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Remembering Granny Rollins

Where does frugality end and parsimoniousness or down right stinginess, begin? That may depend on who's giving the answer and what hardships and meager times they've endured in their own lives. It does help to understand that some people go well beyond being frugal, not in an attempt to hoard things unto themselves, rather to assuage a constant fear of some disaster taking away any and everything they own.
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I met Granny when I was six years old, she in her mid seventies. We moved into a four room house next door to her when the tiny three room house we were in became just too small for our ever expanding family. I took a liking to the old lady right away, as did all who knew her. It was generally accepted that she was the stingiest person around. No less, she was a friendly and hard working woman.

Granny had retired from the local cotton mill and shared a home with a divorced daughter who worked at the mill, a spinster daughter, bedridden for twenty years with a severe form of crippling arthritis, and a grown grandson, the son of the divorced daughter.

It would be an understatement to say her financial situation was meager. Her husband had died one year before the enactment of social security, so she received no funds on his account. If I remember correctly, her total monthly income was an eleven dollar 'government' check, supplemented by a two dollar check from the state's old age pension fund. Even in the fifties and sixties, that amount was hardly enough to buy four weeks worth of food, much less pay her share of the utilities and house rent. (I'm not sure about the amount of the rent. I do know that at one time, the mill owners charged twenty-five cents per room, per week).

Fiercely independent, she held onto every penny for as long as she could. In order to put food on the table, she maintained three gardens. One was devoted to corn which she had ground into meal by the local milling company. Her fee for their services was a portion of the ground meal. No money changed hands. One garden was devoted to sweet potatoes. She grew a bumper crop every year. The third garden was set aside for various vegetables such as butter beans and other crops, mostly those that could be dried or canned for future use.

Many was the time I would rush to Granny's back steps after school. She would be sitting there shelling butter beans or shucking corn with her time worn and gnarled hands. I was eager to help with the chore because I knew I would be rewarded with some of the most fascinating stories of her early life and childhood. All I had to do was say 'Granny, tell me a story'. People, a person who can remember seeing their first car and light bulb could keep you entertained for hours with true tales of their lives.

Deeply religious, She kept Sunday as 'The Lord's Day'. That's the only day you would not find her hands firmly grasping a hoe handle. She did not attend church. She did occasionally part with a couple of dollars which she had me enclose in a note and send to a preacher on the radio. The note was written by me, but in Granny's words, asking for prayer and a mention of her name on the broadcast. (Granny could neither read nor write). And too, there was the occasional prayer meeting held in the 'parlor' of her home. Quite a crowd, sometimes. Seating for the worshipers was provided by a local funeral 'parlor'. Funeral home attendants brought lots of folding chairs. The day after the meeting, the attendants came and picked up the chairs, all free of charge. Looking back, I can see how, if born under different circumstances, Granny Rollins would have rivaled Hetty Green.

Before dawn, she was up and standing over her wood stove in the kitchen, preparing a poor man's breakfast for herself, her invalid daughter and grandson. Eggs were provided by her hens kept in a chicken lot out back. Meat, if any, was provided by the three or four hogs she raised each year on land donated by the mill owners. Not one for taking the time required to make biscuits, every meal was accompanied by a large 'pone' of cornbread. It was cooked atop the wood range in a flat cast iron skillet which had been placed over a hole provided by removing one of the lids from the stove's eyes.

By the first light of day, she had taken breakfast to her daughter, cleaned the dishes, changed from her kitchen apron to her field apron, donned her bonnet and was headed out the back door to her gardens. Sometimes, I secretly watched her there for long periods of time. The hard, red clay was her enemy as well as the giver of sustenance vital to a life free of hunger. It demanded a bent back, calloused hands, no pay and long, relentless hours.

Her bonnets all had large brims. Facing the earth for hours at a time, her bonnet acted as blinders on a mule. She saw only red clay and more red clay, and weeds everywhere. If you called her name, she would look up and smile a toothless smile, always with a drop of sweat at the end of her nose. The clay, the hoe, the weeds and the prayers for a decent crop were Granny's life, hopefully to be lived til "the Lord calls me home".

She stopped midday to go back to the house to cook a bit of 'dinner'. Then it was back to the gardens til time to cook supper. Supper, too, was a meager meal. Butter beans, maybe a can of 'store bought' greens, if her turnips had 'run out', baked and buttered sweet potatoes and corn pone, always corn pone.

I could write an essay on Granny's stinginess, alone. The only heat in the house, save a small 'laundry heater' in the invalid daughter's bedroom, was that wood cook stove in the kitchen. I spent a many evening in that kitchen just to be in Granny's company. Though she had three large piles of wood, enough to last her lifetime, during the winter she spent her after supper hours huddled near that stove. She kept a watchful eye on the small fire, waiting til it had almost gone out before adding one or two more sticks of wood. She did this while, all the time, wearing a heavy overcoat.

