My Grandmother's Yellow Bowl
The farm was vast, beckoning, adventuresome and frightening.
Acres of land, dotted with sugar beet fields and shimmering golden hay to feed live stock; willow-banked creek with carp, slithering water snakes, and foamy white soap; punctuated like exclamation points, were long rows of weathered gray outbuildings, chicken coops and fences. Forbidden fences crisscrossed the farm....keeping the animals IN, keeping my younger sister and me OUT!
To a young child, the towering two story barn with its rough wood slats and precarious tilt was simultaneously intimidating and beckoning, likened to standing shivering above a deep dark pond, deciding whether to jump in. One had to be pretty sneaky, daring and slightly naughty to get inside undetected; climb the steep wooden ladder with loose steps; tumble into the hay strewn loft with its panoramic view; and crossing fingers to find new born kittens tucked somewhere in the straw. Yes, it was worth the chance of punishment...if discovered.
Feeling empowered, I stood tall, invincible, in the hayloft. I flew with the birds. Beneath me, spread out like spokes on a wheel, were the chicken coops that housed hundreds of clacking chickens. White, black, brown chickens daily laying eggs, warm as sunshine, with bits of feather stuck to them. Special hatching cubicles with dozing heat lamps warmed dozens of fuzzy, wobbly legged chicks, their soft down the color of field dandelions.
Outside the barn's creaky double doors were two gigantic cottonwood trees. One tree was towering, its shade dabbling the ground below during the sweltering hot Utah summers. At some point the second tree had been cut down, leaving a smooth, flat, trunk that looked like picnic table ready for alfresco dining. Then I discovered it was not a picnic table but rather where my mother or grandmother took a chicken or two...their demise imminent, to be prepared for dinner. I learned early that life on a farm was like a log split in half, the log of life and death. You couldn't have one piece without the other.
Feeding the pigs their meal of "slop" was always accompanied with squeamishness, but how wonderful was the sight of pink new born piglets come spring. The turkey pen I found rather disgusting and avoided. There were tightly fenced in areas of sheep and cattle.
There was a FORBIDDEN old farm house hemmed in by the chicken coops; complete with peeling, dingy yellow paint the color of generic vanilla ice cream; splitting window sills permanently stuck; glass panes dingy and laced with dancing cobwebs and spiders; and a stoop ready to cave in from so much living. This old square house was where my Grandmother and Grandfather lived while they developed the farm, raised their family and built their maroon brick home, with its faux Tudor features.
It was a GIVEN, someday a determined little girl would get inside that old farm house. And one afternoon it happened. Squeezing through the door trying to avoid splinters, heart racing I stepped into another world, until now, totally unexplored. On a crumbling wall hung an old porcelain sink, grime coated, filled with hay and debris....was this where Grandmother plucked the feathers from lifeless chickens and prepared her larder full of wonderful bottled fruits and vegetables? How many hours of her life were spent in front of this sink, did she pump water by hand, did she ever weary of the endless hard work, what secrets did the old sink hold? Beyond the sink were boxes stacked every which way, broken chairs and a wooden table with peeling green paint. But it was the glass fronted, once white, cabinet that fascinated me. Why wasn't it inside Grandmother's new home? Why was it left in dusty seclusion. I coveted it. I coveted the old carved desk, that later I learned had crossed the prairies with the pioneers.
Tilting light zigzagged through the grimy windows across this landscape of life from another era. Then I was FOUND OUT....and was never to return.
In my Grandmother's "proper" faux Tudor home was a sunny breakfast nook, the hub of the house, practical, no nonsense, oil cloth covered the table. A table that was always laden with the fruits of their land and the labor of my Grandmother's hands. No Lean Cuisine, Weight Watcher frozen meals. This was the real deal, homemade mustard pickles with chunks of cauliflower, wine colored ketchup zesty from ripe garden tomatoes, translucent pear jam dotted with cherries and nuts, endless Kerr glass bottles crammed full with fruit, mincemeat and vegetables. Fresh garden produce picked at perfect ripeness, to sink, to scalded bottles, to bubbling kettle, to cold basement storage shelves, to journey's end; to the breakfast nook table where we never left our Grandmother's home hungry.
At my Grandmother's kitchen table my sister and I ate clandestine sugar, butter, bread sandwiches. Secret kept from our mother who would disapprove.
On my Grandmother's table rested a bowl filled with garden fruit.
And so it was, as I painted My Grandmother's Yellow Bowl, I fondly recalled a childhood where life was beckoning, adventurous and sometimes frightening.
My Grandmother's Yellow Bowl available through artist