Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pancakes & Smoky Links

There was a Sunday morning tradition at Grandma Wright’s house. After attending worship service at the Methodist Church on West Emmerson, she would make a stack of pancakes on the stovetop griddle and boil Smoky Links in water (or “boral” them, as she would say in her southern Indiana twang). That is a fond childhood memory for me, and I don’t recall one Sunday that she didn’t keep up this tradition.

Alice Kathryn Dunning, my maternal grandmother, was my dearest grandparent. She was born on the farm in Francisco, Indiana, in July 1920. She came from humble beginnings, helping to raise chickens and her siblings on her father’s farm on Wheeling Road. The sixth of nine children born to David and Ruth (McEllhiney) Dunning, she was only 17 when her mother left home. Taking on more responsibility at the farm, Kate learned to be self-sufficient and hard-working. These are traits that I remember well.

Married in 1937, the same year of her parents’ divorce, Grandma started a family of her own with Richard Larson, a second generation Swedish-American. They lived in a modest home just south of Highway 64 in Francisco and had three children, my mother being the youngest and only daughter. Richard was a hardworking, entrepreneurial type who needed nothing more than his hands and a working truck. They enjoyed life as a lower-middle class family in a small farming town until Grandpa Larson’s injury kept him from manual labor. This caused him to sink into a depression he couldn’t shake. As a result, he was hospitalized in Evansville and eventually granted my grandmother a divorce in 1961.

Grandma met a World War II Veteran and jeweler around that same time. Kathryn Larson and Robert Edgar Wright married October 1962 and within a year-and-a-half had a son, Gregory. He is the one pictured holding me as an infant.


Grandma Wright, as I always knew her, held a job at Hurst Corporation and made a decent living. Grandpa’s jewelry business was located on Main Street in Vincennes, and between the two of them, they made a very good living. Their house was situated atop the hill in Tower Heights just two doors south of Gibson General Hospital, where I was born in ’68. I can remember many summers and holidays at Grandma’s house on Third Avenue. When I was an adolescent, my parents would let me spend a week at her house. Those are some of my fondest childhood memories. Having an uncle around, just four years my senior, ensured that I would have plenty to do while I was there, whether playing his drums, taping his album collection, playing ball in the backyard or riding his moped all over Princeton’s north side.

While at Grandma’s house, I also enjoyed running errands with her—out to Grandpa Dunning’s farm to pick vegetables, down to the Red & White or 3-D on Broadway, over to the veterinarian to meet Aunt Elsie for lunch or to the beauty parlor for her bi-monthly hair appointment. A rather funny memory is Grandma’s rain bonnet. She would protect her hairdo from the elements with a plastic rain bonnet; you know the kind only grandmother’s wear in public. Well, she would fuss over me getting wet and insisted that I wear one, as well. I always refused, but the mental image still gives me a chuckle.

Grandma was diagnosed with breast cancer after my family had moved hundreds of miles away to Florida. I didn’t get to see much of her after 1986, much to my disappointment. I was living in Tallahassee when she finally died in February 1990. That is one of the saddest days that I can remember. I was able to return for her funeral at Colvin and her burial with family at Fairview Cemetery, near Francisco. My Uncle David, her oldest son, now lives across the street from where she rests.


Grandma was such a great cook and I recall the many pies, cobblers, cookies, biscuits and pieces of fried chicken she would lovingly make…but my favorite meal was Sunday breakfast. As I sat at the kitchen table this morning, enjoying hot pancakes smothered in peanut butter and syrup (a family tradition) and Smoky Links, I remembered Grandma Wright. The smell, the taste, the week of the year, all brought back vivid memories.

She would have turned 90 on Tuesday. And though she died much too soon, I have many reminders of her, not the least of which is my daughter who bears her name and nearly shares the same birthday, just two days shy. I really do miss Grandma Wright, may she rest in peace.

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