Growing up with Granny and Popa Caldwell

Growing Up with Granny and Popa


I kind of lived between 2 houses because Granny and Popa lived so close. But I always slept at home. Well, almost always.


Popa worked in maintenance, maintaining the company houses in Edgewater. He caught a ride to and from work, at the foot of his driveway. The last day he worked in public works, he came walking up the driveway and showed us the watch they gave him for retirement. He was 65.


When he came home from work, we always met him and walked up the driveway. He gave us his leftover sandwiches from his lunch box. It was many years before I realized Granny made extra food for his lunch so he could give us the leftovers. The sandwiches were always made with Granny’s fresh breakfast biscuits. They contained fried egg, fig preserves, cheese, leftover roast beef (on Mondays), or an occasional boiled egg, and sometimes a banana.


Popa always wore grey trousers and shirts around the house. When he got home from work, he went out to the back porch and “washed up,” especially his white hair, which was full of coal dust. In cold weather, he invaded Granny’s kitchen to wash up.


After he retired, he mostly did maintenance around his own house and yard, gardened the vegetable garden, and sat around a lot.


He loved to read, Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, the American Magazine, Life, anything about our government. As soon as he and Granny finished reading, they gave the magazines to my parents. The rule was that anything that came into our house to read was okay for kids as well as adults to read. Some of the stories in Saturday Evening Post, granny questioned kids reading. They were sort of meant for adults. But Popa and my parents said they were okay.


As long as I can remember, Popa had a car. I remember Frank driving his car to the hospital to bring Ruby and Minerva home from the hospital when Minerva was born. (I was 3.) He let me ride along to get them.


Popa never drove anywhere but necessary trips, such as grocery shopping in Wylam, buying clothes at Penny’s in Ensley or to the commissary in Edgewater. He went to Edgewater on Sunday mornings to get Stella, Betty and Thelma Jean, and once in a great while to Praco to get Uncle Tom and Aunt Hattie to come spend a few days. (These were also necessary trips. Family things were high priority.) Later, when Uncle Millard got sick, he drove there a lot of afternoons to “sit with him and give Jennie a break.” Lots of times, he let Minerva and me go with him.


Popa believed kids should behave, but he loved us so much. The littlest ones always got to sit by him at meals. Of course, he sat on “the bench” and there was room for us. When Don and Betty first sat up well enough, he had Betty sitting next to him for meals. She was a plump little doll. Don didn’t gain as well. Popa finally admitted he was feeding Betty “pot likker” and corn bread. So Beth swapped places for them so Don could catch up.


It seems like a lot of things revolved around food. Well, they probably did, because most social activities were built around meal times. This was before the time of microwaves, automatic washing machines, dryers, and a lot of other conveniences. So people spent a lot of time working.


But granny had an electric refrigerator and an electric stove. And as soon as “city water” was available, they got an indoor bathroom (with a tub and shower).


Even though he was strict, Popa played jokes on us. He cut a stack of wood and told me to carry it in the house. He also said, “Tell the ole battleaxe that’s all I’m cutting.” Of course I repeated his words to granny just like he knew I would.


He referred to Aunt Ella (granny’s sister) as “the news bureau.” She never left home, but she always knew everything that was going on in all of Apex, Cottage Hill, and Lizard Ridge. (Maybe even all of Alabama.) He liked Aunt Ella but he tended to speak his mind.


Sometimes he did not like Emmett (my dad). He said Emmett should not spend money on his worthless brother and sister when he had kids to support. (The brother and sister drank alcohol and didn’t keep their jobs, so they were always “down on their luck.”)


One day, Popa went out to water the garden. He was using the house. Alyce walked out toward the garden with Jean in her arms. For some reason, Popa turned the hose on her (teasing). She handed Jean to me, grabbed the hose and soaked Popa with it. I don’t know of anyone else who would have turned the hose on him.


Alyce used to tell us about when she and cousin Edith Wheeler were going to high school. Popa would not allow her to wear lipstick. So she and Edith waited till they got to the bus stop and put it on. He told them lipstick made their mouth look like a fox’s ass. So the cousins referred to him as “Foxy Ben.”


As Papa got older, he had Parkinson’s disease. The barber was afraid he would cut his ear or something when he was shaky, so Emmett cut his hair for him without mishap. He was embarrassed sometimes by the shaking and did not like to go visiting.


But, I always remember him going out to sit in the front porch swing with granny after supper “until his mind began to fail.”


*Note to family members:

Before grandma Caldwell died, her mind failed.

Then Popa did the same.

Be careful, we may be next.


A special time was when Betty and Don were born. They were so tiny, Popa would have tears in his eyes when he looked at them. Every morning h e got the room warm for Beth to bathe them. (They were born in October and came home in December.) Every morning Beth just looked at them and could not do it. So Popa would go get Ruby, who would come bathe them while Beth taught me to read.


