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Boomer Bytes #46: Remembering Grandparents

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

Remembering Grandparents

By Steve Canipe

Nov. 25, 2014. “Over the river and through the woods. To grandmother’s house we go.” After Thanksgiving, I suspect many folks have made that trip this week. As you may remember from reading about my packrat gene, I am doing some needed house cleaning.

In the process I have uncovered some treasures from my grandparents. My grandparents were all born in the 19th century. My paternal grandparents were born in 1895 and 1890 respectively. My maternal grandparents were born in 1878 and 1884. When I was born the youngest (Grandma Canipe) was 56. The oldest (Grandpa Farmer) was 68. Until I just figured their ages I really didn’t realize that Grandpa Farmer was the same age as I am now!!   He was the oldest but was also the longest lived — age 95 at his passing.


Both sets of grandparents were involved with farming. I guess this was a pretty common occupation among rural folks in the western piedmont of North Carolina. My Grandpa Canipe was still involved with some farming pursuits. He had a large garden and a cow. I remember asking if I could learn how to milk the cow; I was about 6. He told me no because Bessie was a bit stubborn and would knock me over. Never did get to milk that cow.

One of Grandpa’s favorite sayings especially when I had been acting a bit stubborn and disagreeing with his assessment on some topic was “Boy, Bet you don’t think cow horns will hook. Do you?” At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about – it just sounded a bit silly to me. Later I came to realize that it meant that I was being a little headstrong and there would be consequences. I thought he had coined the phrase, and maybe he did but an internet search provided another person using it at the Cornsnakes.com website.

My Grandpa Canipe was a very quiet man. Of course he had to be because Grandma Canipe loved to talk. She could tell some of the most amazing stories. I loved listening to her stories. Lots of them were about witches and similar supernatural beings.

It was fun to visit her house when I was little and listen. My Grandparents Canipe lived way back off the road in the woods. When I was young they did not have electricity. Light was provided by a kerosene lamp. Heat was provided by a coal heater. Food was cooked in a wood-heated kitchen stove. The food was kept cool in a springhouse and if you wanted water you drew it on a bucket and windlass from the well. The bathroom consisted of an outhouse!

My Canipe grandparents were very self-sufficient. Grandma spun wool and knitted socks, mittens, and scarves. They churned their own butter. Grandpa was a pretty good blacksmith making and repairing iron items.

When my parents were both working on the 2nd shift at the local textile mill, I stayed with Grandma and Grandpa Canipe. I slept on a real straw tick mattress in an unheated bedroom in the deep woods house after having listened to Grandma tell her tall tales!! Scary times since there were no lights in the bedroom. I was always worried that something would come through the window into the room where I was!! One particular story has stuck with me even to today – it was about a witch called Aunt Maude. She could stop bullets in midflight and get them to return to her; she could cure warts and other ailments. As long as you did not do something she didn’t like it was OK but if you were on her wrong side – well, look out!!

My Grandma Canipe loved growing her chickens and I helped gather the eggs. There was one place where they were allowed to roam free. That place was the flower bed holding the zinnias, which Grandma called her “pretty boys.” They were a riot of color and always grew very tall or at least they seemed tall to a little 6 year old boy.

There were lots of cousins who were not well-behaved at least according to Grandma. They were curious and wanted to explore even getting into Grandma’s plunder room! A real no no to happen. My mom made me sit and be seen and not heard!! It was little wonder that Grandma called me her favorite! I did not get into anything and cause her any headaches.

During the time I was staying with her, I was learning to read. It was the Dick and Jane books and their dog Spot that I learned to read about. Reading needed practice and my Grandma listened to me read and seemed to enjoy the stories as much as I did. I enjoyed reading to her. Grandpa was usually taking an early evening nap so he did not hear the fun stories!!

My Farmer grandparents were different and I guess I better understand that now; they were older. I do remember my Grandmother Farmer. She was a heavy lady who loved to wear purple in all its shades. She was very sweet and loved to hug. As I recall, she was not as good a cook as Grandma Canipe but her cookies were the best.

Once when my dad was helping the Farmer grandparents move from one house to another, I found an old kitchen knife – not the sharp kind but one for spreading butter and the like. I took it to her and asked if I could have it since I loved to play cowboys and Indians. She said of course. That knife and I shared many adventures in our make-believe play. She also has Parkinson’s but when I was young all I knew was that she had trouble holding a cup of coffee with her shaking. I was a little afraid of the shakes she had.

Grandpa Farmer lived a long time as I had mentioned. As he got older and after Grandma passed away, he was always reading the Bible and talking about it to me. I remember not knowing much of what he was talking about but I listened just the same.

Today, I understand that grandparents are supposed to spoil their grandchildren. I don’t think I was ever spoiled or even indulged. The idea was “be seen but not heard.” Neither of my children have had children yet so I have no grandchildren to spoil. I think I would like to have one to play with and spoil.

Dad was into spoiling children. One of the things he loved to do was tickle the baby’s little feet. My kids seemed to love it. My two kids spent a lot of time with their grandparents – both my parents and my wife’s parents. They learned so much from both sets of them. I guess that is one of the things grandparents are for as well as to spoil – to pass along the accumulated knowledge from their generation. With today’s ready access to so much information, perhaps the role of the grandparent has shifted. It is not just general information but family specific stories. Do you have an Aunt Maude-type story to share?

Sharing knowledge and spoiling little ones as a job–that sounds like a great thing. I would love to hear your grandparent stories – either your own grandparents or you as a grandparent. Share your stories below or send them to me via email at boomerbytes@yahoo.com. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.