My Mother grew up in a small stereotypical little farm house near Richmond Virginia that could have been a great backdrop for a Norman Rockwell painting, complete with the pump well out in the backyard. Unfortunately, I only have vague memories of it from my early childhood. About 45 years ago, my grandmother sold the place as development was starting to reach out from the city, and decided to move to St. Louis, where her only daughter, my mom, lived. Her husband, my grandfather Eckert, had passed away almost thirty years prior. The small farm consisted of wild grass fields, that I remember blowing in golden waves in the fall. I think that a neighbor mowed it all once a year. With my parents guidance, she bought a small house on a large lot in downtown Kirkwood. She immediately planted her vegetable gardens and seemed to settle in, living much as she had back in Virginia. She only ever had one lamp lit at night, I supposed it was to conserve electricity, but I think that one lamp is all she had at her old house.
Fairly quickly, her garden produce was starting to take a hit, with all the squirrels that resided in Kirkwood having a field day. Now, us city folk would simply shake our heads in despair and contemplate the mistake we had made thinking that we could get away with growing all this stuff with so many squirrels about. Not grandma. The damn squirrels needed to be shot, that’s all. Now, apparently, back in Virginia, she shot a great number of things. My dad even joked that he was a little concerned that he might make the list. It seemed, however, that the gun had not made the trip to the city. Did that deter her? No. The damn squirrels needed to be shot and that was just that. She called the Kirkwood city police and informed them that the damn squirrels needed to be shot. Now, most of us were a bit shocked and a little embarrassed that she was immediately, upon arrival, calling city hall, making such demands. We were expecting the police department to explain to her the niceties and norms of city life. Now, something that we did not understand, perhaps my grandmother did, Kirkwood City policemen, 45 years ago, were bored. Outside of speeding tickets and the town drunk, there just wasn’t that much to do. They loved her, I think the whole damn department showed up, took shotguns out the trunks of their police cars, and went on a hunting trip. Blam, blam, blam, squirrels were dropping out of her trees right and left as my grandmother was collecting them all to cook. She made a lot of stew. I couldn’t bring myself to eat any of it.
Despite her practical, get it done and money saving ways, grandmother Eckert was not a country bumpkin. She was an excellent piano player among other things. The piano, which was her prized possession, was one of the few things she brought from Virginia. Upon moving it in, while getting it up on to the front porch, she kept wedging herself between the piano and the walls, so that she could break it’s fall in case it fell off the dollies. My dad, trying to keep her from getting hurt, gave her a very important rope to pull on. The rope disappeared around the corner of the house, but it was very important. “You have to pull hard on this rope to make sure the piano stays safe” he told her. Pull she did, as hard as she could, until she looked around the corner and saw that the rope was tied to a post. I don’t think that their relationship ever recovered.