A Grandmother's Letter*

By Mary "Bunny" Cushman Corkill

Jade Corkill, © Churchill County Museum
Jade Ryan Corkill, 1989. (Photo © by Jennifer Manha)

    Dearest Jade,

    Pity your generation of wee computer geniuses who will never HAVE to use mankind's first computer system, the brain and the five senses, to conjure up feelings from the past. The press of a plastic key and a glass "digitized" screen will replace the joy of closing your eyes and, in total silence and darkness, remembering the smells, the sounds, the textures and the tastes from your past. A "floppy disc" will serve as your memory and feelings in place of these peculiar "human" emotions which at one moment can make you laugh hysterically and, in the next second, weep from joy or sadness.

    You will be able to avoid the un-explainable "hormone up-heavals" which often get in the way of our making the best judgments and decisions, thus allowing us to "learn from our mistakes."

    I fear that the "program" on your "software" might not have the information to tell you that "scary" things are supposed to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and funny little "goose-bumpy" things cover your arms and legs, and make the palms of your hands get all "sweaty" and that a huge knot can instantly come from nowhere to twist the pit of your tummy.

    You see, I am your grandmother, and because I love you so very much, I feel it is my responsibility to tell you about REAL life. While you are still two years old, and the universe is within your grasp, I must tell you about a simpler life. One that was mine, before life became pre-packaged, poly-pro-pon-something-ated, plasticized, saturated, asphalted, super-sonic-ed, over-populated, over-littered, polluted, toxified, etc.!

    Let us begin with a few simple things:

    A - APPLES.
    Apples are not those waxy, alar infested, ball-looking things that are piled in the super-market bins.

    Apples come in several colors such as green, yellow and red. They grow on trees and, in order to fetch one, you must climb the tree and pluck it from a leafy limb. It is always more fun doing this while your mother is screaming for you to get down out of that tree before you fall. Apples are often inhabited by fuzzy little things called worms, and it becomes a great challenge to see who, you or he, can get the first bite while still engaged in eye-to-eye contact!

    Apples are best eaten immediately after fetching, followed closely by apple pie with a major dollop of home-made ice cream upon its flaky warm crust. Ice cream is a delicious ice-crystal-like substance made with fresh eggs, fresh cream and vanilla or fruit, turned in a wooden freezer, hand-cranked by the strong arms of a loving Daddy, who will allow you to sit on a gunny sack, on top of the freezer, during those last few cranks, before the dasher is removed and crushed ice and rock salt is packed around the cylinder for the final freezing. Ice cream never tastes better than it does when you are allowed to wrap your tongue around the dasher in an attempt to lick the finished product off before it melts and fans into your lap! REAL ice cream does not contain 93% guar gum, locust bean gum, calcium carrageenan and polysorbate 80.

    The apples where the worm won, are called apple sauce!

    A - ALFALFA.
    You will never hear the sound of a working, horse-drawn, mowing machine or get to call to your mom that the "hay crew" is coming up the lane for lunch. This job has its hazards because if you teasingly tell her the crew is here, and they aren't, you might get a dish pan filled with hot soapy water thrown at you out through the kitchen window screen and sent to your room! You will miss seeing a dozen harnessed horses with sacks thrown over their backs to keep the huge, black horse flies from unmercifully biting their bodies as they laboriously plod along from daylight to dusk.

    Though the horses have been replaced by mechanical swathers may you always remember the distinctive smell of the new-mown hay that fills the air on a warm summer evening just as the sun, with its pink, lavender and orange fingers, begins to filter into the west and leaves our beloved Valley for a few hours.

    B - BREAD.
    Bread is not that soft, white, gushy stuff filled with ethoxylated mono diglycerides and sodium stearoly lactylates and phosphated and sulfated and bromated things, ingeniously disguised in a non-bio-degradable plastic sack!

    Bread is sweet milk, directly from the cow, yeast and whole wheat flour, lovingly kneaded and allowed to slowly rise on the back of the warm stove and then baked to a golden brown, immediately sliced and served with freshly churned butter and strawberry preserves or honey.

