The Norman Transcript

June 13, 2013

Those lean years

By Shirley Ramsey
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Lilly peers over the top of a chair, curiously watching her Granny pour heavy, cream-filled milk into a huge glass container with a big wooden paddle on top.

“What's that, Granny?” she says.

“A churn,” comes the answer. “I guess you’ve never been around when I made butter, have you?”

“No. I didn't know you did that.”

Lilly watches every stroke of the paddle as her Granny turns it faster until finally her turning meets with too much resistance. Granny lifts the paddle.

“I need to see if yellow solids are floating around on top and clinging to the paddle,” she says. As soon as there are enough, she scoops yellow chunks up into a clean flour sack and squeezes out the remaining milk. She forms a couple of squares of rich, yellow butter and puts them into the wooden icebox.

“Here, Lilly, scrape the rest of it off the paddle,” she says, handing it over on a plate. “Put it on this warm bread.” She gives Lilly a couple of hunks of bread still warm from the oven. “Here. Strawberry preserves from last year.”

“How about tomorrow morning?” Lilly says, licking her lips.

“How about you clean up?” Granny says.

Lilly's Granny and Gramps lived in a raw new territory during its lean years. As long as they were able to care for themselves and relatives or neighbors in need, they believed they were OK.

Their children — Lilly's parents — lived during the Depression years after l929. They lost their jobs and had to move back in with Lilly's grandparents. After a couple of years, the world began to right itself again.

“Lilly — do you think you could go to a different school now?” her mother says. “Your Dad finally got a chance for a real job, but we would have to move.”

“No more WPA?” Lilly asks. “No more Daddy digging ditches and carrying those heavy metal things that nearly break his back?”

Her mother nods.

“Well, OK!” Lilly shouts for joy. “I'll miss Granny and Gramps, but they'll come see us.”

Shirley Ramsey, a retired professor of journalism, lives in Norman.