Being Harriet the Spy: The Best Research Happens When You’re Eight

When I was asked to write a dedication for the anthology, SWEETER THAN TEA, I knew immediately who, why and what. But there’s another thing they asked for: Recipes. And that took on a whole new meaning. Because I wondered, did they want a dedication for Granny’s pound cake?

Surely not, but I could easily give them one! This is the woman whose stories are so good, I used to play possum and sneak around just to hear her talk. I followed her everywhere. The house was just a 1950’s ranch with the garage converted into a family room, but it was magical to me. Granny had a clothesline out back and muscadine vine growing in her yard – I would eat until I was sick. She had a plum tree and often asked me climb to the top and toss her the fruit she couldn’t reach. And then, there was the oak tree where I read Helen Keller five times. There was plenty to do at my Granny’s, aside from eat her buttery biscuits (according to my Pa-Pa, they only turned out good if she was nervous!)

My mother was pretty serious about us going to bed IN our beds, but when we were visiting, sometimes I would take advantage and “fall asleep” on the sofa while Granny and Pa-Pa were talking to aunts and uncles who had stopped by. Oh, the things I’d learn!

Also, the house didn’t have central air for a long time. The air conditioner sat in a window just over the dining room table, which kept the main part of Granny’s house cool. When she went to the trouble of putting a table cloth down, my red-headed cousins and I would get a plate of fried chicken and potato salad, and some lemonade and sneak under the ivory table cloth to enjoy the air conditioning and the story-telling. I learned about long dead aunts and uncles dueling in the front yard, (Granny had to call THE LAW) moonshiners, dead babies and  war heroes. We had it all and no one thought any of it was fit for my ears! They didn’t know what a good secret keeper I was. They just didn’t know.

After and hour or so of talking some one would say, “Where’d them kids go?”

“I reckon they’re outside,” Pa-Pa, would say. “Prob’ly climbing the oak tree again.”

“They better not hurt themselves before dessert.”

Then, they’d start up again. By late afternoon I realized our family was one BIG soap opera.

My Granny would tell me a lot of these stories, in her own way, as I aged, but they were never as good as the first time, with her hushed whispers and laughter and me in my hiding place. She sold that house and moved five miles away, she has a lovely view of cows in a nice pasture, but no plum trees, no muscadines, and no oak tree.

I was most sad about the oak tree. I spent hours there, re-reading Helen Keller, Caddie Woodlawn and all the Little House on the Prairie books. My mother, my aunt and Granny would call me for dinner through the open windows. Id’ know what we were eating before they even said. You could smell roast, collards, wild rice and fried apple pies.

“Where’s Misty-ree?”

“Up in that tree again – with her head in a book,” Granny would say. “I hope she don’t fall.”

When my Granny moved, I had married and moved to a house on two acres and was just discovering the wonders of the property. One day in late August I was walking with my sons and was slapped with a scent I hadn’t come across in years, something I’d only been able to buy in the grocery store for awhile.

“NO WAY.”

“What, Mom?”

I walked around the corner of the woods and found it – a muscadine vine, easily 16 feet high and forty feet across, arching over the path, and bursting with firm dark purple grapes. I knew in another week, I would introduce my boys to the muscadine-eating process of popping the grape between your teeth, sucking out the pulp, and spitting seeds on the ground – just like my Granny taught me.

It is great fun, although out of all my kids, my daughter is the great muscadine-lover. We use a 12 foot ladder, but still can’t reach them all. The deer can’t get enough of them, so we have to be quick!

Granny is 87 now and still drives, still makes her own pickles and with four gallon-sized bags of my muscadines – the best muscadine jelly you ever tasted. She still loves to pass on stories, but she says there are some things she’ll never tell. “You just don’t need to know everything,” Granny says.

“Yes, ma’am.”

And then she starts talking. I know how this goes. If I stay quiet long enough,she might forget I’m here.

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  1. Oh my. My throat feels all lumpy and my eyes are stinging.

    I just looked up at the end of your story to see if I have indeed killed my third, or maybe fourth, muscadine vine before I’ve even gotten it in the ground. Yup. Sure enough. There it sits in the window, the last surviving leaf is now shriveled up. I always grumble about the price of a pint of muscadines in the store and know that I can grow tons for mere pennies. Not at this rate.

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