Pickled pigs feet…just the thought made me want to lose my lunch but to Grandpa, they were a delicacy. He loved them but rarely had them, so my gift of choice for him that Christmas was one jar of pickled pigs’ feet, with a bright red bow on top.
We traveled to Iowa for the holidays nearly every Christmas. For most of my life, we lived a state or two away from ‘home.’
I could hardly wait. My mom’s brothers and sisters and their families would be there which always meant fun. Plus, my dad’s family lived near and we’d always get together with those aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, too. Great times in Winterset, Iowa!
But we’d stay with my Grandpa at the east end of town. He’d lived there for decades. My other grandparents lived on the west end. This was ‘hometown’ even though I wasn’t born there. It was where many memories were made for many decades.
At Grandpa’s house, a narrow sidewalk led to a lone concrete step, slightly out of level due to shifting ground. His was an older house, but comfy for him. A second step up took me to the wooden floor of the enclosed back porch. A few more steps to the inner front door. It was rarely locked – especially if he was expecting someone. The door creaked and I was immediately surrounded by familiar smells of Grandpa’s house. Filling my nostrils was the aroma of years of cigar smoke which permeated every piece of furniture and every square inch of the house.
Grandpa was in his 90s by then and hardly left his house. His days were spent sitting in a recliner with an ashtray nearby, the TV blaring across the room, and a cigar hanging precariously from his mouth.
You’d think I could remember the brand, but I can’t. They were just a cheap grocery store brand. Small, like cigarettes, but with an off-white end. I can still see the package, and hear the clear plastic as he tore each one open, lit the end, and put it in his mouth. I don’t remember him smoking when he was away from home, but he smoked at home.
Grandpa was a big man, hard-working, and stern. Well over 6′ tall even as he aged, scruffy, and in his everyday clothes, he could be intimidating and even appear harsh (and he was at times – I’d seen it). He’d been a widower – a single dad – for many years, and when I was growing up he still had three boys at home. My three uncles, just a few years older than me, could be a bit ornery and strong-willed (they came by it naturally) so Grandpa had to be harsh to keep them in line. Yet, he was never harsh with his oldest granddaughter. Not at all. In fact, some thought I could get by with anything. (Truth is, I rarely tried to – I’d seen his wrath.)
My mom loved to tell the story of when she, my brother, and I were riding with Grandpa through heavy traffic in some city in Louisiana – Shreveport, if I remember right. I was a teenager but not yet old enough to drive. It didn’t matter, because no one drove if Grandpa was in the car. He had to be at the wheel. I mentioned strong will, didn’t I? Some would call it stubbornness. Well, it definitely runs in the family. Some of my cousins would attest to that even now.
We were on our way from Iowa to Louisiana to see one of my uncles who was stationed at Fort Polk. After many hours behind the wheel, Grandpa was ‘powering through’ when he inadvertently powered right through a red light at a major intersection. Brakes squealed. Horns blared. And, Grandpa did too. “That #*%!& light never even turned yellow,” he stated vehemently, though I’m sure he was relieved to be safely on the other side of that intersection and all in one piece.
“Yeah it did, Grandpa. I saw it,” I responded quickly, but quite innocently. Because I did see it. In fact, I couldn’t believe he didn’t. Duh!
My mother was mortified and held her breath in the front seat. She had witnessed her dad’s harshness, too, but on that day Grandpa just kept on driving. No comment was ever made.
After my mom regained a regular heartbeat, she gave me a quick glance to warn me NOT to test my luck again. Her eyes said “Zip it!” So, I did. Funny how eyes can say things so clearly. Right?
Unintentionally, I had gotten by with something others wouldn’t have. Whew! I never was a backseat driver for Grandpa again. That’s for sure. Mama’s look cured me of that.
We’ve laughed about that intersection many times since. Grandpa laughed, too!
But, here we were (before that Louisiana adventure ever happened) arriving at Grandpa’s house ready for Christmas together. Of course, I couldn’t wait to give him a hug, but likewise, I couldn’t wait for him to see my gift. I carried those disgusting pigs’ feet and handed the jar to him after we hugged.
“Merry Christmas, Grandpa!” I teased, as he reclined in his overstuffed brown chair.
Remember how ornery I said his sons were – well, he was, too. Grandpa thought for a moment, holding that jar in his hands, then looked up at me with a grin and told me to get him a fork. He was going to share them with me. Then he laughed as I gagged.
Trust me. I like pigs. I like cute little four-legged creatures running around through mud puddles but I also like them packaged as bacon, ham, or pork chops.
However, I don’t like formerly mud-encrusted feet that are pickled and preserved as a delicacy. No way.
I declined Grandpa’s offer. He could enjoy his Christmas present later…after I was gone.
We laughed about that incident many times since, too. Grandpa has been gone too long, but I’m thankful I still have random memories of red lights and pickled pigs’ feet.
(c) 2022 Elaine McAllister – All Rights Reserved.