Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Tribute to Grandma Great

Pauline Winstead Garrison Brincefield 1917-2012

I believe it was the spring of 1981 when I was first introduced to the Bedenbaugh Brincefield Garrison clan, and I don’t recall the occasion.  But at the Colonial Beach Fire Hall was a family gathering of some sort, and I found myself surrounded by a tribe of laughing, friendly, exuberant, extended family - somewhat overwhelming to a newly 20, young woman from a quiet, restrained, Anabaptist background in Lancaster County.  And I’d never seen so many Mama Bears all in one place!

My first impression of that gathering was that the group was largely women – strong women, single women, confident women – at the time the only balance to all the estrogen was that of Uncle Kenny and Bobby, who quietly, and contentedly, took supporting roles in the affair’s choreography.  In the middle of this glorious jangle of people, sat Grandma Great, and if Grandaddy was present, and I can’t recall if he was, he would have happily taken a side seat to the matriarch of the family.

I remember her smile – warm and friendly – and the sweet, gentle southern drawl, bred with an undeniable elegance and perceivable wit.  Everyone was bustling about the hall, preparing a long table with food and drink, setting up chairs, and amiably catching up.  I found myself the center of attention, not because I was a compelling personality in my own right, but rather because I was there on the arm of Carl, whom they all simply adored.  As such, I was given the keys to their hearts without hesitation. 

Over a period of 20+ years, holidays and summers included an assortment of such gatherings, evolving over time to include numerous partners, spouses, friends, and children.  As the family grew, the tables extended along with an inclusive generosity toward each new family member or significant other that came along.

With the passing of Grandma Great, my days have been flooded with distant memories, played back in my mind as if they were yesterday… Polly sitting in the neat and tidy, traditional living room of her home in Richmond, rubbing her feet on the dog at her feet, and coaxing Jenna and Joe to her lap, laughing and playing, with not thought to the inevitable muss and chaos left in our wake; her serious demeanor as she sat at a bingo table, markers and a string of cards lined up neatly in front of her, assuming a win; sitting in her pleasant kitchen with smells of pies backing, or ham coming from the oven, while we talked about our shared love of canning, cooking and baking… 

One particular holiday, we were discussing our favorite cookbooks, and I noted mine was an old yellow covered cookbook of my mother’s, that I’d learned to cook from at home - the Westinghouse Cookbook.  I liked it because it had all the basics – how to make chili, roast a turkey or a ham, boil rice or make mashed potatoes, Harvard beets, piecrust, and numerous yummy cakes and cookies.  She pointed out the same cookbook on her on shelf, and whether her perception of my envy of her copy, or a simple desire to do something special for me compelled her, I found it wrapped under the Christmas tree that year with my name on it, and inscribed, “To Lisa, From Grandma Brincefield, Christmas 1990.”


I cherish that cookbook.  For the memories it still stirs after many long years of use, it’s worn cover falling off, notes in the margins of recipes that have developed over years of diabetic cooking experiments, and favorite pages paper-clipped for easy finding.  It contains the origins of my gingersnap, meatloaf, pickled beets, and banana chocolate chip muffin recipes, all of which have changed and evolved, and a good many that failed along the way, but ultimately emerged in the learning as keepers.

Like this much beloved cookbook, family has continued to change over the years, under the watchful eye of the many Mother Bears, in the spirit and grace of what we call “family.”  The women who succeed them, Jenna, Meghan, Jessica, Eva, Katie, Corey, Layne, Summer, Kayla…embrace life with a heritage and character of grace, laugher, forgiveness, and dignity inherent to their clan.  The life they lead, and the character they uphold, is a testament to the beauty that was, Pauline.