Another special time was almost every Sunday morning after Sunday school, when Popa went to get Stella and her girls to come to “spend the day.”


Any time any of his kids came to visit, he was very excited. But the day they left he walked up and down the driveway, crying for a good part of the day.


When Don Vann would “lose” his tiny glasses, Popa would have all of us looking for them until dark. They were nearly always in or under the fig tree. But that kid really hid them, so we had to really search.


About Popa’s clock in the dining room: When Ruby was born, Mr. Spencer, from Wylam, came to see the new baby. He brought the clock as a gift for Popa and Granny. Incidentally, he asked them what they had named the baby. They admitted they hadn’t named her yet. So, he asked if he could name her. He named her Ruby Spencer Caldwell. He was a family friend.




Who can possibly remember all the good stuff about Granny? She was so patient with all of us.


She was cleaning the linoleum in her kitchen. She was sitting down on the floor washing and wiping it with old towels. (She was always getting short of breath, so did not use a mop.) My dad sent me to help her, so she showed me how to clean a floor.


As long as I could remember she had a goiter. It was easily visible. But surgery was not her answer. I don’t blame her because I don’t want my neck cut either. So she put up with it till she was 75 years old and it was really crowding her windpipe. The doctor told her it couldn’t wait any longer. By then, she also had some heart problems. So they took it out. It extended to her right collarbone and left collarbone, and was the largest one the people in the hospital had ever seen. So she went home to recuperate. Ruby was staying with her. Ruby had to go to get groceries and granny was doing fine. So Ruby left her at home alone. When she got back, granny had picked the scuppernongs and was well on her way to finishing the jelly. Ruby, in a panic, called the surgeon. Granny had been told to rest. The doctor just said, “Okay, when she comes to see me, bring me some jelly.” She was a very strong lady.


She would take us to the watermelon patch in the summer. It had to be before 10 A.M. while the melons were cool. She would pick up a melon and set it down just hard enough to crack it open and we would eat it with our hands.


Cantaloupes were more formal. We sat on the back steps. She cut them with a knife into halves, scooped out the seeds for the chickens. We ate it with a spoon. Cantaloupes had to have salt and pepper.


She loved to go “down in the holler.” I have no idea how far this actually was, but it was fun. In the spring we went for flowers. In the fall, we went to find hickory nuts or her favorite scaley banks. In between, we just went.


She always used a stick (hickory sapling) to walk, especially up the hill. And she always panted a little. Betty Lois heard her doing this and named her “Granny Grunt,” a name which stuck for the rest of her life.


She used to sew on her old treadle machine. She was very talented.


She also pieced quilts a lot. Most of the women also pieced quilts with their scraps. Then they would all get together to quilt them. I played many an hour under a quilt in her living room, while the women quilted. She made tiny, neat stitches.


She had a fox neckpiece that had artificial eyes. We played with it. She never wore it even though Lois had given it to her to wear with her black coat. It was a real fox and probably expensive, but we just played with it.


In the summer she made dried apples with apples off the “horse apple” tree. She peeled and sliced them and spread them on a sheet on top of the rabbit hutch. Every night they had to be brought in the house, out of the dew. When they were dry enough, she put them in a pillowcase in her bedroom closet where it was cool. They were good for pies all winter.


We always played under the scuppernong vine. She told us there might be snakes, then left us to play. It was a favorite place. The “Rowdy” house was the best. Cow feed and “stuff” were kept in there. But there was room for kids to play. There were also old clothes stored in there for “dress up.” It was actually a building. It even had windows. When my parents left Michigan in the depression to come back to Alabama, they lived in the Rowdy house until they could get established (with Jack and Guy). It was a really neat place to play. We must have been nuts because we played there in summer when the hay and stuff made us itch like crazy. And it was so dusty I don’t know how we breathed.


Granny always had a cow. But the one we all remember is Daisy. She was a large yellow Jersey. She gave a lot of milk. Granny would always squirt milk into her mouths of any kids watching her milk. (We sure were easy to entertain.)


There was always a contest between Daisy and Patsy. Patsy was Ruby’s black Jersey. Her milk always had more fat than Daisy’s. They used to measure it in glass jars to see which one had more cream rise to the top. The last time I went to Alyce’s house, she gave me a picture of granny’s house and showed me her picture of Daisy.


Okay, kids, get ready for a shock!


Granny made a remark one time about her grandchildren that ruffled a few feathers. She said Neal and Benny were the smartest of all her grandchildren. They were 8 years old. How could she tell so young? Alyce McKenzie was almost 80 years old when I told her about this. She had a fit! She said that ALL of granny’s grandchildren were smart.