    Children are not to be molested and sexually, mentally and physically abused and unwanted. They are not to be used as pawns by disturbed, selfish, self-centered dumb adults!

    Children are to be wanted, loved, cherished, nurtured, directed, disciplined and allowed to bloom into loving, well-adjusted, independent, emotionally and morally strong beings. In their hands is the future of this fragile world, and I cry when I realize the mess the past two generations have made of this magnificent earth. It is your inheritance, and man has done everything in his power to try to destroy it for you. May you little people fmd a way to save it before it is too late!

    C - CREAM.
    Cream is that half of whole-milk, which, before it was homogenized, pasteurized and confmed within the waxed walls of a tiny carton, rose to the top of the pottery settling bowls to be scooped off by a little metal skimmer. If the milk had been poured from the stainless steel bucket into the separator bowl, the cream was the thick substance which slowly trickled down the shorter separator spout and lazily dripped into the smaller cream can, while the milk rushed down the longer sput and splashed into the taller, ten-gallon, milk can.

    Cream comes in different consistencies, depending on whether it comes from a Jersey, Guernsey or Holstein cow. Cream can be churned into butter, whipped, frozen or poured upon sweet peaches or berries, just brought in from the orchard or berry patch. However you use real cream, it coats the top of your mouth!

    Dogs come in all sizes and fortunately for little boys they arrive in the puppy stage. Dirt, too, comes in all shapes and sizes and we must preserve enough of it for generations of little boys and puppies to roll in. Dirt is especially wonderful when it contains a puddle of water. Little boys will walk for miles hoping that a puddle will jump up and splash them. Dew is the magnificent little water droplets that tenderly cling to the grass and hay in the fields in the morning. To be most appreciated, it too, needs to be romped through by little boys and puppies.

    E - EGGS.
    Eggs are not those oval white objects that can be found in a 12-hole-styro-foam carton in a refrigerated box.

    Eggs are round, hard-shelled, white or brown treasures which can be found within the confines of a straw-filled, wooden nest, in a hen-house! Once retrieved in a metal bucket, they are taken into a dark cellar where they are held up to a light to be "candled." With this process one can tell if the egg has a little chicky embryo or a bad spot in it. The perfect eggs are weighed and segregated according to large, medium or small. They are carefully cleaned and boxed so that they can be taken to town and sold or into the home for use. The imperfect ones are properly disposed of. Real eggs are eaten within a couple of days, while the yolk and white are firm, and not kept "re-frigerated" for six months until one is guaranteed they will instantly cover a 12" pan with some kind of milk-like substance when broken open.

    Eggs are laid by female chickens called hens, and one can not truly appreciate the value of an egg until a "brooding" hen's beak has severely punctured the arm of the kid whose Mommy sent him to get ALL of the eggs. As the arm attempts to swiftly dash under the setting hen to retrieve the hidden egg, PECK! When Moms aren't looking, sometimes it makes the kid feel better if he thumps that mean old hen over the beak with a big stick, to sort of even things out!

    F - FAMlLIES.
    According to recent government findings, the average family moves every seven years.

    Seemingly, your family is not average! The first member of your local family "tree" came to Lahontan Valley, Utah Territory, in 1861, and since that time 29 main "limbs" have called this place home, so your "roots" have spread through-out the entire county!

    Your great-great-great grandparents who chose to live in this area were James and Mary Woodin McCulloch and Thomas and Catharine Martin Kennedy.

    Your great-great grandparents who lived in this valley were Josiah Jordan and Elizabeth McCulloch Cushman, Edward Thomas and Mary Kington Morgan, Joseph and Margaret Ellen Kennedy deBraga, A.D. Norman and Lena Pauline Jensen Norcutt, William Tell and Cora Pitts Marke and for a short time, Bessie Ward Corkill Westover.

