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The Carriage Driver³ - Grandma’s Basement

Updated on February 10, 2017

Tobias Coal sat on a park bench near the Commons. He had a one dollar bag of bird seed in his hand and birds gathered about his feet waiting their chance at a seed. He wore heavy overalls. It was a lifelong habit. Thick boots protected his feet. He was the thirteenth child in his family and he was now alone at age eighty-eight.

He was not the thirteenth child for long. The oldest ran off in 1931, at age fourteen. He was never heard from again. “Momma always said he was lost to the Depression.” Tobias spoke to the birds, “My first born, she always said, with a tear in her eye.”

Tobias put two big fingers into the small bag of seed and sprinkled seed on the ground. “Of course, then I was not number thirteen anymore. The number changed pretty fast over the years. Three brothers fought the big war. One died on the push to Manila with the First Infantry Division. The First Calvary patch was on the sleeve of the other two. They’re gone too. One in North Africa and one in Sicily. Momma said I guess that makes us every bit as American as everybody else.”

A pigeon hopped up on this thick boot, listening to the soothing voice of Tobias. This brought a warm smile to the weathered face. He dropped more seed at his feet and watched the eager birds feed.

“We were some of the lucky people in this country. Grandma had a big house. The house was paid for and through the hard times, we all worked like devils to keep the place together. Food grew in the garden. The women had the skills to put up food which was stored in the basement. Let me tell you, there were long cashless periods of time in those days. Grandma would kick us all out of the house and tell us to come back when we earned a nickel.” A gentle chuckle escaped him. “Are you listening birds.”

The birds skipped a foot away as Tobias leaned forward, then skipped back.

“One winter day near Christmas, me and George went up behind the Miller’s farm and took some soft pine branches off some trees. We fashioned Christmas wreaths and sold them over in town. We brought home $0.45 and almost got a wiping, cause Grandma thought we must have stolen the money.” His eyes glistened with the thought.

People strolled by Tobias, going this way and that, not knowing how much history he had to share if they cared to bother with him. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees to get a better look at the birds at his feet. The bag of seed was close to empty. He started to put his fingers in the sack, then thought different. He turned the bag over and let the seeds spill. That was greeted by flapping wings and a flurry of movement and his last earthly smile.

Captain Griffin Chaffey sat in his carriage with Nuelle harnessed and ready to go. He felt good to be back in the city where he had worked for so many years. He was enjoying the warmth of the day and the scent of salt air from the Atlantic. He climbed down and shared an apple with Nuelle, as it was a time-honored tradition.

It was not always the case, but today he recognized the name in his book. Over the last century, his fares included many members of the Coal family.

Griffin and Nuelle arrived in time to see a barefoot young man, age ten or eleven wearing heavy overalls and sack shirt standing in front of a park bench. His notable dark hair, wide smile and twinkling eyes made quite a picture.

Nuelle pulled the carriage to a stop in front of him and Griffin climbed down. “Hello, I have been sent for you,” he told young Tobias.

“I was hoping to see you.” He looked over at the small group of birds eating the last of his bag of seed and smiled. “The birds were my companion for the last many years while I waited.”

Griffin could not help but return the smile offered so freely. He extended his hand and offered young Tobias a hand into the carriage.

“Mister that is a beautiful horse. What is her name?”

“That is Nuelle. Do you know where you want to go?”

Source

“I was just about to tell the birds about my Grandma’s basement. They already heard the stories of the big house and some of the struggles. But I was just fix’n to explain the best place ever.” Tobias sat back, he opened and closed his hands and stretched his feet. “I come from a large family and that is no lie. Grandma had a big place, but we had no trouble filling the place up. Well, one of Grandma’s friends took sick. Her name, if I remember proper, was Mrs. Priscilla, and she taught at the elementary school. When she got sick, we moved her right in and with her came some boxes that were stored in the basement.” Tobias looked up at Griffin to see if he was listening, then continued. “I was the one that had to bring the boxes down. It was a big space, and it was quiet. Light entered by access windows on each side. You know the kind of light that beams into a room and you can see the little bits of dust in the air. It was such a special place. There were shelves that held pickled cauliflower and carrots. There were many shelves that held jars of dried beans from the garden. Light shined on row after row of strawberry and peach preserves put up from forgotten summers gone by. So, I cleared myself a little place to lay down. That became my place. Then, after she was gone, I went and looked into some of Mrs. Priscilla’s boxes. What I found there changed everything for me.” He took a deep breath and smiled. “The boiler was in the basement, so it was warm summer and winter. I found Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings, and Nights with Uncle Remus, right along side of The Tales of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Tom the Kitten. There were afternoon adventures alongside Robin Hood and the intrigue of King Solomon’s Mines.”

