The news was in the air: grandma was coming to visit! I thought, who? I had no idea what “grandma” meant and the thought that mom had ever been a little girl was strange to me. At two or three, I had not met any of my grandparents, but called other American adults in our lives “aunt” and “uncle”; they had become our surrogate family.
This person was a stranger to me and it took me a while to get used to her wanting to hug and kiss me. I’m pretty sure I hid from her at first, a little afraid of her overtures. Poor grandma. She just wanted to love on us. She came to visit us twice in São Luiz, the second time when I was seven or eight. Most of these memories are of the second time she was there.
Grandma Jergens was a force to be reckoned with. Born of German stock, she was strong, opinionated, and wanted to know everyone’s business. Perhaps that last part had to do with the fact that she lived her entire life in a small community in Iowa where everyone literally knew everyone’s business.
So when she didn’t know what to expect or what was going on, she was constantly asking, “where are you going?” as I walked through the kitchen where she and mom were talking. Or, “what are you doing?” and so forth. I got the impression she tried to manage the household while she stayed with us, much to mom’s annoyance.
I remember the day grandma decided to prepare chicken for dinner. It wasn’t the grocery store variety, neatly packaged in a vacuum seal. Dad raised chickens and they had to be butchered, de-feathered, gutted, and cleaned. Although she was a pro at doing this on her farm in Iowa, this was an entirely new ballgame.
In a funny turn of events, things did not go as smoothly as expected. In my mind, this was the day that dad chose to instruct Davi, the young boy who was our yard help, in the art of chopping a head off a chicken. Davi caught one of the birds, and carefully set it on a block while cautiously and nervously swinging the machete down to chop its head off. Something went wrong though because as soon as the head came off, Davi let go of the chicken, at which point it immediately hopped off the block.
Those who are a pro at this know that if you sever the head too high up the neck, the chicken’s nerves will still trigger, making the muscles…