Kathleen Flinn is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry and her inspiring second book, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. She is our guest on our Chuckanut Radio on Wednesday, August 27, 6:30pm at Whatcom Community College.
Many people have asked me how I developed so much detail in Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good. After all, I wasn’t even alive for half of the book. Fortunately, my mother had the forethought to write down many stories about her childhood and took the stories my father told her about his family and life and wrote them down, too. These recollections make up the core of the new book. They weren’t fancy, but they captured these moments and for that, I am incredibly indebted to her. She’s given me permission to share this one about Anna Ericsson Monk, my great-great-grandmother who arrived in America from Sweden in 1890.
I Remember Grandma Monk
By Irene Flinn
I loved my Grandma Monk so much. She was always my hero.
Her husband died and left her with five children, Conrad, Inez (my Mom), Myrtle, George and Fanny. My Grandma kept two large barrels full of black dirt and they were loaded with night crawlers. She picked some up after heavy rains and they propagated in these barrels. She had a sign out front and fishermen came by all the time to buy her worms.
Also, she did laundry for the young men who were in the CCC camps (that is the Civil Construction Core that was developed during the depression to build parks, roads, etc. to give the young men work. A check was sent home to their families each month and they got room and board and a small portion to keep.
She grew a huge garden and canned everything she could and sold things from that also. Her largest income came from being a midwife and she delivered hundreds of babies in Newberry and the surrounding small towns. She grew herbs in her garden too and used some of them in healing. I wish I could recall the names of the herbs but we have a photo of me and my cousin in the catnip patch so she must have used that for something.
She delivered me. It was the fourth of July late in the evening and the doctor who was to deliver me arrive too late. He was slightly inebriated so my Grandma Monk too the silver nitrate drops from him to put in my eyes. They did that to keep infection down for newborns. My aunt Fanny, who was just 13 at the time, assisted my Grandma Monk by holding the lamp so she could see. I was the third child in the family and my Mom was just 22 at the time. My Aunt Fanny then stayed with my folks for two weeks so she could help my Mom with the two little boys, Charles and Clarence, and the new baby.
Grandma Monk was a wonderful cook. I can still taste her cinnamon rolls and huge oatmeal raisin cookies. When I visited her as a child, she made sure I was the only one there and she took me to movies and we had this delicious treat afterwards called a Frosted Malt which was in a cone. It tastes just like Wendy’s frosties today and whenever I get one I think of my Grandma Monk.
One of Grandma’s rememdies for a cold involved hollowing out a very large carrot and putting it in a jar to hold it upright. Then she would fill it with sugar and allow the sugar to stay there overnight. She even put the top back on the carrot. This was her cough remedy and it worked every time. It was delicious and sweet and tasted of carrot and love.
When my Mom was about 13 my Grandpa John Monk died of a heart attack. He was in charge of the boiler at the sawmill and the gauge wasn’t working properly so he held on to it so everyone could get out. Another man came and helped him fix the gauge and then my Grandpa dropped dead of a heart attack.
Before he died, my Mom remembered, they lived quite well – in a nice big house. After he died, my Grandma Monk took in boarders to earn money for them to survive. She had many jobs and she was always busy. My Mom had to quit school to look after the younger children so she never graduated from high school. Aunt Fanny and Uncle George did graduate and she was proud of that.
Mom learned from my Grandma that every day you had to do something for someone else expecting nothing in return. Even if it was just to send a card to a sick person, but taking over a pot of soup was better. It was called “sunshine work.” My folks were very generous and my Mom made many a pot of soup or a ham or whatever was needed to help out.