Grandma Peggy by Linda Langston Fredendall

It’s a family tradition…Grandma Peggy’s hot rolls for every special dinner.   Nothing evokes family memories like the smell of good food, especially yeast breads baking in the oven.

 I had the luxury of not working for two years when my children were teen-agers, so I was able to spend more time with my grandmother.  She was special to me as a little girl, but I really appreciated how special she was as I got older.  She had a bright sunny kitchen with a large-paned window that looked out over her fragrant, colorful flower gardens.  I went to visit her one day and as I sat at in her cozy kitchen, watching her make those rolls, I asked her for the recipe.  As I expected, she said “honey, I’ve never had a recipe.” So I stood at her side, pad and pencil in hand, and wrote down the approximate measures. Now my daughter and granddaughters vie for the honor of making the hot rolls for family dinners. They always call them Grandma Peggy’s hot rolls. 

 I’ve always adored my grandmother.  As a young child I felt so loved and so secure with her.  My father was remote and not demonstrative and my mother always seemed so busy with her young family, taking care of a small farm with a lot of animals, tending our garden and canning the fruits of the farm.  But Grandma always had time for me.  I was in truth a homely and introverted little soul. But Grandma always gave unconditional love, always making me feel that I was so important to her, that I was somehow special, that spending time with me was all she had to do that day. 

 My grandmother never had a high school education, probably third grade at best.  When I inherited her papers, I found little note papers with words and their meanings written on them, little snippets of poems, and bits of her life story.   She spent her life trying to make up for her lack of a formal education.  She married at fifteen and her in-laws were mean and harsh with her.  She had five daughters by the age of twenty-two. She lived in tents, rented houses, and an unfinished house that she and my grandfather were building, and lost, in the Great Depression. They went from South Gate to Santa Rosa, California. They lived in a tent in a cow pasture and picked apples from dawn to dusk.  They finally rented a little house with no electricity or running water. They cleaned and painted and impressed the owner so that he let them live there rent free.  Through all this she tried so hard to make young ladies of her three surviving daughters.  Teaching them how to eat, how to walk, and how to carry themselves; she desperately wanted a better life for them.

  I spent many, many days with her over a year writing her life story in short hand and transcribing my notes on my electric typewriter at my dining room table.  There was so much that I learned about her in those days.  Personal stories that I never would have known if I hadn’t taken the time to sit down with her.  She was one of thirteen children, although only seven survived until adulthood.  She was the middle child and she told me she never felt loved or particularly wanted. She wasn’t complaining about it, it was just a fact that she was the middle child, and she was just one of many.  Her mother was bed-ridden most of her life, and therefore didn’t play a role in her nurturing.  She told me the only person who ever made her feel special was her grandmother.  Her grandmother took her fishing and Grandma caught a big fish and her grandmother told all the family about it. It was one time in her young life that she felt special.  My grandmother loved to fish… deep sea fishing, fishing in rivers, fishing in lakes. I even have a picture of her in a bathing suit and high heels, fishing.  

 She divorced my grandfather in the early forties, and by the early 50’s she had bought her own home, had nice furniture, and a nice car, all on waitress pay. She was an extraordinary money manager.  She went to Hawaii four times, went dancing, gave wonderful parties in which a lot of good food played a part, loved Las Vegas, took vacations to places I only dreamed about, and was active in several clubs. She had beautiful clothes and sparkling, gleaming jewelry, which I was allowed to go through and play with. When I was in my 30’s we took two vacations together, one to Alabama to the county her father was raised in and one to Oklahoma for a family reunion.  We went to the horse races together at Santa Anita many times.  We laughed and cheered on our horses, although she laughed mostly at me, because I picked the winning horses by the color of the jockey’s shirts.  She was full of life and loved living it…and she loved living it with me. 

 She had four sisters, and they all adored each other. They never had a cross word with each other, they were there for each other whenever there was trouble of any kind, fiercely loving and loyal.  They always lived close to each other and at times took in each other’s children when needed, or even the whole family. Times were hard, they were raising their young children in the Depression but there was always room for one more.  These are the things that has made me love and appreciate every member of my family.  They were from Texas and had that earthy, home spun humor that made them so interesting, especially when they were all together.  So my great-aunts were a large part of my young life too. Their lives, their children, their wild and wonderful stories are interwoven into these beautiful memories, and I know I am blessed to have them to love me so. 

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