My grandmother used to always say that she had “salt and pepper hair.” She had the cutest smile and a wry sense of humor. She also had the biggest heart and gave out the best hugs. Oh, and she was a fabulous cook! Another of her sayings went “Your mother can sew and your other grandmother can knit. All I can do is cook.” But cooking was everything.
Some of my favorite childhood memories are of spending summer vacations with her and my grandfather at their vacation house on Hood Canal, Washington. My grandfather built his home by hand in 1950. At 24 feet by 24 feet the home is little, but the space is big. We have been known to pack seven teen-agers and their sleeping bags into the living room for a night. The door was always open to me, my family and my friends… usually with the smell of split-pea soup wafting through.
The inside of the house is small, in part, because the outdoors are so big. A spacious patio, which serves as a summer-time living room, kitchen and dining room, looks out across ‘the Canal’ to the majestic Olympic Mountains. The tidal body of salt water provides hours of swimming and boating pleasure. The rocky, muddy beach is our playground and science lab. Little rock crabs, strings of seaweed, smooth rocks with bumpy barnacles, spiral shells, clam shells, oyster shells… these were our playthings.
Underneath a layer of dried salt my skin would turn red as I drifted lazily in my raft upon the water. (Yes, of course my mother warned me about the dangers of sunburn, but as a teenager I couldn’t be troubled and believed I was invincible!) The water, being tidal, is only ‘swimmable’ for a portion of every day. This meant that our days were organized around the pull of the sun and the moon and its effect on our waters.
And when we tired of the beach and her wealth of offerings, my grandfather would take us across the road to the forest where we would look for berries, talk about the trees and wander along the rocky stream.
It is amazing how truly pervasive these memories can be. They fill our hearts and minds and make a showing when we least expect it.
My husband and I took our children up to Mt. Hood last weekend. I was awed by the sheer splendor of the mountain and its towering trees. The white mass against the blue sky. The boughs of the trees bending under the weight of the snow. The texture of tree against the backdrop of snow. Looking out across the forested wilderness, I thought of, and missed terribly, my Grandma with her ‘salt and pepper hair.’