Ohio 5: Grandma’s Secret and some pasts remembered – 685 words, 9191 total

Turns out my MC’s late and much-lamented grandmother had a secret she was keeping from those nearest and dearest to her.

This secret might explain a scene in the very first book. 

The grandmother’s personality, by the way, is spun off of my maternal great-grandmother, who lived to be almost 103, and who was a CHARACTER.

God, I loved her. She was seventy when I was born, but she and I were friends right up to her death, when I was thirty-three, and she was 102 and a whole lot of change.

She was fierce, and fearless, and grumpy with almost everyone. But when I asked her to tell me about what life was like when she was a kid, and later, a young woman, she told the best damn stories.

Hers was a world without electricity or running water, without cars or planes, without fancy grocery stores. She delivered the mail on horseback when her father (who’s primary job was blacksmithing) was too drunk to do it. She was courted by a number of beaus, but married a young blacksmith who turned out to be an awful choice, though she divorced him and married him a couple more times. They had three kids.

Hers was a world without nukes on the plus side — but with a lot of deadly air-borne and water-borne diseases on the minus side.

She initially thought cars were a joke. Like me, she loved horses.

I lived in a piece of Grandma’s world when my parents moved us to Alaska for a year and a half when I was nine (back in 1969). Because of that, I, too, have washed clothes in a washtub using a washboard, and dried them on racks beside a wood stove. Have eaten food cooked on and bread baked in that same stove, which was also most of the day heat for the house. (The wood furnace below was the heat for the boys dorm above our floor).

I have drunk water pulled straight out of the river and sanitized with Clorox, because no one anywhere up or down the river had plumbing (permafrost is not the friend of water pipes), and old cultures generally aren’t eager to adopt new technology anyway. So we had outhouses and a honey-bucket, and the folks upriver from us had the same. And the river was full of water-borne bacteria.

I helped catch food and clean fishing nets, and have lived without TV, or radio, went to school in a one-room schoolhouse in the attic of the house where we lived, had frost completely occlude the single-pane windows in that enormous log cabin in winter, skied on the river on a rope tied to the back of a snowmobile, rode in a dogsled pulled by a team of huskies, watched the midnight sun in summer.

Some of that stuff is now working its way into this series — bits of a hard and primitive past that are now colliding with a very different, easier but also more difficult and much more dangerous present.

With… of course… alien magic.

And Ohio.

Every once in a while, I make myself cry. Mostly, though, I’m having a lot of fun.


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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and indie-publish my new ones.


3 comments… add one
  • dragon Feb 25, 2022 @ 19:35

    Outhouses in South Louisiana with much more population were still functional when I was a kid. I suspect they didn’t smell as bad most of the year in Alaska. High summer was interesting back in the … not quite bayou county. Also remember retrieving duck eggs from under the house and avoiding coral snakes. Oh, and the summer my Mom made lemon meringue pie with duck eggs and could not get the whites to stiffen adequately, the sea foam candy did not solidify and the mayonnaise was runny … but really tasty! Mostly suburban childhood in my case, no wonder I have issues with lengthy tales. I am so looking forward to these books.

  • Mike Lucas Feb 16, 2022 @ 20:54

    I love this! So much of what you wrote here strikes a chord. It brings back memories of my maternal grandmother, who we called Nannie. She and my grandfather built a huge round cordwood cabin on Manitoulin Island, Ontario (the big island in the middle of Lake Huron, which is also where I was born). There was no running water or electricity. It had a big wood stove in the middle of it that heated the whole place, and plenty of oil lamps with an almost magical character to their light. A great big table sat the whole extended family for dinner, and we’d eat my Nannie’s hearty meals like stew and homemade pie, then retire to the living room where the adults would talk and me and my siblings and cousins would play with old Lego bricks (circa 1950s I think).

    Oh, and yes, an outhouse. Which I must have hated as a kid, but now in my memories it’s just another part of the charm!

    • Holly Lisle Feb 17, 2022 @ 11:55

      Yeah. A plywood outhouse in Alaska in the dead of winter was no picnic.
      Neither, however, was the “honey bucket” in the house, which was a big plywood box with a hole cut in the top, a toilet seat fastened over the hole, and the “plumbing” method of carrying the bucket downriver from the house and dumping in on a midden heap, along with other trash.

      I know what you mean about the memories.

      I’m glad I was there, I’m glad I got to experience that. I would NOT want to do it again.

      It was damn near as primitive as it’s possible to live.

      That level of “sanitation tech” works when there’s a population density for the area that’s considerably less than one person per square mile. I think it was in the .001%-ish range. We could look north, to Three-Step Mountain, hundreds of miles away… and know that there were only a couple tiny villages between us and it.

      It was a vast, deadly wilderness. And still is.

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