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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Grandma Pratt's

There are so many bits and pieces of memory from Grandma Pratt's house in Wisconsin. Her son, my uncle Clarence lived and farmed just across the road. Around the corner—about a mile away by road only half a mile across the fields lived uncle Verle on the original Pratt homestead. Grandma and Grandpa had moved to the cottage-size home when they retired from active farming and turned the old home and farm to Verle.

I have but the vaguest of memories, an unclear image, of grandpa there before he died. This was always grandma's place. When we went “up home” in the summer Mom would arrange in advance for us to stay at one of the farms and families: with Verle and Irene, with Clarence and Ruth, or with her sister Helen and Uncle Lester some miles more distant. However, often we would stay at grandma's. Whether or not we slept there, we always spent time with Grandma at her place. She would sometimes host an extended-family Sunday meal. 


Grandma Sarah Pratt was a master crochet artist, making intricate designs (often in plain white thread). Her works adorned the back and arms of every soft chair and couch and the center of every table, and hung in the kitchen for various utilitarian purposes. I assumed that that was the way all grandmother houses looked. 


Women wore aprons in those days. Mom wore them at home as well. Much later I read that aprons not only kept the underlying clothes clean, they also were needed for their pockets. Women's dresses did not have pockets, because (it was stated) that pockets were the sign of lower class working women and servants. That was the style, no matter your class. I remember being at grandma's for an extended family meal, the women scurrying around in the tiny kitchen and serving things to the table while being concerned about soiling their very nice dresses. Men did not dress up much. They might wear a new pair of bib-overalls. But, women wore nice dresses. When a splash of grease did get through or around the apron barrier all else stopped while the women did the best they could to help the victim rid her dress of the spot—which could render a dress no longer suitable for dress-up occasions. I was somewhat of a prankster around my good-natured grandmother. I loved to tie the loose ends of the the waist tie of her apron to a nearby object so that I could stand back and wait until she moved and discovered herself anchored to the stove or cabinet. 

Wash Basin Cabinet 

Right off the kitchen in the pantry area that also had the stairway to the second floor was the wash basin on its stand--a "cabinet" of oak more than a "stand". There was a pitcher of water, a wash basin and soap. That's where we would each wash up before a meal, after coming in from dirty outside play. It is where we would wash and brush teeth before going up to bed. By design it should have had a towel rack on the back. I don't recall if it ever had one. That oak wash stand came when I was still young to be my the little dresser in my little bedroom on Van Buren Street in Saint Paul. I believe grandma still had no indoor plumbing by that time, so I assume the oak stand got replaced (in the same place) with something better. As I write, that wash-basin stand is the the base to the cabinet in our downstairs bathroom on Plum Street in Fort Collins. 

The Loft 

The second floor at grandma's was what we called a loft. It was not open to the first floor; it was under the various slants of the roof with many watch-your-head areas, and there were no partitions to divide the space into rooms. There was plenty of space on the expansive floor for improvised floor beds for all of us kids. There was, of course a “chamber pot” to keep us from having to go downstairs and out to the outhouse during the night. We didn't use the fancy name. We called it a “swill pail”. The vessel was indeed a swill pail. It had the white porcelain-like finish common to metal, house-hold vessels of that time. Its designed use was to gather slop and scraps from the kitchen to take outside—for the pig if there was one. (Come to think of it, near her large garden and her shed grandma did have one or two little fenced areas that sometimes held a pig or a calf. I assume she raised them in collaboration with Verle or Clarence.) 

The Tooth Fairy 

My clearest memory of sleeping in the loft is of the time I managed to get a loose tooth to fall out when staying at Grandma's. I showed it proudly to mom and the rest of the family and expected to find a nickel or dime under my pillow when I awoke in the morning. It was not there. A bit distraught, I think, I went down and told mom. She was utterly surprised, shared my disappointment, and went back up to check for herself. Sure enough, she soon called down to me. I went up to find that I had overlooked the dime. In the back of my mind I harbored suspicion of what really happened but found it more fun to ignore the suspicion and celebrate the dime reward. After all, I would have been thrilled with a nickel.

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins 

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