Batching It

Batching It

When I was a small boy, I spent a couple of months every summer with my mother’s parents, in rural Bath County, Virginia.

My grandfather was editor of the county’s weekly newspaper, the Bath County Enterprise. My grandmother was a teacher, and had summers off. She had dropped out of college many years before to marry my grandfather, but decided to go to college in the summer to finish her degree, which meant more pay.

So, she enrolled in Madison College in Harrisonburg, Virginia (now James Madison University). We’d drive her over to Harrisonburg every Sunday night, and drive over to pick her up every Friday afternoon. It was maybe 75 miles, over narrow mountain roads.

When my grandmother was over in college, my grandfather and I were alone together. I was five or six, and she went to college several summers. He and I called ourselves bachelors and hence together while she was away at school, we were ‘batching it.’ My grandfather probably liked the company. Otherwise, he’d have been alone.

The place was remote beyond the ability of most Americans to imagine these days. There was radio, but no TV signal and cable TV was some time in the future. There was no internet yet, no personal computers, and no phones because land lines didn’t reach that far. We spend weekdays in Warm Springs (population 300) at the Enterprise building (a former bank), and would get home sixish or so. We’d fix dinner, and then entertain ourselves by conversation or listening to the radio, with a fire going in the fireplace—even in summer, evenings were cool, the place was up about 2,300 feet.

I don’t remember any conversations exactly. They would have been between a 60 year old man and a 6 year old boy. He’d tell stories. He’s the only man I have ever known who was like the character Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. He’d ask my opinion about things. He was a high school graduate, but otherwise self-educated. He knew his Bible well, and would relate stories from it to everyday things, although he was not otherwise a religious man. He had a couple of hundred books in the house, and as I remember they ranged from books by some of the ancient Romans and Greeks to Civil War biographies. The country had no library then. I read some of them. I learned that books were to be respected.

We ate well. Some of what we ate was my grandmother’s preserves in mason jars, from the previous summer, corn and beans and such. I don’t remember breakfast much, sometimes pancakes with salt pork or bacon. With milk for the kid and coffee for the grandfather. Lunches were when we drove over to Hot Springs, the biggest town in the county (population 900). We’d get a quart of milk and a can of Vienna sausages and split them. We got them from the grocery in Hot Springs. I remember that the grocer was a talkative fellow, with a glass eye.
I don’t remember what we ate for dinner. Possibly pork chops or hamburgers. My grandfather was a wonderful editor but a lousy cook.

Then come Friday afternoon, we’d drive over to Harrisonburg. I still remember the very small towns along the way: Millboro, Goshen, Craigsville. Grandma would be waiting, and we’d drive back home. Sometimes we’d stop at a farmer’s market—Harrisonburg is in the Shenandoah valley, a very rich agricultural area. We’d buy some peaches or a watermelon, and have them for dessert.

The weekends went fast. Those were not very egalitarian days, and grandma did washing and hung it out to dry in the sun, on long laundry lines that would sag under the weight. I’d do gardening chores like weeding, and checking the bean plants for pests. The garden had been planted before I arrived for my two months in the summer. I’d hoe the weeds, mow the grass and later in the summer, pick beans or dig some fresh potatoes. Sweet corn would start ripening in July, and was amazingly tasty when so fresh. My grandmother was a superb cook and with things a half hour out of the garden, meals were especially tasty. Or so I remember.

All that was long ago, and my grandparents have long since passed. Yet sometimes as I drift off to sleep, memories come back so vividly that I am a boy again, in some Virginia summer, with my grandfather laughing at some joke he told me.

Deep knowledge,everyday.
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Happy Reading.

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