Granny was always concerned about expenses, such as being able to pay her share of the 'power' bill. The house had no electrical outlets. Without even a refrigerator, the only power consumption was by four light bulbs, one in each room, dangling from a cord in the center of the rooms. The sixty watt bulb in the kitchen was turned on each evening only when it had gotten so dark, it was no longer possible to see without it.

The cast iron wash pot seen in the picture was almost as important as Granny's hoe. At hog killing time, in the Fall of the year, she built a fire under that pot and rendered lard from hog fat. She used it to render 'cracklins', as well. And it was also used to make her own lye soap. I never will forget a time when she was boiling dirty clothes in that pot. I stepped over to speak with her for a few minutes. While we were talking, she took a broom handle and lifted one of the garments from the steaming water. She looked at it wistfully and said, "Well, they don't look much better, but at least I got the stink out'n em".

I went to see Granny when she was near death. She was lying on the settee in the parlor;, the same settee she had used for a bed for all the years I knew her. She didn't seem too concerned about her time coming to an end. Actually, she was a bit miffed. Earlier, she had soiled the sheets on the settee. Her working daughter, Alma, went to the 'bureau' where sheets were kept and came back with some 'new', unused sheets Granny had bought many years, earlier. She said to me, "I told Alma she was not about to put my brand new sheets on this settee and she'd have to make do with something else".

This woman never saw a doctor nor dentist. Never bought an article of clothing in the many years she was my neighbor. She went for years without setting foot off the home and garden property. All she really wanted was the strength to put that hoe to the ground another day. And another day, til the time she heard her Jesus say, 'Laura, its time. Come with me. You will never go hungry. Come sit at my table and feast with the saints. Laura, come home'.

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September 30, 20151 found this helpful

Love your story. Those of us that grew up in the 50's have some great memories especially if you grew up on a farm. Most people were struggling and times were tough but in the long run, those struggles were good for us and made us stronger.

My grandma had a hoe like that. It's still at the old home place, sitting up on a shelf, rusted and worn with no handle. I think of Grandma every time I see it.

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September 30, 20151 found this helpful

Thanks so much for your remembrance!

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October 1, 20151 found this helpful

Your Granny Rollins sounds like a beautiful lady. I wish more people were like her. What some people regard as mean is actually generosity and contentment. Most people who lavish their money around do it mostly for praise. Your Granny was obviously content with the simple things and was so happy she just didn't need the stuff that money can buy.

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October 1, 20151 found this helpful

Beautiful memories...Brought back memories of my great grandmother that have been tucked away too long and now I'm smiling. Thank you!

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October 1, 20150 found this helpful

Beautifully written! My family lived in housing for a cotton mill in Alabama. I was very young but, I still have memories of it.

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October 1, 20150 found this helpful

Granny Rollins reminds me of my family back in Kansas during the 40's and 50's. My grandma Nell was pretty much like this Granny but she worked hard under better living conditions. What some people take as stingy is just being frugal. When you have nothing how can you be stingy? Good writing.

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October 1, 20150 found this helpful

Absolutely beautiful story. It brought back memories of my own childhood in the forties and early fifties. My grandmother had been hospitalized for many years, so my grandfather lived alone, but he never missed a Sunday of church nor a holiday to send packages to my grandmother. During the depression, my grandfather contracted to build a house on a lakefront property for someone. It was built with used wood. When the land was being cleared for the house, a huge rock was encountered. It was too big to move, so the house was built around the rock. Each interior room had one corner that was angled off, over the rock of course. My grandfather purchased the home from the man he built it for. We used to go to visit him and spent many days there. He had gardens that, all told, were about half a city block long and 1/3 of that wide. He had huge flower plants and amazing trees. He had asparagus! There was a black walnut tree was in the center of his garden. The red-wing blackbirds called to him all day long. He was the first man to give me flowers. He would cut stalks of rhubarb and give us kids each a bowl of sugar to walk about dipping our fruit in as we ate it. He taught me to dig for worms, bait a hook and fish, clean the catch and cook it. He took me hiking in the woods across from his house and taught me the names of the wildflowers growing there. . .

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October 15, 20150 found this helpful

I never knew either of my grandfathers. You are so fortunate to have had this wonderful man in your life. Thanks for sharing.

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October 1, 20150 found this helpful

Yes, that brought back memories.If my Granny ( born in 1880) had a cup of tea left in the pot she'd take it to the lady next door and Mrs Rampton next door did the same for her. Can you imagine doing that now? And her tea never had milk because even growing up , any milk was always for the younger children. She too never knew anything but work but she was so content! I don't know how they managed it. Thank you.

Marg from England.

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October 2, 20150 found this helpful

Excellent story, like your other stories. Please write more!

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October 4, 20151 found this helpful

What a wonderful tribute to your Granny! This is beautifully written, too, like all your contributions! I agree that whether someone is thrifty and frugal or just plain cheap is all relative to their life experiences. Having lived through some tough times when I was younger (and living on a shoestring now), I can appreciate what folks like your Granny Rollins went through. She really mastered the art of doing the most with what you have!

