Family · Holidays

The Essay Contest

When I was in eleventh grade, I entered an essay contest sponsored by the realtors in my hometown. The theme was Home Ownership and the Family: Homes Are Made of This. I won first place – a total of $350 in savings bonds from local banks.

More important than the money, though, was the response from my extended family. This essay was published in our small hometown newspaper, and my family members clipped it and passed it around at family reunions. It was mounted onto cardboard and laminated. Still, my family talks about this essay and the way it captured life at my grandparents’ home. A cousin recently asked me to post the essay on Facebook, which is why I decided to dig it out from my box of memories and put it here.

My grandad died in 1997, on my 25th birthday. My grandma passed away in May of 2008. The house has been remodeled, and our family doesn’t gather there any more. When I wrote this essay, I had never experienced a Christmas Day or Easter Sunday anywhere except my grandparents’ house on the hill. Now, years later, every Christmas and Easter, I longingly remember those sweet times from my childhood.


The usual odor of wood smoke from the chimney hangs in the air. The familiar voices of my family laughing at jokes, playing Yahtzee, or cheering for their favorite football team on TV greet me as I open the door of my grandparents’ home. While I am standing in the entry-way, two of my younger cousins crash into me as they chase one another through the house during a game of tag.

Walking through the living room is a feat in itself. I must step over several uncles and cousins stretched across the carpeted floor dazed by the television. Of course, I have grown accustomed to this because I have experienced it many times. It is my past, my present, and most likely my future- this is home.

My grandparents’ home is a symbol of hard work and patience. When my father was growing up in the 1950’s, his parents decided to build a new home. They chose a spot on top of the hill across the road from where they lived, and my grandad began building the concrete foundation.

After beginning, a problem arose. They lacked the money to complete the foundation. My grandad forced the thought of a new home into the back of his mind. Later, as the funds became available, he resumed the task of completing the foundation, but Grandad broke his back in a coal mine cave-in and once again, they postponed the project.

Finally, over a decade later, in 1974, with the help of friends and family, Grandad completed the foundation and built a new home on top.

Although my father and the older children of the 12 in his family were not raised in this home, many memories live on here for all of the Abel family. This has always been the gathering place for our clan. I have enjoyed many Sunday dinners with all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins – 38 of us in all. Of course, we never could fit around the dining room table, so we put up card tables, TV trays, and still some sat cross-legged on the floor at the coffee table.

Holidays have always meant family gatherings, and usually a delicious meal that Grandma has prepared. I cannot remember an Easter that we did not all gather at Grandad’s for a ham dinner and the family Easter egg hunt. All of us children reluctantly waited in the living room, guarded from the windows, while my uncles trooped through the back yard hiding the brightly colored eggs we had all dyed the day before, with Grandma’s help, of course.

And I can not even begin to imagine Christmas Day anywhere else but at Grandad’s with all of the family. I remember all of us grandchildren ripping open presents and squealing with delight at our new Barbie dolls, race cars, and G.I. Joe action figures. Then all of us would scramble to compare our gifts with our cousins’, leaving the living room overflowing with scraps of red and green wrapping paper, multi-colored bows and ribbons, and empty cardboard boxes.

The aroma of ham, turkey, and turkey dressing always filled the house, and I could never forget the sight of the large oak dining room table filled with mashed potatoes, buttered corn, hot homemade bread, chocolate pie, mincemeat pie, and Grandma’s fruitcake. Always before we ate, the entire family gathered in the dining room and living room, bowed our heads, and, together, we said grace.

Summertime has always been special at Grandad’s. Finally, after a winter of spending Sunday afternoons cramped up inside the house with 20 or 30 other people, we were free to pay outside. Most of the boys played baseball or football in the back yard, while we girls pretended to be mothers to our dolls on the back porch or pushed one another on the swings to the side of the house.

Occasionally, all of us grandchildren, under the direction of our aunts, played organized games, like “Red Rover” or “Upset the Fruit Basket.” Summer nights, after dark, always meant it was time for hide-and-seek and catching lightning bugs in our little glass jars and then either freeing them or making “light rings” for our fingers.

Of course, what would summertime be without barbecues and picnics? Many times we have assembled onto Grandad’s back porch and enjoyed a picnic lunch of hamburgers and hotdogs, potato salad, and plenty of cookies for dessert. And Grandma could never allow summer to slip by without homemade ice cream.

My uncles would pack the old wooden ice cream maker with ice, rock salt, and the family ice cream recipe. Most of my aunts and uncles would request vanilla and strawberry flavored ice cream, but my favorite has always been peanut butter.

Labor Day weekend has always been the Reese family reunion, and all of Grandma’s family reunites at Grandma’s house. Canopies are put out and tables and chairs must be borrowed from the local community building. I will always remember Aunt Glenna’s ham balls, Aunt Margaret’s chocolate pies, and Aunt Millie’s butterscotch pies.

Just walking through my grandparents’ home brings back so many memories. Pictures of Grandad’s parents, Grandmas’ parents, all 12 Abel children’s senior pictures, and photos of Grandma and Grandad sit on shelves and tables around the living room and line the family room wall. A certificate announcing Grandma as “Grandma of the Year” hangs on the living room wall and a plaque thanking Grandma for her devotion to 4-H decorates the dining room wall.

A piece of masking tape that has “six feet” written on it marks the paneling in the dining room where my uncles measured themselves, and later, my older brother and my cousins used this same piece of tape to symbolize their progress to manhood.

My grandparents’ home is now a shrine of family memories and a symbol of family. Like a family, that foundation took years to build, and the building of the home took patience, hard work, teamwork, understanding, and faith. Also like a family, after many years of weathering and its share of troubles, the house still stands tall.


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