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My grandfather met his future wife when he went calling on her older sister, Katherine. The second time he drove the buggy to the house it was to see Holly. She stood just at 5 feet tall, had long black hair, and what could best be described as flashing dark eyes. He was a big fellow, something over 6 feet, and had played football at Centre College in Danville.
They courted for several months before he asked for her hand. She wasn’t sure marriage was what she wanted. After all, she was just 18 and already earning her own money working in her uncle’s bank. But after some persuasion, she accepted and she and her mother and sisters began making her trousseau. She told me that they tatted lace on handmade nightgowns and undergarments; made quilts that would be needed in her own home and crocheted spreads for those same beds.
My mother was their first born. Two more girls followed before a son was born. During those years, my grandfather worked on a road crew building U.S. 25 through the south. During the Depression, he owned the town grocery in the little community of Corinth. He lived with Nanny and two babies on the third floor of the building, with no running water, and several times a week he drove his truck to Cincinnati to trade chickens and eggs brought in by his customers to exchange for the staples they needed. With what spare money he could claim, he bought stocks, believing that the market would recover. And it did.
During the late 30s and 40s, he and his partners built the Halfway House in Williamstown and travelers on U.S. 25 spent nights in their cabins, and Greyhound buses stopped so their passengers could have one of the good meals that my grandmother and her help fixed. Once Nanny spent hours in the ceiling of the kitchen so that she could discover who was stealing the meat that was supposed to be prepared for the customers. Troops riding the buses during WWII ate for free at this place that was known for its good food. When my own father returned from the war, he ran the gas station that was in front of the restaurant.
Pawpaw was a man of ambition with a strong sense of community and a desire to do good works. He and Nanny worked side-by-side as they raised their four children; then, less than a year after I was born (their first grandchild), Nanny gave birth to another daughter. Meanwhile Pawpaw was expanding his businesses and running for the state legislature. He entertained governors and state senators, always with Nanny by his side, fixing wonderful food and serving as a gracious hostess. Surely the most famous guest was Happy Chandler and one of my favorite playthings as a young girl was a pink parasol that read “Happy Days Are Here Again” around the edge when opened.
Nanny was a founding member of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and active in the Northern Kentucky Democratic Women’s organization. And of course this tiny woman accompanied her tall husband as he campaigned. So that she would not be lost in the crowd, she took to wearing hats. They were the fashion of the day, but they also gave her added height.
As a young girl, I thought my grandmother was the most wonderful Nanny anyone could have. She made her youngest daughter and me matching dresses adorned with smocking or pin tucks. She rocked me all night on her lap when in the first grade I had a terrible toothache. She let us turn the crank to churn butter or homemade ice cream and let us concoct all sorts of strange foods in her kitchen. We helped her press tablecloths on a wonderful contraption called a wangle that sat in the big kitchen. As children, we were out in the yard with her as she wrung the necks of chickens, chopped off the heads, put the carcasses in washtubs of hot, hot water, and finally plucked the feathers. No fried chicken has ever tasted better than that she put on the table. She cooked on a big old Chambers range and it was the habit of everyone in the family to lift the lever to see if there was any left over chicken or sausage or bacon under the griddle part of the stove top.
Nanny had gotten a taste for politics with my grandfather’s career and loved to tell about the time they went to the Democratic National Convention when Alban Barkley was nominated as a favorite son and Pawpaw got to make the announcement for the Kentucky delegation. She remained a woman of strong opinions. She believed in a woman’s right to choose. She liked Ike, but abhorred Richard Nixon. She was 77 when my grandfather died and something of her spark went out. When I was in town, I still loved to get cooking lessons from her and whenever anyone was a bit under the weather, Nanny’s custard with floating islands made us much better. (“Tell Nanny I’m sick,” all the cousins said, and we talk about the healing powers of her custard to this day.)
When she died in 1988, her youngest daughter and I were sorting through some of her things. Jane asked me if there was anything I wanted. “That hat,” I said. I have it to this day, and when I want to feel really grown up, I put it on my head and try to channel my grandmother.
(Jarrett Boyd is a retired Carroll County librarian.)