But I remember a bunch of us were playing in the yard. Benny and Neal happened to be there at the same time. She looked over at them and made his remark. Anyone care to rebut?


Alyce asked me if granny’s remark didn’t hurt my feelings. I saw no reason to have my feelings hurt. This was Granny talking and she loved all of us.


We used to love to comb Granny’s hair. She would sit in her rocking chair and we would comb for a long time. We could braid it or put it up or whatever, depending on whether it was long or short. A few times we put Toni home permanents in it. Alyce taught me how to put the Toni in, roll it, squirt it, set it.


When Granny “lost” her glasses, we all had to search. How dumb we felt when we finally “found” them pushed up on top of her head. She would push them up out of her way and forget she did it.


One year Granny made scuppernong wine. She kept it in a churn in the cellar. When someone came to visit, she would go down and get some in an aluminum pitcher to serve to them. She would give us kids about a tablespoon in a cheese spread glass. It was so strong I am surprised it did not make holes in the metal pitcher, but very sweet.


If my teetotaler dad had known about the wine, we would have probably been in trouble.


Sometimes, in the evening after supper dishes were done, we went down to Aunt Ella’s and sat around under the persimmon tree. Sometimes we snapped beans or shelled peas for “tomorrow.” Sometimes the adults caught up on news while the kids chased fireflies. Occasionally Aunt Kate would also be there. They were a clannish family. This set the pattern for us as we grew up. We grew up with close ties.


Granny, Aunt Ella and Kate lived a stone’s throw from each other. Dick and Joe lived a few blocks away on Apex road. Alice and Sammie lived at Lizard Ridge, only a few miles away. Cot lives in Steele, Alabama, but there was always communication and visiting.


I remember going to Grannie Wheeler’s with Ruby when Grannie was sick and when she died. She was lying in her coffin in a lavender dress with white lace collar and white hair. This is my first memory of death. They used to put lavender dresses on all the old ladies, as this was proper burial attire. Ugh! Too pale, definitely not appropriate for everybody.


Pleasant Grove Cemetery is the resting place of a lot of our family. We used to go out there between Sunday School and church service and count to see who had the most relatives. I always won.


First Sunday in May was Decoration Day. Granny and Ruby cut tubfuls of flowers to decorate all of our graves. Then they took some to Village Falls for the family members buried there. They put the flowers in jars of water. It was a true “Memorial Day.” This was a day for the church to have “dinner on the grounds” because a lot of people came from out of town to put flowers on their family graves. It was a reunion day. Lots of fried chicken and banana pudding and potato salad.


We used to pick out black walnuts for granny to cook with. (We ate a lot, too.) Popa would hit the walnuts with a hammer to break the outer husk. After this dried, you could peel it off. Then, finally you could crack the walnuts with a hammer and a brick and pick them out.


Finally, somebody told him to run over the walnuts in the driveway and then lay them aside to dry. This is still an approved method and it worked. I wonder if that nasty walnut juice got on his car.


Granny’s onions were stored on chicken wire under her house every year. She would send us out to climb under there to get them when she needed them to cook.


She liked Dominecker or Rhode Island Red hens because they laid brown eggs. We used to beat up oyster shells with a hammer for calcium for the hens.


Her sink drained at the end of the chicken yard and canna lilies grew there. They liked that soapy water, I guess.


Geography lesson: Apex is the highest point. We could stand by Popa’s big oak tree and see the light from the statue of Vulcan over near the mountain.


One day we had a very bad storm. The loudest clap of thunder I ever heard came with the lightning that split the big old oak tree. Popa left a stump of it standing to remember.


Vulcan is a statue of the god of the hearth. It used to be at the fairgrounds. Ruby told us about sitting on his foot. They moved the statue a few times. It is very large and roads, etc., necessitated changes. If there are no fatal accidents his light stays green. Red denotes traffic accidents. Minerva finally got to sit on his foot when she was in her fifties – a life long wish.


Uncle Dick had a little store by his house, really the next property from Granny and Popa. You could buy staples, coca cola (5 cents) and meat. He was a butcher. Otherwise you had to go either to Wylam or Fairfield to buy groceries, tools or anything else.


The peddler used to come by sometimes. Bananas were a nickel a pound. Popa would sometimes buy a whole bunch at a time to share. They raised a lot of their food, especially vegetables, and had peach, apple and fig trees.


The mystery of “the chest” has been solved. Betty Lois has it at her house, but did not know its history. When I was about 8 years old, Emmett built it for Lois. It was cedar and she wanted it large to store quilts and blankets in. It was too cold in the basement for glue to set correctly. So Emmett built it in our living room. On a day there was snow on the ground, he was building the lid. Minerva and I each sat in one end and played with paper dolls. When it was finished, Jim borrowed a truck and took it to Lanett to Lois’ house. Eventually, she “broke up housekeeping” and gave the chest to Beth.


