Butch visits Grandma and Grandpa Dale’s house

If you are like me, you perhaps have fond memories of staying overnight at your grandparents’ home. My Grandpa and Grandma Dale lived in an old two-story farmhouse located about halfway between Darlington and Shannondale. The house, built in the 1880s, had ornate trim and louvered shutters on each window, and a small balcony extending from an upstairs bedroom. Like most houses back then, it had no air conditioning and no insulation, so they ran fans in the summer and used two fuel oil stoves in winter. Even though it has been almost 70 years ago, I can still remember certain things about my visits there as a small youngster as if it were yesterday.

For breakfast Grandma always fixed pancakes and sausage, or bacon and eggs . . . plus buttered toast topped with her homemade jam, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. She made the pancakes from scratch and even made the syrup. Of course, I was expected to clean up my plate at each meal, whether I was full or not, before I could leave the table. Then Grandma would put on her sunbonnet and grab her wire basket, and off we headed to the chicken house to gather the eggs and feed the chickens…while Grandpa took care of the other livestock. On a few occasions I helped catch an unsuspecting chicken, which soon . . . hanging by its feet from the clothesline, met its fate with Grandma’s butcher knife. I didn’t want to watch! After it was butchered, I helped pluck the feathers and clean the gizzard. Along a rock fence row behind the house grew wild sassafras. Grandma would often send me back there to pull the plants and cut the roots into slivers, which she boiled to make sassafras tea.

Grandpa had an old Ferguson tractor, and he let me sit on his lap and steer. When hay or straw was baled by my Dad and my uncles, I rode on the haywagon. My older cousins, who helped with the baling, made tunnels and secret hideouts in the haymow, and we also swung on the hay rope hanging from the rafters. During the baling, Grandma always brought everyone a big cooler of her sweet tea, and it was certainly sweet, as there was about an inch of sugar resting on the bottom! I could also count on having a dish of Grandpa’s homemade ice cream, topped with Grandma’s homemade fudge sauce or fresh strawberries from the garden, in the evening after supper . . . a Dale tradition. On many occasions, after the day’s work was done, Grandpa told me to dig up some worms, and we walked down the road to Horn’s gravel pit, where we fished with cane poles until dark. Grandpa showed me how to scale and fillet the fish . . . next day’s supper!

I don’t remember my grandparents owning a TV. In the evenings Grandpa read the newspaper or a book while Grandma sewed on her quilts. Both of them wore old-fashioned wire-rimmed glasses, and Grandma wore copper bracelets, which she claimed prevented arthritis. There was a radio in the living room, and they often listened to old-time country music or comedy shows. In a short time, Grandpa would usually fall asleep in his old chair. I often played with a box full of toy metal cars, many of which had the paint worn off by all of my cousins, or I drew and colored pictures while laying on the living room floor. There was also an old wooden, hand-held “spelling board” with alphabet letters I could rearrange to make words. And Grandma always read me two or three little Golden books before I went to bed. Before she tucked me in the old feather bed upstairs, I bent down on my knees to say my prayers. Grandma kissed me good night . . . and I lay there staring at the moon and the stars through the window . . . and thanking God that I had such nice and loving grandparents. On warm nights, sometimes I would walk out on that upstairs balcony and watch for falling stars . . . to make a wish.

Grandma and Grandpa Dale never gave presents for birthdays and such. They were not wealthy, and after all, there were twenty-two grandchildren! But as I have said many times, they gave us something more precious than gifts . . . their love and their time. When our grandchildren stay overnight with us today, my wife and I try to make their visits enjoyable . . . and someday perhaps they will remember their visits to their Grandma and Grandpa Dale’s house . . . like I still do today.

John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 32 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.