Grandma’s Root Cellar




My Grandmother was Vesta Gertrude Pattinson. She lived on Annabelle Avenue in Brooklyn Park, Maryland. She was my only living Grandmother as a child, so I based everything I knew about grandparents on her. She bore the weight of that responsibility with grace and dignity. My Grandmother cleaned stoops for a living. A stoop is a small staircase ending in a landing leading to the entrance of a Baltimore row house. Stoops were usually made of marble, but they were also made from concrete. Stoops were cleaned by getting on your hands and knees and scrubbing the stoop with a bucket and brush.

My Grandmother was tough as nails. She mothered seven children and was a Grandmother to many more. She outlived two of her children. She outlived an alcoholic first husband and a lecherous second husband. When I say lecherous, I mean he liked to pinch women’s bottoms other than his wife’s. Grandma had a big house with a bigger yard on a street of row houses. I always marveled at her yard and its gardens. She had a vegetable garden and a flower garden. There was a giant pear tree, a flagpole, and a wagon wheel in the yard.

My Grandmother taught me about hard work, family, and love. My Grandmother was always cooking. She had two kitchens, a summer kitchen and a regular kitchen. She was always making chicken noodle soup, roasts, and stews. She would can her fruit and vegetables, so she would have a year round source of each for cooking. She kept her canned fruit and vegetable sin her root cellar. The house was built in 1923 and had a dirt floor basement where Grandma stored her canned goods. We were never allowed in the root cellar.

Grandma died in 1975 from pneumonia. I remember when she was near the end because she started talking to dead relatives as though they were in the other room. I was twelve at the time and did not really understand it all. My Dad went on a one-year depression after his Mother passed away. I had never seen the face of depression before and did not know what to do or how to respond.

We used to go to my Grandmother’s house every Sunday after church and on holidays. My Father would cut the grass, weed the garden, and do odd jobs for my Grandmother. My Father was his Mother’s favorite out of the seven children. My Dad helped his mother buy the house after World War Two using his GI bill money.

When Grandma died there was a mad rush by some of my Dad’s siblings to get their share of Grandma’s stuff. My Mom kept telling my dad to go check out the house. By the time we went there a month later, it was empty. My aunts and uncles removed most of the furnishings, antiques, and knick knacks. My Father was so upset that he bought the house from the remaining living siblings and rented it out. He did not want to let go of the house like he did not want to let go of his mother. My Dad and I had to go into the root cellar to work on a pipe before renting the house out.

We found gold in the form of hundreds of jars of canned goods. Neither my father nor I spoke as we gazed upon the jars of tomatoes, pears, and rhubarb. There were pickles, onions, and peppers. Dad opened a jar of pears after we finished our job and we ate from Grandma’s garden. We took the jars home knowing that with each jar we ate we were one step closer to closing that chapter of our lives. That fall and winter we ate heartily of Grandma’s garden until there was one jar of pears left. We did not share the canned goods with my Mother or sister. It was a secret between Dad and I. He kept them hidden in his tool shed. One day, he told me there was one jar left as we consumed the last jar of pears without saying a word. The only sound heard was lip smacking, burping, and Grandma’s love.