When I was a little girl, my family lived in Recife, Northeastern Brazil, located about 10 degrees South of the Equator. In the summer months (Dec. Jan. Feb) it would get so hot, the schools were closed on vacation because it would be intolerable for kids to be in a classroom, not to mention downright unhealthy. My parents always used to send my sister Doreen and me to stay with our grandparents, who owned a farm up in the mountains of Pernambuco, where it was much cooler.

My Granny kept chickens and there is nothing chickens love more than ants and termites. So Doreen, a couple of boys who were friends of ours and I, used to wander around the farm, looking for ant hills. When we found one, we'd pull it over, all of us would heave it up onto the wheelbarrow (those suckers were heavy) and run hell for leather to Granny's chicken run as ants poured out of their now destroyed home. We'd hurl the ant hill into the chicken run and the chickens would go wild with joy, pecking up those ants as fast at their beaks could grab them! Granny's chickens got to know us and every time we walked by their run, they'd come galloping over to the fence, anticipating a yummy ant meal!

Granny kept chickens mostly for their eggs, but every so often, she would kill one of her plump hens and roast it for our Sunday dinner. I've never tasted a better chicken, and Doreen and I swore it was because of the many ant meals we'd provided them!

Granny used to grow her own coffee too! I always laugh when I hear the Folger's ad saying it's "mountain grown coffee" as if that was something unique, different and special about Folger's, but the fact is coffee bushes will only grow on a hillside! They need the water to run off and not pool around the plants in order to flourish.

Once the bright red berries were harvested, Granny would have her workers put them out onto a huge circular sieve (about 10 feet in diameter) with a broad wooden rim around it. They'd lie out in the sun until they were completely dried up. Then three men should grab this sieve, tossing the dried up coffee beans up high into the air, causing their shrivelled up husks to fly off in the breeze, leaving just the bean.

These would then be roasted, and finally put through a grinding machine. I can honestly say that I have never ever tasted coffee as delicious as Granny's.

She also made her own butter, and I used to watch her do it with utter fascination. The cream would get skimmed off the milk (produced by her own cows) and put into what today would be called an old fashioned butter churn. She'd work it back and forth, continually, until the cream solidified into butter. Then taking two long wooden paddles with grooves running along them, she'd scoop up the butter onto these paddles and pat them back and forth into a rectangular shape. Need I say Granny's butter was the best ever?

My grandparents were retired missionaries, and very very religious! It seemed to us that they regarded just about everything as a sin! No kidding - it was even a sin for a woman to cut her hair because St. Paul said the beauty of a woman is in her hair! Granny never ever cut hers. She had in done in a plait, wound around and around her head! On Sundays, we weren't allowed to play - because Sunday was a "day of rest." We were expected to sit quietly and read the Bible all day! As you can imagine, we hated Sundays! Anyhow, Mum told me that when we went back to Recife after three months of grand-parently religious indoctrination, my sister and I were intolerably pious! She said it took her about three weeks to get us back to normal!

Anyhow, one year when we'd just come back from the farm, I was at the Country Club with my parents. Strangely enough, Bishop Evans was visiting, and he was sitting on the club veranda with a glass of beer in front of him. I took one look at it and said, in a horrified voice "Bishop, you've been DRINKING." Now apparently the Bishop wasn't averse to having a whiskey snifter before supper, but on this occasion, he wasn't guilty, because the beer wasn't even his! In fact, he HATED beer! But he thought my remark was screamingly funny. He threw his head back, and howled with laughter, once again embarrassing the heck out of me!

Many years later, we’d moved South to Morro Velho in the State of Minas Gerais, where one of my school friends was a girl named Maureen Shegog. She had masses of thick, black hair which was lush and long. She wore it in two fat pigtails. Oh how I envied her those luscious pigtails. Anyhow, I told Mum I wanted to grow mine long too, so I could have pigtails like Maureen's, and Mum allowed me to do so. Every day, I'd ask Mum

"Is it long enough yet?" and she'd smile and say

"No, not yet sweetheart."

Finally, the magical day arrived - it was long enough to be put into pigtails! I was beside myself with excitement! Mum sat me down and carefully threaded my platinum blond hair into plaits with blue bows on them. When she was finished, I eagerly looked in the mirror! Well, you never in all your life saw such pathetic, pitiful pigtails! They looked like two skinny little rat tails! I was heartbroken! When I went to school the next day with my newly acquired rat tails, Maureen looked down her snub nose at them.

“Your pigtails look ridiculous! Why one of mine is bigger than both of yours put together.” She tossed her luscious plump pigtails and walked off disdainfully.

