Listening to every heart
Paternal Grandmother….a legend, of sorts…
Dad was the ninth of eleven children. Over the years I’ve had occasion to look back and wonder on why some certain things just hadn’t been said about his family – I mean, he was close to his brothers and sisters, and I knew something of my Grandma Bess – but only very little – she had died shortly after I was born.
The reason for so little background apparently stemmed from the bad memories my father carried. Although – not even my mom knew all of them.
But one story I do remember dad telling me one Sunday morning, close to a particular spring day, while he was making his wonderful pancake batter, and showing me how to “stretch ‘em out…”
Dad had learned to cook, bake, sew, and many other “female accomplishments”, all in accordance to life on a South Dakota Farm. This of course was in addition to the male responsibilities a young man picks up in a large family.
And apparently Grandma Bess knew how to stretch a pancake. My father’s understanding of “fat” pancakes only came about once. You see, he made the best thin pancake – you could consider it a fat “crepe” I imagine…but for some reason, the thinner, the better…
And the first time I had a “real restaurant” pancake was the first time I couldn’t see my way through them. The thicker a pancake, the more it seemed to be like warm squishy dough – so to this day, if I can’t fix ’em like my grandmother taught my dad….then I just don’t eat pancakes outside of my own house.
But apparently, it had come about at a time in my dad’s life when he was a young man still at home, that this man had come by one Sunday, and offered to help the boys with some morning chores in exchange for breakfast. Breakfast on Sundays generally featured Grandma Bess’ wonderful pancakes in addition to other farm-style dishes – sausage gravy and biscuits, or just biscuits with butter and homemade jelly – eggs anyway you wanted them, fried potatoes, applesauce, sausages and bacon, etc.
But this man had heard of grandma’s pancakes, so he always seemed to show up of a Sunday morning, early, to help with chores, and to get an invite to the family table.
Well, that was fine – it was common back then to offer food for chores – and times were hard, drifters were plenty. But this fellow, Jake, didn’t want to drift too far, it seemed, and worked his way around the neighborhood of farms, always managing to come back on Sunday to Grandma Bess’ door.
Well, he apparently did pretty good, putting food away. His one comment, though, was that while they were “mighty good!”, he did say once that the pancakes were a bit on the thin side. He wondered why they weren’t thicker, like a good pancake should be? Knowing my Dad like I did, I can just see Grandma staying silent, grating a little on the inside, and then raising one eyebrow, as she began making plans…for
The following Sunday happened to be April 1.
Grandma thought she’d do the old drifter, Jake – who of course was expected to come by the next day – a big favor, and fix his pancakes just a little more on the thick side. She found what she needed, and prepared for his arrival the next morning.
Jake came in that Sunday morning with an armful of wood, ready for her stove. Dad remembers he could barely retain his smile, for he had seen what his mom had been working on the night before. His younger sisters had been in bed, so they weren’t prepared for anything amiss. His remaining older brothers who were still at home hadn’t seen the preparations, either, so the “joke” was known only to Dad and his mom, and he figured he could help her a tad, in making sure that the drifter’s meal was offered up just to him.
Grandma winked as small talk filtered through the room, discussions of the upcoming planting of corn and such, when the wheat would be harvested that year, while Grandma prepared three fat pancakes for Jake. Dad recalls what a huge grin the old guy wore when he saw his plate heaped with steaming hot pancakes fixed special for him. He looked around – everyone else was serving up those thin, crepe-like cakes, just like normal. He must have wondered if he was making headway – heck, he must have even been thinking that they’d probably hire him on for the summer chores, with such special treatment as he was receiving.
Well, that April 1 was the last time anyone saw old Jake.
At first, he couldn’t quite understand why his fork didn’t cut through the pancakes. He took his butter knife, and that wasn’t much help, either. He finally shoveled a small wedge of cakes onto his fork, but when he went to chew – it took a long time to get that first bite down. It seemed, Dad related, that he was chewing forever on those “thick” cakes.
You see? Grandma Bess had spent the night before cutting out three round “cakes” from a paper bag. The following morning, she made her batter as usual, thinning anyone’s regular pancake recipe down with some water…but after putting the first pouring down, she slipped in her paper cake, then added some more batter to the top of the disk.
Jake got his thick cakes….and Grandma had the last laugh!