My Grandma Barden had many gifts. But each of these gifts can be broken down into two categories: care taking and ass whooping.
Care taking Grandma was all the soft and lovely stereotypes you might imagine from your Sunday Night Made for Television Movie circa 1983. Despite living her entire marriage on a farm, her house was always spotless and NEVER smelled of manure. It was always toasty warm in the winter and, unbeknownst to us, this was because she and Grandpa would tend the wood stove in the basement diligently through all hours of the day and night. I spent many, many winter nights at their house and I never once knew about the wood stove and all the work that went into maintaining it. It was, truth be told, always about 10 degrees too warm in there in the winter.... Something we always looked forward to. Incredible.
She cooked and baked better than anyone on the planet. Ever. This was mainly due to her reliance on a couple of main ingredients for every single dish she ever prepared: butter and salt.. Every meal had a “real” meat, potato, vegetable and dessert. When packaged foods became available, Grandma didn't shy away from them, but they were NEVER considered a meal. Classic Grandma Barden “snack”: A frozen Tony's pizza. Sounds terrible, right? Tastes like cardboard, right? Not when Grandma is done with it. She would take the pizza, add pats of butter – about ½ a stick, I'd wager - to the top, as well as a good wallop of additional tomato sauce, and THEN put it in the oven. Try it. You will not be sorry. Classic Grandma Barden after school or just before dinner or 10AM snack. Usually served with chocolate milk that she let you stir yourself so you could eat the chocolate powder from the bottom of the glass... if you wanted to.
Ass whooping Grandma was equally loving... but in a tougher way. Grandma had a love/hate relationship with dogs, for instance. She needed them, because they would keep the coyotes away from the animals and bark off salesmen that might want to stop in. But if they didn't mind her, she got down right pissed at them and, truth be told, would not shy away from reminding them what the BB gun was for. She claims she never REALLY shot any of them but one Classic Grandma Barden image is her standing on the porch, pumping the BB gun and shouting “son of bitch!” as the dogs scurried away from the house. “Gee, Grandma,” we used to tease her, “how do those dogs know that they ought to be afraid of that BB gun if you've never shot them?”
Then there was Grandma at Halloween. The farm was right down the road from a cemetery. A “historic” cemetery the grown ups would call it. But to us kids, it was the creepiest, most ancient graveyard on the planet. During the day we would sometimes walk down there to play and look at the names and dates on the tombstones. Some dated back to the 1700s. Lots of familiar family names were there. We would marvel at the tiny markings of babies who lived, 2 or 3 days, 2 or 3 years... It was another world. It must have been since we knew nobody died until they were really, really old anymore.
On Halloween, all the cousins would gather at Grandma and Grandpa's to make the spooky, “dark-dark” walk to the cemetery. In a shivering cluster of nervous energy and downright panic, we would make our way to the graveyard. Grandma would stay back at the house to have our pie and ice cream ready for when we got back. Every year, EVERY YEAR, we would enter the gates of the cemetery pretending to be brave and knowing that we were not. Through some kind of Grandma magic or evil witchcraft, every year, EVERY YEAR, Grandma Barden would manage to beat us down there and scare the life out of us. A foot step cracking a stick that startled you. A low moan that made your heart stop. And finally, a screeching howl that froze your entire body in place.... except your bladder. Because you always peed your pants.