I was crushed because I knew that alas, she was right. I went home and told Mum to cut mine off. “Are you sure dear?” she asked. “You know how long it took you to grow them.”

My lower lip trembled as I tried to contain my tears. “Yes, cut them off Mum – I’ll never have pigtails again.” And I haven’t.

Somewhere or other, I have a photograph of me with those pigtails. I wish I knew where it was!

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Published in Childhood & Memories


  1. bluesky55

    Hey Jojo – I so enjoy your stories and found many similarities to my youth in this particular one. My maternal grandmother wore her hair like you grandmothers, and I, too, yearned for pigtails. I grew up in north Mississippi where alcohol is shunned. Over three decades ago, I moved five hundred miles away, fifty miles southwest of New Orleans where the alcohol is as common as water. I am sill sometimes amazed at the difference in the acceptance and non-acceptance of alcohol in the two different areas.

    1. jojo Post author

      Hi bluesky – thanks so much for your most interesting comment. I never knew that certain States in the US shunned alcohol, while other embraced it. How fascinating – shades of the prohibition era linger on all these many years after prohibition was abolished. I’ll bet there are fewer car accidents in Mississippi than there are in New Orleans and far fewer bar brawls.

      Thanks again.

    1. jojo Post author

      Thanks for your comment sunflower. Interesting question – what would I tell Maureen today over her nasty comment? I think I’d draw myself up and tell her “Well I like my pigtails – they’re slim and elegant, not fat and pudgy like yours!” Haha

      But you’re right, how easily we got crushed when we were kids, where we all desperately wanted and needed to be accepted by our peer group!

  2. artist2047

    Jo I love the experience you had with watching Grandmother growing her own coffee beans, and make butter etc. what a great thing. It was hard growing up wanting to look like your friends…loved the story thank you!

    1. jojo Post author

      Thanks so much for your comment Lori – even today thinking back to how hard Granny worked on her farm, I am staggered by how much she did! We loved going to her farm – with all that wonderful open air living, outdoor activities and everything we ate grown right there on the farm, we flourished.

  3. davidrv

    I like reading your stories jojo. I stayed with my grandparents 6 months before graduation because at home there was no place I could study in peace, too much noise with mom and my 2 brothers and 2 sisters. My grandparents lived only about 500 feet away.
    I remember grandpa giving me a shot of whiskey and ginger ale when we would watch the hockey game. I would make mine last, it wasn’t much but I only took small sips at a time. He however would take 2 or 3 but never any more. He liked his hockey.
    Grandma was always praying. Sometimes I’d come barging in their house and she would be in the kitchen, in her rocking chair rocking by the window, swinging her legs back and forth as if she was walking. So there she was, looking at me, not saying a word. She always had this wooden crucifix that grandpa had made, with a pedestal, no more than a foot high. It was on the kitchen counter in front of her. I have it now at home. If she didn’t speak right away I would notice her lips moving as if mumbling something, still looking at me. Then I knew, she would have her rosary intertwined between her fingers and moving from bead to bead. She would be saying her rosary. So I’d be quiet, even backing up and closing the door silently, as if I had been in a church. Later when I’d come back in she would be greeting me normally. She was finished.
    Grandpa also prayed. On hockey nights grandma would go to bed early. So after the first period she’d say, Joe, time for prayers. So I would go with them in the kitchen. We would kneel and bring the chair close to us and put our elbows on the seat for support. Grandpa started the rosary, then grandma and I would finish. Our father, Holy Mary. It was in French. We would do that every evening. But on hockey nights grandpa was faster. So there we were during the first intermission. And soon the siren would sound, announcing the start of the second period. Well I would never laugh, but grandpa was considerably faster in reciting his prayers! I’m sure you could not make out the words except the first and the last ones! Grandma knew that also, she would not be too pleased but she accepted that fact on hockey night.
    Grandpa also liked wrestling. I wouldn’t watch the TV, I’d watch him! With his fists clenched, swinging his arms, shouting take that! He was literally on the edge of his seat!
    Thanks for bringing back those memories jojo. I never know what will happen when I read blogs. Today it reminded me of my carefree days with my grandparents.

    1. jojo Post author

      I loved your highly entertaining comment David! Your Grandpa was a card – praying one minute, then taking a swig of whiskey and ginger and watching guys beating each other up on the TV the next, struck me as really cute. What a guy! I thought it was hilarious that he picked the second intermission in a hockey game to get all his praying in, rushing through it so as not to miss a single bit of the action when the hockey game continued. Your grandma sounds adorable too – a sweet, devout lady. Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing these special memories with us. I loved it!