Beautiful Seasoning by Virginia Hughes

A wooden rake, an old rolling pin, a stack of chipped mixing bowls, the wrought iron meat grinder, canning jars and a family Bible. These items from my grandparents’ home were the simple implements of ordinary lives seasoned and made beautiful by use of their hands over time. 

In the crisp autumn air Grandpa’s hands curl around the old rake made entirely of wood from handle to comb as he teaches us to rake leaves and gather branches under the massive willow tree. Most of the leaves have blown over from the red-orange sugar maples edging the property. As missionary children we relish this rare visit to our grandparents’ stateside home by jumping with glee to bury ourselves in piles of autumn leaves. A loaded wheelbarrow carries stacks of leaves for burning. No horsing around by the burning piles; we respect the command to stand back. A handful of colorful leaves rustles in my coat pocket. 

After we have labored, the aroma of fresh biscuits quickens our steps. “Smell those fresh biscuits in the air!” Grandpa announces, and we float into the house, our noses carrying us toward the heavenly scent. 

In the kitchen, Grandma is pulling biscuits from the oven and assigning jobs, “Get a spoon for the jelly.” She instructs. “Pour the milk, put napkins at the places and of all things, first wash your hands.” 

Grandma’s hands grip the rolling pin handles. The ancient rolling pin perpetually rolls dough with its thick cylinder of smooth, seasoned wood. Decades of cookies, pie dough and biscuits roll from the wheel marking times of lean and plenty throughout their lives including tales of how they survived the Great Depression. Family stories roll out alongside dough connecting us through many generations. 

The iron meat grinder sits on the counter waiting to be turned with a hand crank. While its origins are unknown, Grandma knows her great-grandmother used it in her kitchen long ago. “You can’t trust sausage, meatloaf or even a meatball unless you see what goes into it,” states Grandma exposing the meat jungle long before we read Upton Sinclair. “You must learn about the cuts of meat and proper seasonings or be unaware and eat terrible things.” She elaborates about wholesome ingredients. Her large mixing bowls are stacked with the highest expectations. 

Grandma’s hands curl around jars of canned green beans, pickles, whole tomatoes and strawberry jam as she stacks them on the pantry shelves. All the talk of canning is confusing. “Where are the cans?” Aren't cans metal and these are clear glass jars. An eight-year-old mind while imaginative, is correctively literal. The kitchen rings with Grandma’s laughter, “Where are the cans? Right here!” She points to shelves lined with rows of colorfully filled canning jars.

Grandma and Grandpa fold their work worn hands to pray before we dig into the biscuits. Grandpa’s prayer is sincere and blissfully short and for that I love him even more.

When I’m older I learn their home did not always center around faith. There is a season when Grandpa sits in the diner drinking coffee and reading the newspaper while Grandma attends church with their three young children. One summer evening in downtown Indianapolis, while out walking and munching on ice cream cones, the whole family is drawn toward beautiful music flowing from a tent service. After the gospel is presented, Grandpa gives his life to the Lord and his family attends church altogether now. They learn to read their Bibles and pray to grow their faith, and their children became young adults who join full time ministry. 

My mother is their 20-year-old daughter married for one year, saying goodbye to family and country. She and Dad are going to the Philippine Islands shortly after World War Two to start a Bible college and a family.

We are shown the large family Bible on display in my grandparents’ living room. Our names are written majestically in script on the page entitled, Family Births, along with our birth dates. The large Bible with my name in it makes such an impression that it immediately comes to mind when I hear about the Lamb’s Book of Life in second-grade Sunday School class.  “Is your name written there, in the Lamb’s Book of Life?” The teacher cryptically asks.

Never has one answered so swiftly nor earnestly as myself, “Oh yes, I saw my name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” The teacher is taken aback that I dare claim to have seen God’s own book described in Revelation. “And where did you see this?” She asks. “At Grandma’s. She has the Lamb’s Book of Life in her living room and my name and birthday are written right in it . . . in cursive . . . in ink.”  Teacher’s patience and raised eyebrows remain intact long enough for me to announce that I have also seen the page with the picture of lambs.

Grandpa and Grandma revere the Bible far too much to underline text or write a note in the margins. So, Grandma scrawls notes, names and prayer requests on bits of paper and tucks them into the Bible’s pages similarly to visitors placing prayers into the crevices of Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Grandma believes her prayers will be answered as she waits upon the Lord. 

My grandparents entrust my young parents into God’s hands and later their eight grandchildren as we come along. They are the lone set of grandparents keeping the home fires burning. My dad’s parents travel as evangelists and we see them even less than the stateside ones. 

No phones for calls. Letters waylaid and delayed. We are not together as a family for many years as Grandma’s rolling pin rolls out the biscuits, and Grandpa’s rake is raking leaves over many seasons, the canning jars fill with fruits and vegetables, and line the pantry shelves. Wholesome ingredients stir within the mixing bowls. 

We know our grandparents open their Bibles and fold their hands to pray. They trust God to keep us, savoring the telegrams, air mail letters and postcards announcing a new grandchild, and good news that we are well. An amazing bond grows between us despite time and distance as we believe we are loved and practice faith that we will see them again. Their presence in our lives teaching both family and faith reflects their use of the family Bible. For in it we find the beautiful and perfect seasoning leaving us equally satisfied and always wanting more.