Nuelle had pulled away from the curb and paraded down the middle of the street.

“Mister, when Ma and Grandma were upstairs cooking fruit and rhubarb pies the smell in the basement could practically lift me onto a cloud. I was surrounded by and protected by a loving family. We worked hard together to make sure no one we knew went hungry if they found themselves facing hard times. Most of all we loved each other. Did I tell you that I was the thirteenth child?”

Griffin smiled at the scene painted by the young man. A young man that at eighty-eight had learned that some of the best times turn out to be the hard times. “No, you did not mention that.”

“I am the last to go,” He smiled. But we left many good people behind to take our place. At one time there were forty-five nieces and nephews. I could never keep track of their kids. There seems like hundreds of them.” Tobias stopped. “Am I talking too much?”

“Not at all,” Griffin assured him.

Tobias’ thoughts drifted back to Grandma’s basement. Where sunlight shined through mason jars of strawberry preserves and pickled onions. When he spoke again, he said, “I want to go there.”

Sting - Fragile

Alice In Wonderland Doorknobs

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    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 months ago from Southern Illinois

      This was a beautiful story that brought back memories of childhood days. My mother and grandmother canned anything you could put in a jar. I remember my mother would fry sausage put one in a jar, pour grease over it then fill the jar with grease covering each piece. Now we cringe at the thought of grease, but I haven't tasted sausage that good ever! We always had baby chickens in boxes, then when they grew into fryers mama would cut their heads off, and I would run and hide until it was over. I was the last of twelve children, and there are only two of us left. I could really relate to Tobias feeding the birds, one of my favorite past times. I loved the fact that he wanted to go back to the basement where a lot of good memories were waiting to greet him. Thank you mike. I love your stories, and of course I'm typing through tears....

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Ruby - I don't think I knew you were from such a large family. You have spoken lovingly about at least one of your sisters and have shared bits and pieces of your history. so, thank you for letting me know. This story is so close to your own. I never heard of putting up sausage like that. I thought meat was slow smoked to preserve it. My guess is all of these skills come back into use in a very short while.

      I could see this story so clearly. Where it came from I do not know. The title 'Grandma's Basement' popped into my head and a week later this story emerged.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 months ago from North America

      I know my grandmother on my father's side had a basement like that, but I never met her or saw the house, since she died in 1918. I remember stories from my father and aunt about making apple butter outside in a big iron pot over a fire. And I remember pickled sausage spoken of.

      My other grandmother did not cook, but I never met her either.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      You've found another inspiring character whose story within this story brings back so many glimpses into the past. I heard tales of my grandfather's twelve brothers and sisters and stories about working in the field all day for a nickel. Of course, back in those days, a nickel would buy quite a bit. I loved that Grandma took in and looked after someone who was ill. I remember the ladies from the church coming to our house to cook when my mother had an injury.

      But the best part for sure, other than the lovely birds, was the canned goods. Fresh vegetables and canned fruit preserved in glass jars, what a treat.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Patty - The preceding generations came from the land. They lived much differently than those that returned to an Industrialized U.S. after WWII. We took all the young men and women from the agricultural heartland and turned them into soldiers. When they returned their worlds (and ours) had changed.

      It is good that you were able to meet at least one of your grandparents.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Peg - I think canning and preserving food is going to make a comeback. You have proven that baking is reassuring to you. I remember many of your articles relating to good food, right from the kitchen.

      I like your story of women from the church arriving to help your Mother. What a treasured memory that must be for you and also her.

      I guess I cannot go wrong putting birds in a story. I will have to remember that.

