Grandma Lillian Kuykendall left this earthly world some time ago. I was a teenager, who was very close to her. She was my great grandmother to be exact. She was small, petite, harsh, farming, honest and faithful person. One of the favorite pictures I have in my family books is of me sitting on her lap when I was around one or so, and she is actually smiling pretty big. My grandmother and my mom used to tell me “that moment is when she fell in love with you.” I loved to hear them say that, it was said at her funeral, and it brings tears to my eyes as I think about it now. Grandma was from Texas and Oklahoma, had raised a family during the Great Depression and worked and toiled on a farm with her husband James. James died about eight years before I was born, so I never had the opportunity to meet him. Grandma lived up in Santa Barbara, California in a special wing of the house my great uncle and aunt had built on for her. It was perfect for her. The room was huge; she had a sliding glass door out to the patio where she had some of her potted plants and flowers.
Grandma was a whiz with the gardening. Her flowers always grew big and bright, she tended to them daily, talking with them, caring for them. I imagine this is what she must have been like when my grandma and great uncle were small. She would let me ask a million questions about the trees, the grass, the garden, the flowers, and then answer each one and let me ask a million more. I loved being with her. Her hands were small but rough and wrinkled. I imagine from all the experiences she had in her life. I imagine she had that small hump in her back and walked a bit leaned over because of that too. But to me she was beautiful! I loved her so much. From the time I was small, to the time she passed when I was 17, we visited often. I looked forward to the drive up the California coast, looking at the beautiful scenery and trees we would encounter along the way. Grandma was not a showy person or one that liked to be doted on very much. So getting her to go out to dinner was a big occasion. Her favorite when we would go out was Mexican food.
Grandma not only was a whiz in the garden, but a genius in the kitchen. Watching her cook was like watching anyone who knew their way around a kitchen. I don’t recall there ever being a recipe book or card in sight, unless she was making a specialty dish. She made homemade biscuits from scratch, fried pork chops and potatoes, paired up with fresh greens from the garden. Sausage gravy with biscuits or toast, fried chicken the southern style, these were all staples of the Midwestern meals, and she was expert at making them. She even made her own jam to go on the biscuits we rolled and cut.
Grandma also loved nature, as you probably guessed from her time in the garden. This garden wasn’t just a flower garden; there was a second level all together that dropped down a rickety wooden ladder where all the vegetables grew. It was an amazing sight to behold. Their house backed up to a creek or a “crick” as my grandma called it. I used to go adventuring down there all the time, picking up crawdads and aromatic licorice plant. Grandma always watched me from the bridge that covered the creek. When I was done “messing about” as she would say, we would take our daily walk around the large park next door to their house and look for birds and butterflies. She knew so much about them, I was so impressed with this. As the years went on, grandma and I both got older, and the walks got a little shorter because she couldn’t quite make the steps any longer. So instead, we would sit and share things on her patio, looking at her beautiful snapdragons all lined up as though they were listening to our conversation.
I miss my grandma sometimes quite a lot