Now, y’all stay out of my fruit cellar,” Granny warned my sisters and me each summer vacation. She needn’t worry. We would never turn the doorknob to that dark, spooky place with a small window facing the alley side of the house.
Once, when she opened the door to store her canned tomatoes on shelves, I caught a glimpse of that window, appalled by spiders feeding on bugs.
Built under the stairs descending the kitchen to the basement, Granny’s fruit cellar also served as a root cellar. But I couldn’t see the “root” side; a mysterious cave hewn into the earth.
Granny held her root vegetables and cabbages captive in that pit black as night until her dimpled hands rescued them for a meal. But I never witnessed her wide hips enter that formidable den.
Furthermore, I didn’t understand what Granny meant when she said “root vegetables,” because she harvested onions, potatoes, and carrots after I left Kentucky and returned to school in Michigan. There, Mom only had a fruit cellar.
Passage into my grandmother’s fruit and root cellar came after her death in March 1997, not a year after I buried my firstborn. A holy moment, I followed Mom down the narrow and spiraling steps to the basement.
The furnace and Poppy Roy’s miner shower and toilet stood to the left, just as I remembered. And there was the root cellar door on the right.
My mother whispered, “It’s been so long since Mom put up a garden, I have no idea what we’ll find in there.”
I’d slept in my grandparents’ basement bedroom until I married. Then, upon our first visit to Granny and Poppy Roy, she appointed my husband and me to her guest room where she kept her quilts in the closet.
As infants, our three daughters slept in that room with us. How is it possible for a grown granddaughter to understand such love and wealth within one place, from one person, and speak honor and praise due them?
I held my breath when Mom opened the door to the scent of dust and fumes of withered potatoes, onions, and cabbages. Sooty cobwebs hung on the window like tattered curtains. Several jars of canned food stood abandoned on the shelves.
“It’s not as bad as I thought,” Mom said.
We emptied jars worth salvaging and washed them in the kitchen sink. I carried a few keepsakes home.
Several summers ago, anticipating our garden’s harvest, I consulted our farm’s handyman about digging a root cellar along the outside west wall of our house. Although possible, the cost was prohibitive and the location impractical for winter access.
“Why do you want a root cellar?” our handyman asked. “There’s just you and Mel to feed.”
It took some thought to search my heart. “Because my granny had one, and her house burned to the ground a few years ago.”
Dear Reader, sometimes, a granddaughter needs to smell her grandmother’s root vegetables. She needs her granny back.
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