One Brave Ham: Part 9 of Rain on a Cloudless Day

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I can’t sleep. I could if I tried but trying would be boring. Mommy looks tired tonight. If I were smart I would go to sleep but smart doesn’t equal adventure and I need an adventure. Ali sleeps in her crib. I lay tucked in bed listening to the night. Even our old house is quiet tonight. Maybe all the activity of the day tired it out the way it has my sister. I slip out of bed, feeling the cold green linoleum under my feet. My silky green night gown glows pale green in the diffused light. The window that leads to the ally is shut tight. It’s a fun escape but Mommy would kill me if I opened it and went out. Sadly, the window to the back garden is out of reach. If I’m really quiet and careful, I can sneak out of the nursery and across the hall into the sun porch where the dogs sleep.

Quietly, I open our door and step into the hall. The old floor boards creaking out an unmistakable alarm.

“Eleanor Eva what are you doing?” Mommy sits at the kitchen table, her eyes locked on me.

“I can’t sleep. I need sleepy tea.” I look down at my bare feet, my hand resting on the nob to the sun porch. Sadie and Arrow look up at me expectantly, their tails wagging through the glass.

“So why were you going to see the dogs?”

“They looked lonely.” Dropping my hand I walk to the table and sit down.

Giving me a look that should scare me back to bed she asks, “I suppose you’ll need toast with your sleepy tea.”

“And butter and honey.” I add, carful that nothing is missed. I watch Mommy take the scissors from the drawer. We slip into sandals and walk out into the starlight, Arrow and Sadie running ahead. I love our garden. It’s magical. All gardens are magical but ours has fairies. I haven’t seen one yet but it’s just a matter of time. We walk to the fence where a giant mound of mint grows. It smells like heaven, its heavy scent drifts towards us on the hot summer breeze. We cut enough for a pot but before returning to the house Mommy pulls three green onions from the dirt.

Inside I watch her wash the mint and the onions. Mommy sets a saucepan to boil, sprinkling the fresh mint into the water. We watch it turn green. Then we slice the onions length ways and soak them in a glass of cold salt water, their green tops hanging over the side of the glass.

I squeeze honey from the honey bear onto my toast as Mommy pours tea into our mugs and we sit down together. The tea is hot, so hot that I move my face into the steam letting the sweet fragrance bathe my face. I hear the crunch of onions and looking up I see my mother with her green onions and a thick slice of cheddar cheese.

“I used to live on these during the war,” she says, holding up the green onion. “We lived off our little garden. The government rations were so small that we were forced to live off what we grew.”

“Were you always hungry?”

“Yes. We were surrounded by farms growing mountains of food but everything they grew went to feed the men and the country. Everything was rationed and shared but there was never enough. I used to steal condensed milk from the pantry. My Grandmother Eva would get so angry but I just couldn’t help myself. Condensed milk is still one of my favorite things. I can eat it with a spoon.”

“That and strawberry jam,” I say with a laugh. I’ve caught my mother several times eating jam from the jar with nothing but a spoon. “What other things do you love to eat?”

“Snickers bars and Coca-Cola?”

“I like Ham sandwiches and black tea with Granma and toast and mint tea with you.”

“I love ham.” Mommy looks suddenly so hungry she could eat a pig. “I still remember the first time I had ham.”

“Was it the brave ham?” I ask with a smile.

“Yes. Your great uncle Frank knew the villagers were starving. He went to Bovington Camp and he asked the Americans if he could have their food scraps for his pigs. They brought out a huge barrel of food waste and just gave it to him. He loaded the barrel onto the back of his milk cart and drove it into the village. Inside they found whole hams with just a few slices cut off and potatoes that had only a few black spots. The barrel was filled with food. We ate like kings off the food the Americans were throwing away. We fed a whole village.”

“And that was the first time you ate ham?”

“Yes. It was American ham, brought across the Atlantic on a U.S. convoy.”

“That was one…BRAVE…ham.” I laugh. It’s an old joke that’s been told many times. It’s our joke and our history all boiled down to a one liner that never fails. It’s why we’re here smiling over mint tea in the middle of the night. We’re here because of smart old uncles, because of brave sailors who ran convoys through Nazi subs, because of solders who fought for hearth and home and also, because of one brave ham.

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Attributes of a Magical Grandmother: Part 5 of Rain on a Cloudless Day

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Granma is probably my most favorite person in the universe. She dresses up at Halloween, throws banquets at Christmas and takes me bowling on Saturday mornings. My Granma is different from other girl’s Grandmothers. She bakes and cooks and does things other Granma’s do but not for the same reasons. She doesn’t take care of people or baby people. Instead she makes them strong. She teaches them how to navigate the world by being fully and perfectly alive. She is alive. Every day she finds things to do that I find magical.

Magical Granma Attribute one would be her incredible tackle box. Imagine opening a box filled with every fishing lure you can imagine. Note the smell of salmon eggs and other assorted fish bate. Together we cast, reel and become patient while full size rainbow trout circle near by.

Magical Granma Attribute two would be her sewing box. From the contents of that sewing box I have learned to embroider, bead and do needle point. During the war Granma embroidered in air raid shelters while other people counted the seconds between explosions, controlling their fear by trying to predict where the next bomb would hit.

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Magical Granma Attribute three are these stories of life and death that haunt my young mind. She begins,

“During the war…” and the room falls silent. Her words are spoken matter of fact but their meaning makes pictures so rich with color and scent that they are a part of me.

“During the war the bombs fell…” thousands of them rained down on her life as they did so many British lives.

There was the time bomb that slipped silently into the wreckage of a bombed out nurses ward. Granma and her fellow nurses had returned to the area to gather what supplies could be salvaged. They worked quickly and efficiently in the wreckage at Portland Bill, until a voice yelled out. “Look up,” the voice called. “You silly girls. Get the hell out.” And there it was, swinging above them on the ropes of its parachute. When I imagine the bomb it always looks like a giant deadly watch, its long arms spinning towards death. Granma says it didn’t tell time that way. It just counted down on its own, never telling anyone when it would go off.

Magical Granma Attribute four is her garden. I love her garden. There I find a purple eggplant the size of a football. Granma says I shouldn’t pet it but its smooth purple skin is too beautiful not to touch. The air in the garden is filled with the scent of roses, huge beautiful carnivorous roses, their thorns gleaming sharp and deadly in the bright Utah sun. They are carnivorous because they scratch me when I get too close and they eat our fish, at least all the bits we don’t eat. I walk behind Granma with my little trowel and help her dig small graves below each bush. This is why her roses are the largest and most beautiful. It’s because of the fish.

Magical Granma Attribute five is time. Time moves slowly around her, it smells of ham and roses, fat lap dogs and long stories. I sit beside her on the steps of her front porch and listen to the birds in her cherry tree. Here there is time to remember, to watch, to notice the butterflies, count the tomatoes and just be together. There is no rush or hurry because there is no one else in this world who can stop time like Granma. A day lasts a week in her garden, so filled with food and story that I don’t grow tired and I never want to go home. Through brightly colored memories, we walk her father’s farm in England and drive her pony and trap down through the fields to bring lunch to the men. Closing my eyes I feel the English sunlight. I see the endless green down lands stretched before us, their curving flanks dotted with sheep. Somewhere over the next rise men plow with draft horses, harvest timber and gather watercress. Just over the next hill our people work the earth and they are hungry for their lunch.

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