Monday, August 13, 2007

"Grandma Stumph, Bent"

By Al Stumph

Grandma Stumph was bent. The more proper term would be stooped but I always saw her as bent. Most of her life she bent over rows of vegetables in the fields or over a washboard or engaged in other activities that caused her to stand bent. When I was born in 1940 she had nearly reached her 59th birthday. She died at 77, still bending over crops in the field and doing laundry on a washboard.

For more than 40 years she and Grandpa worked the farm together. But she and Grandpa had this one sacrosanct rule: except for meeting the needs of the animals, they did no physical labor on Sunday. That rule remained in effect even when Uncle Freddie took over the farm after Grandpa died in 1948.

The only winter coat I remember Grandma wearing had this great fur collar. How much, as a toddler, I enjoyed scrunching into it during church services or in the unheated back seat of the Model A!

Tom and I joined Grandma in the fields from the summer of 1951 to her death in 1958. Until her last year, I was unable to equal her working pace. In spite of failing eyesight she could always follow Tom and me when we picked beans and find those we had missed. She never criticized us; she simply tidied up after our sloppiness.

Grandma always returned to the house around 11:30 a.m. to prepare dinner, a large mid-day meal, for herself and Uncle Freddie. The radio was tuned to her soap operas before, during, and after the meal. When we came together on Sunday afternoons I could hear her, Mom, and Aunt Chris in the kitchen exchanging perspectives on the latest twists in the lives of Ma Perkins and Helen Trent.

Although she had been long dead, I saw Grandma one day in 1980. I was watching Dad walk between his house and the patio. Obviously I had seen him take this walk hundreds of times before but this time I was struck by how bent he was when he walked. Now Kathy tells me that when I take out the compost each evening I too walk bent. Bent is good.

Writer Al Stumph lives in Chatham, New York with his wife, Kathy. A former priest, he worked for years in social services agencies.

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