    Eight of your nine great-grandparents have lived here, and you have had the privilege of knowing seven of them. They are Harry and Laura Marke Corkill, Pete and Mabel Morgan Cushman, Frank and Goldie Norcutt deBraga and Burnell and Zona Murdock.

    You well know your grandparents, Lyle and Marcia Smith Murdock deBraga and Bill and Bunny Cushman Corkill. And of course, the best are left for last, your Mom and Dad, Bruce and Mitzi deBraga Corkill. So, little Jade, you see, you do come from a long line of love, and my prayer is that one day you too will find someone to share a lifetime of love with as have your progenitors, many of whom have celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversaries, plus some!

    The members of your family came to the Upper Sinks, the Carson Sinks, the Bench Lands, and Stillwater districts of Lahontan Valley in wagons, drawn by oxen and horses, trains and autos.

    They were miners and educators, cattlemen and farmers who have tilled the alkali, sand and clay of this valley for four and five generations. Though they seldom saw the inside of a church, they all believed in a Great Spirit, or they could not have seen themselves through the wind storms, droughts, crop failures, foreclosures and empty "glory holes." Every spring there is a re-birth of this precious land. No one can witness the birth of a calf or the sprouting of a tiny seed in the midst of a blinding dust or snow storm and not believe there are angels hovering above!

    In my overwhelming desire to protect you, I could ask that you follow safely in the footsteps of those who have come before, but that would not be fair. I must release you to make your own prints, wherever life may take you. Maybe, you will be among the first pioneers to bring life to another planet!

    Grandmothers are not those statuesque, sinewy goddesses emerging from a fitness center garbed in stretchy-lame'ed-veloured-"sweat?" clothes, brandishing their multi-hued acrylic finger nails.

    Grandmothers were soft and warm, in their shapeless cotton dresses, defined at the middle by an apron tied with strings. Aprons, an endangered species, are garments designed to catch spills and keep the front of the dress clean, so that if unexpected company comes, the apron can be tossed aside and with a few quick flips of the fingers through the hair, the lady of the house is presentable. Aprons are also used for carrying eggs from a newly discovered nest in the hay stack and fresh vegetables in from the garden.

    Grandmothers served oatmeal mush to their families long before the U.S Surgeon General's office discovered that oat fiber prevents laboratory rats from having malignancies. She fed it to them because she loved them, it was cheap, it tasted good and it "stuck-to your ribs."

    Grandmas had cookie jars filled with freshly baked cookies, and their "egg money" tucked away for a rainy day, not plastic credit card receipts.

    When Grandmas sat down, they had nice wide laps to hold little children on while they rocked them to sleep, talked with them, or read them a story. Their hands were always busy with sewing or crocheting, instead of the TV remote control. They left hand-made heirlooms for their children's children. Grandmas always had time to LISTEN to you and rub your back with lilac powder.

    Grandmothers believed in "standing by her man," often shoulder to shoulder, as they walked behind a plow turning this barren desert into fertile fields of green. She found that the one-size shovel and hoe handles fit all sizes of hands. The calluses on her palms were a badge of valor, in the war of woman-kind versus Mother Nature. But, it really didn't matter to the small child, who reached up for the security of a gentle touch, that Grandma's knuckles were enlarged and her fingers bent. This was all the security one needed to feel that she could take on the world the same world that I give to you for better or worse.

    My heart and mind are so full of memories that I must share with you, that I could go on with this letter, almost forever, but it is dusk now, and a huge full moon is ascending above the horizon beside Job's Peak. The darkness brings a calmness to this frantic world, and I know that it is time for me to say, "GOODNIGHT!"

    Go forth, precious child, be strong and brave but loving and caring. Make this a better world for your fellow man, but don't forget your "ROOTS" and take time to smell the SAGE.

    Bun Bun

    *Many thanks to Bunny Corkill, Research Curator,
    and the Churchill County Museum Fallon, Nevada,
    for permission to publish this letter on-line.
    "A Letter to Jade" was first published in the Churchill County Museum IN FOCUS, 1989.

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