my parents’ business.

I can vividly remember how I would set out from home and unlock the back shed door which opened to a fruit orchard. Often a gust of wind would swing it open, slamming it against the wall of the building. I would grab it with my tiny little hands and push my whole body against the door to close it and fasten the lock. From there I walked through our old orchard with its pear, cherry, and apple trees. I climbed over the stone wall, under a barbwire fence, and then I was in the woods.

The woods were dense with a mix of red cedars and evergreen trees. The only direction my dad gave me was to go straight to the big pine tree and then keep going until I met up with the cow path. This I did, sometimes stopping for a minute or two under the wide branches of the white pine tree, then heading straight until I met up with the trail. Then I walked along this cow path, which was eight or ten inches deep in places; it had been firmly packed down by the cows on their way to the watering hole, a small man-made pond.  Sometimes I would hear the cows coming, as one always had a cow bell on a collar around her neck. I would step aside between the trees and let them pass.

On I hurried until I came to the cattle gate which separated the two properties. It was an old-fashioned gate, with cedar poles twelve to fourteen feet long going across, stacked as high as eight feet tall. The cross posts held up the rails and the whole gate leaned over, making the climb up treacherous, especially if wet. It was like climbing a wall overhanging towards you. The rails were loose fitting and would turn when I put my weight on them; I used my arms and legs to scramble over the top, then gingerly turned around and climbed down the other side.

From here I could see my grandmother’s house and barn. I walked though a field, where sometimes I was greeted by another cow or two. This field was fenced in, and there was a gate to unlock, so I always checked to make sure I locked it behind me before going on, as the cows were watching me with a keen interest. Then I checked the vegetable garden as I walked around the clothesline to the well curb in the dooryard. I could hear the chickens clucking from a distance and they would scatter as I crossed the yard.

If I had hurried and was thirsty I would stop at the well, pumping the handle a few times until the water came out of the head. I would take the metal cup, rinse it with the cold water, fill the cup, and drink–oh so cold and fresh! I would sprint across the driveway, up the steps, push open the screen door on the porch, and hurry into the kitchen. I was at my grandmother’s house.

-July 15, 2014

Madelyn Given enjoyed writing letters as a child.

Childhood Memories: Letter Writing

I enjoyed writing for a purpose at an early age and the main reason was letter writing. There was joy when my mother or father brought home mail from our box at the Post Office. I waited anxiously for a letter or card from an aunt, a great aunt, my grandmother, or a pen pal. I was so excited that I would read the letter and sit down and respond right away. Each person was different, and the mail was very special to me.

I became a regular letter writer by third grade. After third grade, I went away to summer camp for two weeks each summer. I would write home telling all the adventures happening to me in my young life. Telephone calls were not allowed unless deemed necessary by the camp staff.

My Aunt Isabel was a Latin teacher and she would write asking me to come and visit her, or invite me to go out to dinner. One day on a visit I overheard her telling my mother to work on my spelling. This damped my desire to write to her, as I was very sensitive to criticism. In my eyes I was a great letter writer. We still wrote to each other and visited until her passing at an elderly age.

My great aunt Sylvia was the most fun to write to and receive letters. She asked just the right questions for my age. She understood what little girls liked to do.

My grandmother would send a newspaper cartoon or an article from a magazine and usually included a dollar or two to buy a treat. She was a kind and loving woman and a wonderful grandmother.

As a child I didn’t have as many distractions as children today. There was more time to read and write. We had no television; radio was played in the morning for weather reports and in the evening for news. The US Mail was an important part of communication outside of school, church, neighborhood, and the family at home. People were great about sending letters and postcards on a regular basis, not just when they went on vacation. Although people used the central telephone service to make important calls, phone calls were used with moderation, so letter writing was a part of daily life.

In 4th grade in my Girl Scout Troop I was paired up with a pen pal from Mexico. We corresponded for many years and when my mother visited Mexico she met her.

Writing letters has continued all my life. When I left home to go away to college, my mother wrote a letter to me every day. Her letters were current, upbeat, funny, and happy and she never repeated anything. She died at age 91 and wrote cards and notes up to the time of her death. That was a lifetime of letter writing. I hope this family tradition continues with my granddaughters.

-July 8, 2014