      Good morning. I appreciate you.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 4 months ago from Hereford, AZ

      This brought back memories for me. My grandparents on my dad's side were farmers and they did not have a basement, but they had a root cellar dug between the house and the garden. My grandfather worked for a company that dug wells. My dad used to tell us stories about how each of the 12 of them had a row to weed and take care of. The root cellar was always full, even when my grandfather was in his 70's. He weeded it himself by then and was just so proud of his garden. His grandchildren would come over and he would put us to work weeding. His daughters and sons would come visit during the fall and end up canning. He kept that root cellar full. My dad would take him grapes, apples and peaches from his garden every year.

      My grandparents on my mom's side were ranchers. They had their vegetable garden and stored their jars in a root cellar also. They had a couple of shelves dug into the earth on the side of it that they would line with hay and lay potatoes, onions, and turnips on it and they would last most of the winter. The garden was my grandmothers domain, since the men were so busy with the cattle, sheep and horses they raised. Their young-uns would be assigned to dust the jars down monthly. Had to be able to see through those jars easily and admire the colors of the vegetables.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Becky - I am glad that I could bring back such a rush of good memories. Our grandparents lived so much closer to the earth than we do now. They came from the land, the farms, the ranches. Now it is fast food and freeways. You can guess which life style I think is better. At least at the end of a work day, 'in the old days' there was food on the table.

      Thanks for sharing such nice memories with us.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 4 months ago from Hereford, AZ

      I live out in the middle of nowhere, you know which I think is better. I have to go 20 miles to get to a grocery store and 6 miles to get to a gas station. I am totally blessed. My sons are building my raised garden beds this year. I am planting one with herbs and the other with veggies. I also have 3 fruit trees now. They were planted last spring. Planting a couple more this spring. I will have a nice little orchard when I am done. I want to plant mint on the ground beneath the fruit trees. Then when I am harvesting the fruit, I will smell the mint as I walk on it.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Becky - You have found a restful place. After all the hectic stories you have told us, you certainly deserve the peace. The gardens will be great and the orchards sound nice. The mint sounds like a nice touch.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 4 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      " A young man that at eighty-eight had learned that some of the best times turn out to be the hard times."

      Thank you for allowing Tobias to share some of his stories through your pen.

      This story has brought back so many family memories as shared in these comments - for me, my Dad, who was the youngest in a family of ten children. My paternal grandparents came over from Sicily and taught their children they were "just as American as anyone else".

      Listening to "Fragile"...perfectly beautiful. Happy Friday. Hugs, mar

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello mar - There are so many people in America, and they for the most part have had bills come due and paid them. Things like wars, and thirty or forty years of work. Americans everyone.

      Tobias had many stories and shared some of them here.

      Thanks for sharing a bit of your family history. Ten children seemed so common in that generation.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 months ago from North America

      Actually, I never met any of my grandparents.

      Later, in 1998, I discovered several aunts and uncles that I had never met who had passed away from 1989 thru 1996 -- That was a surprise when I was looking at genealogical records at the library. So there was a large family at one time; I miss not hearing more stories.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 4 months ago from Nashville Tn.

      I can still see the jars of fruits and vegetables neatly lined up on musty-smelling shelves in my grandmas basement in Park City, Utah. I was just a wee little child but these images came to life while reading your stirring story. Thank you Mike for my trip back in time.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I love any story with a Tobias in it. :) I also love any story you write, so this was a major win-win for me.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Patty - I have always mused that people should be writing their stories. Someone in the family line will one day find them fascinating reading. I never met my grandparents. My sister is 'into' genealogical research. She recently found first cousins, it was upsetting to learn there were first cousins that we never knew about.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Audrey - I seemed to have stirred many memories. We just brushed past a way of life that was receding into history. Or perhaps, as I think, will make a comeback. I so appreciated your comment.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Bill - I see you have influenced my writing. Glad you liked this weeks story. Nice to see reports, here and there, about your urban farming experience.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 months ago from North America

      First cousins unknown! What a surprise that must have been.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      A long, complicated, uninteresting story. But yes, first cousins.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 4 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I now have a new favorite story in this series. The Common in Boston has to be one of the oldest parks in the US. So much history there -- those who gathered in protests, concerts, to celebrate holidays, or in century shadows of the histories of those who walked by or stopped to rest nearly every day -- as did their children and their children's children Sometimes, I think you can feel it in the air. Such was Grandma's basement, where forgotten jars of preserved food, stories and love became a haven for Tobias. This beautiful writing brought tears. Thank you, Mike. :-)

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Genna - The title came to me, as sometimes happens. The rest followed fairly easy. I left some things out, that would have fit. That might come from the little experience I have acquired over my hub-page-writing-career.

