One hundred years ago today, a great lady was born. She may have lived a quiet, simple existence, but she was a greater influence on the person I became than any historic figure or role model. She was my great-grandmother, Katherine Muhs.
Grandma Muhs was awesome. She lived in this old white farm house with black shutters in southern Illinois. We went to visit all the time when I was a little girl. I always knew we were close when the road changed from the smooth asphalt to the distinctive crunch of gravel. She was always waiting for us when we arrived. Walking through her front door made you feel like you were the most important person in the world, even if you could only sit at her table when aided by a stack of phone books and Sears catalogs.
She had a dining room that we never used for eating; the heart of her home was the wood paneled kitchen with its brown laminate dinette set, carefully protected by a vinyl lace table cloth. She made all sorts of tasty foods for us; that’s how she showed us that she loved us. She made chicken with homemade egg noodles, chocolate pie, gravy for breakfast, and zucchini bread. She grew an enormous garden, cooked with oleo and Crisco, embroidered pillow cases, and gave the warmest hugs. I remember helping her can a kitchen full of green beans from her garden, being tasked with the job of cleaning the ends off the beans and snapping them to the proper size, watching in fascination as the lids popped, letting us know that they were sealed and safe.
Her kitchen was decorated with chalk-ware vegetables, her bathroom with pink poodles, and her lawn with flamingos. She mowed her own yard, drove, and danced until she couldn’t do it anymore. She was a woman made of love, faith, and determination. She was someone whom I aspire to be like. Someone kind and giving; someone industrious, who seemed to know how to do anything. Someone fun and vivacious even at 80 and 90. Someone who touches the lives of everyone whom she met.
It’s been four years since she left us bereft of warm hugs and chocolate pies. I remember her most when I’m in the kitchen, standing over my water bath canner or waiting for the reassuring pop of my Mason jar lids. She is the most likely reason that I show people I love them by filling them with tasty foods, why I try to find a use for things before throwing them away, and why I really want a kitchen table with a laminate top and chrome trim. They say that the best way to keep people alive is by remembering them, but I think it’s by remembering the lessons they taught us.