The Secret of Grandma’s Sugar Crock

The Secret of Grandma’s Sugar Crock

From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

The Secret of Grandma’s Sugar Crock

The best portion of a good woman’s life is her little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.

William Wordsworth

World War II had recently been declared. On the surface, there appeared to be little change in Grandma’s ranch. Grandpa worked the fields and orchards every day, just as he had done before, and Grandma tended to the chores and harvesting as usual. But in fact, there had been a big change in the old homestead. The ranch was without the manpower of their five youngest sons, who were now on active military duty somewhere in the Pacific. Both Grandpa and Grandma would have to work twice as hard now to compensate for the absence of their five strong sons.

During World War II, a government-issued flag, imprinted with five blue stars, hung in the front window of my grandparents’ old farmhouse. It meant that five of their sons were off fighting in the war. Without the boys to work the land, the ranch was shorthanded. Grandma worked doubly hard now to harvest a bountiful fruit crop. During that time, every member of the family pitched in to help, including grandkids like myself. Even so, it was a difficult time for Grandma: Rationing was in effect, there was little money for luxuries, and worst of all was the constant worry over whether her five sons would come home safely to her.

The old ranch was a lovely place, especially in the spring when the orchards were white with plum blossoms, and the song of the meadowlarks filled the fields and rolling hills of the surrounding valley. It was this beautiful ranch and returning to Grandma and Grandpa that their five sons focused on all during the war years.

In the summertime, while the rest of the family harvested the plum crop, Grandma was in the kitchen cooking up delicious fine Italian dinners. We would all sit on blankets spread out on the orchard ground, enjoying not just the wonderful food, but also the satisfaction of being part of such an important family effort.

To encourage the ripe fruit to fall, Grandpa used a long wooden pole with an iron hook at the top to catch a branch and shake the plums loose from the trees. Then the rest of us would crawl along, wearing knee pads that Grandma had sewn into our overalls, and gather the plums into metal buckets. We dumped the buckets of plums into long wooden trays, where the little purple plums were soon sun-dried into rich, brown prunes.

After a long, hard day I would walk hand-in-hand with Grandpa through the orchards while he surveyed what had been accomplished that day. I’d enjoy eating fresh plums off the trees, licking the sweet stickiness from my fingertips.

On each of these walks, Grandpa would stoop down and pick up a handful of soil, letting it sift slowly and lovingly through his strong, work-calloused hands. Then with pride and conviction he would invariably say: “If you take good care of the land, the land will take good care of you.” It was this respect and belief in the soil that helped bolster his generation.

As darkness fell on the ranch, we’d all gather together on the cool, quiet veranda of the front porch. Grandpa would settle comfortably into his rocker, under the dim glow of a flickering moth-covered lightbulb, and there he’d read the latest war news in his newspaper, trying to track the whereabouts of his five young sons.

Grandma always sat nearby on the porch swing, swaying back and forth and saying her perpetual rosary. The quiet squeak of Grandma’s swing and the low mumbling of her prayers could be heard long into the night. The stillness of the quiet ranch house painfully reflected the absence of the five robust young men. This was the hardest part of the day for Grandma; the silence of the empty house was a painful reminder that her sons were far, far away, fighting for their country.

On Sunday morning, Grandma was back out on the porch again, repeating her rosary before going into the kitchen to start cooking. Then she and Grandpa sat at the kitchen table, counting out ration slips for the week ahead and what little cash there was to pay the bills. Once they were finished, Grandma always took a portion of her money and put it in the sugar crock, placing it high on the kitchen shelf. I often asked her what the money in the jar was for. She would simply say, “A very special favor.”

Well, the war finally ended, and all five of Grandma’s sons came home, remarkably safe and sound. After a while, Grandma and Grandpa retired, and the family farm became part of a modern expressway.

I never did find out what the money in the sugar crock was for until a week or so before last Christmas. Completely on impulse, perhaps feeling the wonder of the Christmas season and the need to connect with its spiritual significance, I stopped at a little church I just happened to be driving past. I’d never been inside before, and as I entered the church through the side door, I was stunned to come face-to-face with the most glorious stained-glass window I’d ever seen.

I stopped to examine the intricate beauty of the window more closely. The magnificent stained glass depicted the Holy Mother and child. Like an exquisite jewel, it reflected the glory of the very first Christmas. As I studied every detail of its fine workmanship, I found, to my utter amazement, a small plaque at the base of the window that read, “For a favor received—donated in 1945 by Maria Carmela Curci-Dinapoli.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was reading Grandma’s very words! Every day that Grandma had said her prayers for her soldier-sons, she’d also put whatever money she could scrape together into her sacred sugar crock to pay for the window.

Her quiet donation of this window had been her way of saying thank you to God for sparing the lives of her beloved five sons.

The original church in which the window was placed had long ago been torn down. Through the generations, the family had lost track of its existence. Finding this window at Christmastime, more than half a century later, not only brought back a flood of precious memories, but also made me a believer in small but beautiful miracles.

Cookie Curci

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