Before Grandpa died when I was nine, I often visited my grandparent’s farm where Dad had been raised. I lived with my parents and brother in Mexico, Missouri, 12,000 inhabitants, Audrain County seat with an old fashioned town square and a court house in the middle surrounded by candy stores that made their own chocolates, Kaiser Drugs where you could sit at the counter and sip a root-beer float, and dry goods stores where smiling ladies measured out rolls of cloth. The farm was 10 miles from town, and I often spent summer nights there.
Grandma Ware left Grandpa and their double bed to sleep with me in what had been Dad and Uncle Jim’s bed, another metal-framed double bed with creaking springs and a sagging mattress. My young back didn’t mind.
An enamel chamber pot waited behind the closed door of a wooden cabinet next to the bed, and Grandma helped me perch on it so I didn’t have to go to the outhouse after dark. It was always clean, not smelly with stale pee like you might think.
There were prayers, simple words of “Now I lay me down to sleep.” Then Grandma sang quiet spirituals. Her heavy body dented the bed in the middle and my little body rolled into her, the safest place I knew. She smelled of talcum powder and warm flannel, and her uncorseted body yielded and cushioned me. If I wanted to talk, she listened, but soon I fell into deep sleep.
In the morning, Grandma was gone. I smelled browning baking powder biscuits made from scratch. Before breakfast, we walked to the outhouse with the large air space above the door. Then Grandma unlatched the door to the hen house. A warm smell of uric acid, feathers, and hay poured out the door. The hens walked out to greet the morning, bobbing heads with each step, checking left and right, free to peck around the garden and yard for seeds and bugs all day.
When the hens were outside, all except the broody ones, we entered the dark sanctuary to steal the eggs laid in hay along a high ledge. Grandma eased her hand into the nests of the unmoving brooders to see how many eggs were there. In fall and winter, she took their eggs since she didn’t want cold weather chicks. Back at the house, we ate eggs with our breakfast biscuits.
In the evening, Grandma called the hens in at sunset to save them from coyotes and fox. They came running for handfuls of feed. She let me throw the seed and grain while the white hens clucked around my toes. I loved the quiet rhythm of the day, from the rooster’s call to fanning ourselves after dinner under the catalpa trees.
Now, Grandma’s crocheted doilies hang on the wall above my bed. Though Grandma had a fierce side (as strong women do), I remember how she comforted and fed me and made me feel safe. When grief or worry keep me awake, I imagine I’m lying in the bed of the Great Mother, supported and surrounded by Her body as Grandma once supported me. With a prayer of thanks for Comfort and Protection, I fall asleep.
For other posts about my Missouri childhood, see How I Learned to Trust A Man. For two excellent posts from a Jungian perspective about the Grandmother Archetype or Crone, go to Jean Raffa‘s Matrignosis You might also enjoy The Great Mother Archetype by Mare Cromwell from For The Earth Blog.