Lois had owned a cedar chest a long time ago. It always lived in Granny’s front bedroom or sometimes in the living room. But it was the normal-sized chest. Granny stored odds and ends in it, and her company bedsheets.


A lesson in futility was washing granny’s curtains. They were large white panels. They dried fast on the “stretchers” and we put them back up. As soon as the train came by one time, the curtains had tiny black dots all over them.


I can’t stop writing without “killing the hogs.” They chose a really cold day and Emmett put up a block and tackle over a tree limb, with a rope to raise the hog up to a workable level. This black guy from Edgewater used to come to help. He was a cracker jack shot and killed the hog with one shot. Then they cut its throat to bleed it. They raised it up and down in a barrel of hot water to loosen the hair. Then they split it open and took out the innards after they scraped the hair.


The first part out of the hog was the liver and the “lights” (lungs) and a small piece of lean pork with a layer of fat. Granny took that and cooked it with onions and sage to make “liver hash.” She fed the workers with this and corn bread. Once again, food reigns. But this was especially good.


The men cut up the hog so it could be “cooked” and the hams and bacon could be cured with a salt mixture injected into them.


Sausage had to be ground. Of course, the chitlins had to be cleaned so the guy who shot the hog could take them home. He also got a share of the other meat. This was a long, hard day’s work. If Frank happened to be there, he passed around his silver flask to help even the teetotalers stay warm.


Every scrap of fat pork was saved to render the lard from it. Cholesterol city! We used that lard on a daily basis to make biscuits.


Sausage patties were fried a little bit and packed into jars. Grease from frying them was poured over the patties. Lids were put on the jars and they were cooked in the pressure cooker to preserve them safely.


After they sat in a curing salt/sugar mixture a while, hams and bacon were smoked.


In the summer we canned everything possible. I remember peaches, apples, apply jelly from the peelings, fig preservers (my favorite), blackberry jelly, scuppernong and muscadine jelly (and the preserves from their peelings), pears, pear preserves, beans, peas, soup mix, tomatoes, corn, huckleberries and I have forgotten a lot more.


My mother’s winter soup recipe was one quart beef broth, one quart tomatoes, one quart soup mix (with okra, carrots, butterbeans and a few potatoes and onions). How easy it was!

Some of granny’s good


For supper: Leftovers from midday dinner (usually vegetables)

Soft boiled eggs (served really hot)

Smack middle of egg with knife

Scoop out onto plate

Mash up with butter, salt, pepper


Dessert for really special meals: Jello with fruit cocktail. Let set in refrigerator until soft. Add whipped cream. Freeze in ice tray until firm. Try to serve in slices unless it breaks apart, then use spoons.


Cakes for Christmas (whether any company came or not)


  1. Yellow cake (9X13) 3 layers
    1. Confectioner’s sugar/cocoa/butter/vanilla/tiny bit of milk/pinch of salt frosting
    2. Pecan halves on top
  2. White cake layers (9X13) 3 layers

Confectioner’s sugar/canned pineapple well-drained/ butter/vanilla frosting

  1. Coconut cake: yellow with egg white icing/fresh coconut. Made a few days ahead; kept in bedroom to keep cool.


Granny’s Sunday dinner: Rump roast, browned in dutch oven, cooked on top of stove

Green beans, fresh or canned


Potato salad or other form of potatoes

Coleslaw sometimes

Slice tomatoes/onions in season

Apple crisp with real whipped whipped cream.


Granny’s quick dinner on days she had to go grocery shopping or other errands


Fat back sliced and fried

Sauerkraut cooked in fat back grease

Cornbread (oven)

Canned peaches or other fruit


Apple Dumplings Make extra biscuit dough at breakfast.

Cut circles around a saucer.

Wrap apples/sugar, spice in dough.

Place in pan.

Cover 1/3 with water.

Add pieces of butter.

Bake at 350 until brown.


Typical summer dinner at Granny’s

Cooked in one pot on top of stove (pork, peas, okra, corn)

Fat salt pork

Peas with snaps

Okra on top of peas

Corn on top of okra

Sliced tomatoes

Cucumbers/onions in vinegar

Corn bread

Plenty of buttermilk

Sometimes iced tea


Green beans Always cooked with potatoes and salt pork.

Potatoes were added when beans were near done so they didn’t mush.


Green onions with eggs – a spring time dish

Put some bacon grease in skillet.

Slice onions into skillet

Cook til tender

Add a few eggs and stir together well.

Cook until eggs set.

Salt and pepper

A few years ago I learned this is a basic frittata.



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