This is the start of a longer memoir project. As part of teaching my summer 2021 creative nonfiction class, I will write alongside them using the assignments to create chunks and snippets for a book-length memoir.
Kansans are famous for their connection to the land, and I am no different there, despite how little the land seems to love them back. My connection is the Walnut Creek Farm, bought in the the late 1940s by William Howard and Neva Nell Dey Cadle, my grandparents. So, this a a farm tale, but not really. I’ll talk more about that, but not now. Now I need to talk about cookies and grandmothers.
I called her Granny because that is what she wanted to be called and Neva Cadle generally got what she wanted. Trained at Bethel College and the Emporia Normal School (now Emporia State University) she was trained to be a teacher, but I don’t know if she ever taught. I don’t know. I hope not. I have the stitchery notebook from that time though, and each page shows plain and fancy stiches done on paper and duly labelled. She knew how to do daily life and do it well. I came across a series of phots from around that time showing the right way to sweep, beat a rug, and so on. Just think–that means there is a wrong way too, maybe more than one wrong way. See how upright the woman in the photo is, how she doesn’t give in to the desire to lean into her work. This will take longer, but it is right,
I do know that Granny met and married my grandfather and they bought furniture that I still have in Newton, possibly at Charlie Dey’s furniture store. She had Grandpa buy all the furniture and set up the house before she would set a date for the wedding. The buffet wasn’t embellished enough for her and she had them carve and add a sunflower to all the knobs. No one else would have a buffet like hers.
I have photos of her and of my grandfather too, but this time I don’t want to go there, I want to dream the younger her into being, to piece together the scraps I have about her as the youngest sister who stayed in Kansas building a home while others chased careers, one in real estate and one even was a “career girl” in Hollywood, taking dictation and saving up memories of the silent film days.
I didn’t know that Neva and have to go by what I know. My Granny bought cheap vanilla sandwich cookies and kept them on a high shelf for when grandchildren came by. After my brother died, that was mainly me since my cousins were in California. She would give me two and shoo me out to the steps to eat them. Crumbs were her nemesis. Of course, nothing makes you thirstier than those cookies, so I would come in and go for the water jug in the refrigerator. This is how she showed her love: When she knew I was coming, she would hang a damp rag in the refrigerator handle so I could wipe the fingerprints off. The day I wiped without asking, she smiled and gave a jerky nod so fast I almost missed it.