      Thank you for your generous comment. I knew getting back to Boston would make a difference as series three motors forward.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 months ago from Southern Illinois

      I have another story to share with you. All of my siblings were born at home, including me. My sister Bea was 16 and she told me that the day I was born, mama told her to get a steak out of the smokehouse and cook it for the Doctor. His name was Dr. Strickland, he delivered all twelve children. He was located in Princeton, In. just about 10 miles away from our farm in Owensville, In. My father was a watermelon farmer. My mother left him when I was two years old so I didn't grow up knowing about a smokehouse. My mother's parents were of German decent. My father was Cherokee Indian, his mother was 1/2 Indian. My father was killed when I was eight years old. He cut down a tree and a neighbor had cut one too. My father ran to get away from the one he cut but ran under the neighbor's tree.. I remember going to the hosp. to see him and his funeral, but I really didn't know him. He was a handsome man with darkish skin and shiny black hair. He was 49 when he died. I can't think of any think else, or I would spill all the beans. lol

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 4 months ago from Hereford, AZ

      always, My dad was born at home. When he filed for his Social Security, they needed to see his birth certificate. He had never seen his birth certificate. He called his oldest sister, who had cleaned out the house when my grandfather died and asked her about it. She knew nothing, but he was born in Fallon, NV. He called the courthouse and found that it had been burnt down years ago. They suggested he call the Dr. office and said they would issue one if he could provide 3 accounts from people who were there at the birth. The Dr had died years earlier. He questioned his aunts that had been there and they remembered the day, as they had been there. He had 2 from his aunts and 1 from his sister. That was how they finally solved that. He was lucky to find 3 people who were still alive that had been there.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 months ago from Southern Illinois

      Becky, I can relate to your story. Years ago when I needed my birth certificate to go to work. I contacted the courthouse in Princeton, In. and was told that I was born on the 26 of Feb. I has always celebrated my BD on the 6th of Feb because that was what my mother told me, and she had it written in her bible. I know the correct date is the 6th but I use the 26. Mother said the Doctor was just late getting it recorded. Your father was fortunate to have living relatives. My, times have surly changed, now everything is microchipped.....

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Ruby - That is a great story. Thanks for sharing. Technology certainly has changed the way we live today. We all traded labor for convenience, in the process, as a nation, we may have become to lazy. (Generally, I know many work very hard on a daily basis.)

      You have shared a wonderful family history. That your father passed so young is a tragedy.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Becky - This story seemed to have stirred up so many memories. That makes me feel good, for some reason. Such positive feeling are being shared here.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Ruby - I had issues with a birth certificate also. I had to get affidavits from my sister - to vouch for who I was.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 4 months ago from South Africa

      Beautiful story! It also confirms my childhood suspicion that there was a ghost in my grandmother's pantry.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Martie - I hope it was a friendly ghosts. Thanks for traveling all this way to read my story.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Another delightful story, Mike. It brought back memories of my own grandmother's house. She also did preserving and pickling. Great job.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Thanks John. We are ready for more of your, "On The Road" series.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 months ago from Central Florida

      Tobias wanted to go back to that special place that made him feel safe, warm and loved. What a wonderful way to spend eternity!

      My mom is the ninth of ten kids. There are only three of them left now. Mom's 78 and will be around for a long time to come. She's definitely NOT the picture our minds paint of someone nearing 80.

      Anyway, you have me thinking about where I'd like to claim as my final resting place.

      Great story!

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 3 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Sha - Thank you. I appreciate your continued support of this series. Yes, Tobias felt warm, safe and secure in his Grandmother's basement. Something that he did not feel later in life. We may all have a place like that in our mind.

      The age of big families seems to be over. The upcoming generation does not seem to what children at all. My youngest has (sadly) expressed this.

      You have years and years, to figure out the first place to visit amongst the many journeys that are to follow.

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