Posted by: deadmousediaries | September 13, 2012

News from the Path Valley Hotel, Episode #4 – Meet the Hotel Heiress

My grandmother (center) and my two great uncles, circa 1912.

She was born in 1911 and like so many women of her generation, she took care of people all of her life. She and her husband provided for his brother’s children; his niece lived with them. She took care of her aunt and her mother in their last years and was always there to rescue her grown brother from the brink of whatever disaster he had created for himself. At Christmas, she always cooked and baked a triple batch of everything in order to make food baskets for two cousins, one who was a World War I Vet but whose name became synonymous with the term town drunk. She also worked full-time, raised a daughter, taught piano to bring in some extra cash, gardened, canned, laughed, loved and most of all made do. And she found her story unremarkable.

The daughter of a railroad man, she was only five-years-old when she started stepping on the train alone each evening to travel the six miles to a nearby town to spend the night with her grandmother who was afraid to be alone. In the morning, she stood on a wooden box in order to be tall enough to wash the breakfast dishes before she would walk back to the train station, return to her own  little town, attend school and repeat the ritual at the end of the day. That schedule must have worked for her; she became her class valedictorian.

That woman was my grandmother and I had heard those stories a hundred times as I was growing up. Now that I am finally in a place to appreciate what all that history really said about her, she is gone. I cannot ask the thousand questions I never even knew I had when the answers would have tumbled out so freely.

One answer I do have is this: she owned the land we’re settled on. The Path Valley Hotel sits on a piece of mountain ground that was given to her by her uncle. Many years after her grandmother was gone, he realized she had taken better care of his mother during those years than he had. What does that say about the fortitude of a five-year-old?

People who knew her realize I have become her mirror image,  having somehow skipped right over the small, feminine frame and buttoned-up demeanor that characterizes my own mother, her daughter. That’s okay with me. My grandmother had a heart the size of Texas and my grandfather adored her til the day he died (even though she had broken his heart by dying first). She loved cats and hated shoes and would hang up her wash barefoot, even in the snow. In the summer, she would sing the mockingbird song and bounce me to sleep in the hammock under the maple tree while the jenny wren chattered in the background. Every trip to the doctor for a checkup or a shot meant a visit afterward to “Nanny’s” house for a bologna sandwich. On Sunday mornings, we would come home from church and find her sitting in her nightgown at the organ, playing hymns from memory and singing away in her own little gratitude ritual. And on top of it all, she was, as they say, a hoot.

One story that needs retelling is about the turkeys. Everyone had gardens in her day and when a neighbor refused to do the permanent repairs on his turkey coop that were needed to keep his birds from roaming, the neighbors all agreed something had to be done.  My grandmother had a long fuse but when she had enough, you didn’t have to guess if she was mad.  Finally, she and another neighbor came up with a counter offensive to deal with the marauders. I suppose they used the Wild Turkey left over from the Christmas mincemeat when they soaked the bread crusts in the whiskey, but whatever it was, it apparently gave the wandering flock something new and tasty to gobble up rather than the rhubarb. I wasn’t there to see that but I’m sure she watched and giggled  from behind the bushes as the dramedy unfolded and the owner found his prize birds collapsed or staggering across the property.  That was my grandmother: generous soul, attentive caregiver and creative problem solver!

The PVH has been host to hundreds of family gatherings over the years and until I was in my 20s, Christmas here meant my grandmother’s mincemeat pies sitting on the metal registers in the cabin floor, covered with a tea towel, so the heat from the coal stove would keep them warm until dinner. Her walnut taffy and two kinds of fudge were made only for the holidays and I can still feel that rich chocolate and peanut butter melting on my tongue –although in 30 years, I have tasted nothing like it.

The holidays will be here again before we know it and if the Hotel can stay open, I hope we will be celebrating here. If I can’t feel the heat from our old coal stove or smell her mincemeat warming, I can at least pour a little shot of Wild Turkey in honor of our Hotel matriarch and heiress and remember why our stories are important.

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Responses

  1. Another gem. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Grandmothers are wonderful, aren’t they? I lost both of my far too soon, but they were amazing women, each in their own way.I would like to have met yours!

  3. Stories ARE always important, even (maybe especially) when we don’t think so. Who can know what will inspire or inform another soul? Thanks so much for sharing your Gran with us voyeurs … in the very friendliest way, of course!

  4. I love this story. I never experienced the love of a grandparent, so I truly love this story. Three of my grandparents had died before I was three and I have no memories of them. My other grandmother had 29 grandchildren and lived far enough away from us that I never really knew her. With all those grandchildren, I got lost in the shuffle. The pictures are wonderful too! I am a picture freak and treasure the old ones of relatives now gone.
    Your cabin is truly a special place.


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