Saturday night almost always meant that our family would do something exciting. On this particular Saturday night, MommyBlanche and Granddad were coming, and for Libby and me, it didn’t get much more exciting than that. We waited by the door for what seemed like forever before we saw Granddad’s green jeep make its way slowly up our long driveway. We flew through the door and out to meet them. Granddad climbed out of the jeep and looked down at us, grinned real big, and inquired, “What’re you needle-knockers doin’?” Then he slipped his hands out of his pockets, and as always, without fail, they emerged with a candy bar in each of them. He bent down, and we both hugged his neck so tightly that it had to hurt.
We all visited for a little bit, then settled down to watch TV together (still a new and quite remarkable form of entertainment for all of us!) I sat under the crook of MommyBlanche’s arm, and Libby sat on Granddad’s lap. At that moment, there was nowhere in the world either of us would rather have been. By the time they were ready to head back up to Little Horse Creek, we had both fallen asleep. They tried to get up from the couch without waking us, but it didn’t work. We awoke and were immediately alert. Then, the begging began.
We flew over to Mom and Dad and pressed our bodies right up against their legs. Looking straight up into their eyes, we pleaded, “Pleeeeaaaasssse! Pleeeeaaaasssse!” Pleeeeaaaasssse let us spend the night with MommyBlanche and Granddad. Pleeeeaaaasssse! It’ll just be for one night. You can come get us tomorrow.”
Granddad looked at Mom and Dad and spoke in that quiet and slow drawl, “You oughta let ‘em go. One night ain’t gonna hurt anything.” Mom and Dad looked at each other, not needing to speak a word to know defeat would be theirs tonight. After a feeble attempt at protesting for good measure, they gave in. Talk about two girls hustling to pack pajamas and toothbrushes, but we did. We were ready to go out the door with them in no time.
The last words we heard as we jumped in that old green jeep came from Mom, “You young’uns mind now and be good. Mommy loves you!” The jeep groaned awake, Granddad scraped it into gear, and down the driveway we bounced.
Just riding in that jeep was an adventure within itself. Somewhere between forest green and kelly green, the vehicle rode like we were going off to war. The parachute-like material that covered it flapped in the wind adding to the road noise. Our seats in the rear had been expertly placed over the wheel wells, and as we thumped up and down on them, we sang songs all the way there.
Just as soon as we got stopped in the driveway at MommyBlanche and Granddad’s house, MommyBlanche knew exactly what was coming. The begging began again. “Pleeeaaassse MommyBlanche, pleeeaaassse, can we sleep on the floor? It’s so much fun! Oh, pleeeaaassse!”
It never took much begging. “Now, if you promise to go right to sleep, I reckon it’ll be all right. Come on Libby Lob [short for Libby Lobster, MommyBlanche’s nickname for Libby], help ole MommyBlanche get the pillers. Pamie, you go get the quilts.” And off we ran, giggling all the way down the hallway and into the guest room where we pulled out the pillows and handmade quilts while MommyBlanche got flat sheets.
We spent the next little while getting everything just right–quilts against the floor so we would have a little cushion and a smooth flat sheet on top, then another flat sheet on top of that, and finally, we finished off with another quilt on top. One more lay on Granddad’s rocker just in case we needed it in the night. With the bed finished, it was off to the kitchen.
MommyBlanche thought we might starve before breakfast, so we just had to have a snack before bed. A glass of milk and a piece of dried apple pie later, we could barely wait to slip between those two crisp sheets. “You young’uns, no gigglin’ now, straight to sleep with you both,” MommyBlanche warned. We lay quiet as mice until she was out of sight, then the giggling started. We giggled and talked until Mr. Sandman pulled our eyelids down one last time.
We slept until the thick woodsy smell of a newly built fire and the sweet smell of bacon frying woke us up the next morning. The air was cool and damp, and the heat that seemed to come off that old woodstove in waves soaked right into my bones as I sat on the little stool beside the stove watching MommyBlanche work her breakfast magic. This had to be how Dorothy felt when she clicked her heels three times and woke up to see Auntie Em’s and Uncle Henry’s faces…
Bacon…oh my, how Libby and I both loved bacon! MommyBlanche always fed us bacon until we could hold no more. This morning, she fried a whole package to go with her hot biscuits and gravy. It must have been the woodstove, but somehow everything she cooked on this cool morning had a deeper and fuller taste than what we got from the electric stove at home. We ate until we were full as ticks.