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October 5, 20151 found this helpful

Granny wasn't stingy... she was just getting along. This is so

like my grandparents in the 40's and early 50's in southern Iowa. They scratched along for a living. They were very frugal but had everything they "needed".. perhaps not wanted, but needed.

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October 5, 20152 found this helpful

Thank you for the wonderful story! My Grand Mother Lucille Wolhgemuth was a child of 12 kids and had 13 of her own! Can you imagine being pregnant for 13 years? Grama Lucy as all of us called her Migrated to California when my Dad graduated from Syracuse university with a bachelors of fine Art and married my mom. My Mom was the best mom in the world just said good bye on September 9th, 2015. She like Gramma Lucy taught me so much and I thank God every day for the two of them who are together in heaven cooking for Jesus. What a honor to cook for the King! Your story brought back memories of summers in Palm Springs at the small Hotel Gramma & Grampa bought and ran. My Life has been SO BLESSED with great memories thank you Lord.

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October 5, 20151 found this helpful

I can remember my husbands Grandmother. Ma wasn't stingy but she was careful. She would buy 3 packages of men's socks at Christmas and open them and Each grown man in the family would get a pair of socks for Christmas. She would do the same for the children. The only difference would be that we would buy her yarn at yard sales and resale shops and she knew if you had bought it new and would refuse to take it. She would crochet slippers for all the women In the family. If she had fabric left over from Quilting she had done and if the person who provided the fabric did not want it back she would save it up and leftover batting and she would buy a $1 sheet and she would make a quilt for new babies and for marriages or for special occasions.

The one thing I remember the most is when I was first married her youngest daughter bought her a trailer and had it put on her property and moved Ma and Pa into that trailer. She had always used a fireplace and wood cookstove to cook on and she was always griping that she couldn't cook worth a hoot on a electric stove. I have had a wood stove also and I agree with her. Food just does not taste as good cooked on a electric or gas stove as it does on a fireplace or wood cookstove.

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October 5, 20151 found this helpful

I can remember my husbands Grandmother. Ma wasn't stingy but she was careful. She would buy 3 packages of men's socks at Christmas and open them and Each grown man in the family would get a pair of socks for Christmas. She would do the same for the children. The only difference would be that we would buy her yarn at yard sales and resale shops and she knew if you had bought it new and would refuse to take it. She would crochet slippers for all the women In the family. If she had fabric left over from Quilting she had done and if the person who provided the fabric did not want it back she would save it up and leftover batting and she would buy a $1 sheet and she would make a quilt for new babies and for marriages or for special occasions.

The one thing I remember the most is when I was first married her youngest daughter bought her a trailer and had it put on her property and moved Ma and Pa into that trailer. She had always used a fireplace and wood cookstove to cook on and she was always griping that she couldn't cook worth a hoot on a electric stove. I have had a wood stove also and I agree with her. Food just does not taste as good cooked on a electric or gas stove as it does on a fireplace or wood cookstove.

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October 16, 20150 found this helpful

You kept calling her stingy, but how could she be stingy if her income was so meager she was barely getting by? She was frugal and made do, but stingy, no.

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October 17, 20151 found this helpful

What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing her with us.I enjoyed reading about her and I'm glad you got to have her in your life.

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October 27, 20150 found this helpful

Such a awesome story, she was full of life....

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October 27, 20150 found this helpful

Granny Rollins was not my grandmother. Just about everyone called her 'Granny'. I would have been tickled pink, had she been my real Granny.

And, Yes, she was stingy by most people's standards at the time. In retrospect, I now know that, actually, she was not stingy. She just stuck hard and fast to two rules that were very important in the time, place, and living conditions of her early life. Those rules were, 'If at all possible, do not waste anything', and, 'Make everything last for as long as you can'. Sounds reasonable rather than stingy, doesn't it?

Had space permitted, I could have written a book about Granny. I learned so much from her. One brief example: The mother stopped lactating. The baby needs milk. Cow's milk? No. You can't do that. The cow lost her cud. Without a cud, the cow will die soon. (I said, 'Granny, isn't there some way to get the cow's cud back? She said, 'No', but you can make her another one out of an old greasy dish rag.) And so, the baby didn't go hungry! I guess you would call it a survival technique of the day.

I want to thank each and every one who replied to this post. Your memories and words of kindness have meant a great deal to me....I wont forget.

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November 11, 20150 found this helpful

Such a great story, it made me grateful for my grandmothers, who never forgot their rural roots and thriftiness.

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November 11, 20150 found this helpful

I loved this story! You have a talent for writing! So enjoyable and made me think of my own Gramma that did things very similiar.

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November 11, 20150 found this helpful

Yay! Congratulations Likekinds for winning the contest! It is so well deserved! Maybe you SHOULD write a book about Granny Rollins. I think it would be delightful, and I know I'd like to read more about her and your experiences with her. Memories like this should be written down, so that future generations will be able to understand how people used to live. You write so well, please consider it. Congratulations, again!

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January 1, 20160 found this helpful

You painted such an amazing story, helping me to remember my own grandmother who I didn't get to spend much time with. You're a brilliant writer. Well done. :)

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