After our breakfast had had time to settle a little and the dew had dried off just a little, Mike, our cousin from just up and across the road, marched in. Although Libby and I were both older than he, he could keep up with us and then some. Wild as a buck, he could raise MommyBlanche’s dander in no time, and she was practically sweeping him out of the house as he grabbed a biscuit. He just slowed down and strutted all the way out. We followed, wondering what we could do to pass the time until Mom and Dad came.
An old oil drum stood next to the house, and after studying it for a minute, an idea formed. We ran back in the house yelling, “MommyBlanche, we need some old quilts. Hurry! We need them for the barrel!” MommyBlanche never got in any real hurry for anything; slow and steady she was, but that approach served her well. She accomplished as much or more than anyone else I knew. She just did it deliberately and methodically, and that was just how she went about fulfilling our request, all the time muttering about not tearing anything up with that barrel and warning us not to get hurt.
We, however, were in a hurry, so we paid little heed to her advice, and as soon as she found some old blankets and quilts, we were back out the door. We had rolled the barrel around into the side of the yard with a hill that went down into a small meadow. The creek bordered the yard and meadow on one side, and MommyBlanche’s garden bordered the other. We positioned the barrel at the top of the hill as close to the middle of those two boundaries as we could by eyeballing it, then we stuffed the blankets and quilts in. Without missing a beat, we stuffed Mike in right after them. He was even more headlong than Libby and tough as a pine knot, so we all figured he would be the best one to give it the first whirl.
He rolled himself up in the covers for cushion, and yelled, “Let ‘er go!” Not only did we “let ‘er go,” Libby and I gave the barrel a good solid push, too. Down the hill went that barrel in kind of a lop-sided roll as Mike tumbled over and over in it. Once the barrel stopped in the meadow, we waited for him to emerge. He crawled out and started to stand. He fell down once, and then stood again, this time maintaining his balance, but staggering all over the place. We hadn’t even considered the possibility of getting dizzy from the ride down. Libby and I laughed until our sides almost split as he rubbed his hand over the short stubble of his haircut and staggered his way back up the hill.
“Phew,” he said, “let me do it again!” So, we went down the hill and rolled the barrel back up. By the time it was in place again, we had decided on a philosophy of “If a little is good, a lot must be better,” so this time Mike and Libby both crawled in the barrel together. I gave them a good shove, and not only did the barrel bounce down the hill faster, it went further out into the meadow, making the ride longer than the solo run.
And so the fun was on! We took turns most of the morning rolling down the hill in the barrel, sometimes losing quilts as we went, and sometimes losing a rider as we went. Granddad sat on the porch watching us, and we occasionally caught a glimpse of MommyBlanche peeking at us through the kitchen window as she sat at her sewing machine catching up on some of the sewing she had taken in. All we paid for our morning’s fun was a bruise here and there.
Dinner time came, and so did Mom and Dad. Mom helped MommyBlanche put the finishing touches on the chicken and dumplings, green beans, corn, and slaw she had been working on between bouts of sewing and barrel watching. Daddy sat on the porch with Granddad talking hunting. Mike, Libby, and I stormed in and drank our fill of Kool-Aid and caught our breath. In just a few minutes we all sat down at the dining room table to another country feast, eating until we thought we might pop.
Mom helped with the dishes while Libby and I made sure we had everything packed back up. We all four piled in the car, and Daddy backed out of the driveway. As he pulled onto the road, Libby and I both turned around, waving through the back window to MommyBlanche and Granddad. Leaving them was always hard, and even though I knew we would see them again next week, I still felt my eyes sting as we lost sight of their house.
By now, you’ve probably come to know the Spencer side of my family pretty well. The reason for this is simple: we only lived about half a mile from Maw and Paw, and they were a daily part of our lives pretty much serving as surrogate parents. But we had a whole other branch on our family tree, just as loved as my Spencer family. MommyBlanche and Granddad Hart were grandparents in every sense of the word. They doted on Libby and me, loving us in a deep and accepting way that was different from everyone else. Libby and especially I felt a closeness to them, too, that was unlike what we felt for the rest of our family.