Just Some Vanilla

I’m no fan of snow, but as my eyes roll in disgust at weather forecasts I concede there were times when snowfalls thrilled me. Not due to missing school, sleigh riding, or building snowmen, but because Vicki and I would go to the store for Nannie.

At an unknown point in our youth, after one snowstorm or another, my sister Vicki and I decided we must plod across the field through snow, no matter the depth, to see if our grandmother needed anything from the store. Nannie lived in a huge old farmhouse, had always cooked for many, and could have at any point in time prepared a meal for forty out of what she had in her cabinets and refrigerator. Not even touching what was stored in her cellar.

Still… Vicki and I were sure Nannie needed something and we’d save the day by trudging through snow to ask, trekking through snow to the store, then slogging back through snow with the precious items we knew she needed badly but was unable to get out and get. Proud of our impending usefulness, we stomped snow from our boots and headed inside for what was sure to be a massive grocery list from Nannie. How else could she make it to the spring thaw if not for our efforts?  It was important to her that we helped, we were sure. We waited for her to list all of the things she needed desperately from the store.

“Well,” Nannie began as she watched snow pile against the window, “y’all could get me some vanilla.”

She did a lot of baking, we knew, but no milk? No bread? Coffee even? A side of beef? Anything? Just vanilla? Still, if it was important to Nannie, it was important to us and this vanilla was apparently very necessary. How fortuitous that we were there! Off to the store in the foul weather, vanilla purchased, and back to Nannie’s. We returned cold, soaked, red-cheeked, and tired… but mission accomplished. We had value.

That pattern repeated for a few years after every snowfall of every winter. If there were two heavy snows in a winter, Nannie somehow needed two bottles of vanilla. Our timing was uncanny. How relevant we were. It was important for Nannie to have that vanilla and without us her hopes would have been dashed. We felt an amazing sense of accomplishment and pride after helping. We were just kids, but we mattered!

Years later as adults, actually during the heat of summer, Vicki and I sat talking with Nannie on her back porch. Somehow conversation worked around to those long ago winters. I laughed and asked her why she needed so much vanilla. She thought for a minute about what I’d just said, then grinned.

“I didn’t need vanilla, but it was important to y’all to help, so that’s what I asked for.” Nannie said.

She followed up by saying she didn’t remember exactly but there were times she probably could have used something else but she’d never have asked us to haul groceries in the snow. She only “needed” vanilla because she knew it mattered to us to be of help – and it was easy for us to carry!

Some years after that conversation, with Nannie gone and her house being emptied, I stood in her kitchen and absent mindedly opened a cabinet. Pushed into one corner were several bottles of vanilla, some still in their original tiny cardboard boxes. I didn’t know if any of those might have been purchased in a snowstorm of the past, but I slipped one into my pocket just the same.

I still have that reminder.

By trying to do something we thought important to her, Nannie allowed us to feel that we were important.

I often sent my kids for vanilla when they were little. Not literally, but when I recognized in their faces that need to please by doing right, to feel important, to matter, I made sure I needed vanilla and I made sure they knew I couldn’t have gotten it without them.

Every kid should be sent to get vanilla, and often.

Stuart M. Perkins

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283 Comments

Filed under Family, grandmother, lesson

283 responses to “Just Some Vanilla

  1. Reblogged this on Chasing Rabbit Holes and commented:
    To need and be needed. How wonderful!

  2. Jay

    What wonderful memories, and a lesson to pass down.

  3. Vanilla evokes so many wonderful memories for me. Great topic. Enjoyed your story.

  4. Ah, how sweetly sentimental! And so important! Thanks for crafting this fine piece!

  5. I really loved reading one of your heartwarming memories!

  6. Gorgeous, warm fuzzy story. And thanks also – somewhat belatedly – for following my blog.

  7. Very nice story, filled with memories. We all love those grandmas.

  8. Loved this story and the way you wove it into existence.

  9. A great story. If a memory, it’s one to treasure forever.

  10. Beautiful story Stuart, what a blessing she bestowed upon you and your sister. My heart aches for all the little children who haven’t been made to feel important. Thanks for following my blog.

  11. Brings back some very beautiful childhood memories of my wonderful Nannie
    Really its the aging wisdom that helped boost my self confidence so beautifully that no matter what I went through after her demise ,it never shattered my pride of being me . Everynight I read to her fairytales or small chores such as bringing medicines or locking her old cranky iron chest would bring immense pleasure . As if I am the most favourite and important member of her family. Her advice on life ‘s simplest problems of childhood were so full of insight that even
    today I remember to make use of them on my more challenging Issues

  12. Self worth is worth implanting in the initial years of a human being . A precious gem that always shine. Beautiful story

  13. I love your passion for nuturing our youth!

  14. Ruth

    Knowing Aunt Jean I could visualize your whole story. It brought back memories of the old large farmhouse and the good times we had visiting there.Thanks for sharing! Ruth

  15. Delightful story. Reminds me of my own past. Thanks for the memories!

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  17. I always pick my mom up Mexican vanilla when I go to Mexico.

  18. I thought you were going to make vanilla ice cream with the snow. What a sweet grandmother you had–so thoughtful.

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  20. Your posts make me think about the kind of parent I want to be! Thank you 🙂

  21. Pingback: Just Some Vanilla | thehopebeacon

  22. Kathie Patton

    What a wonderful story!!! makes me sad that I don’t have any memories of my grandmothers. One died before I was born and the other died when I was to young to remember her. I keep my two great grandchildren and have since they were babies and I just pray that when I am gone they have good memories of the time we have been spent together and the things we have done. They are so precious to me as are all my Grandchildren.<3

  23. Thank you for liking “Princess in Peacock Feather Mask” and for following Moonlight Gallery. Another fantastic story! 🙂 I am glad that you kept the “vanilla run” tradition going for your own children. Even adults benefit from doing something that makes them feel helpful and useful.

  24. Hi! Beautiful story! I can imagine you, your granny and vanilla; wondeerful memories! x Teje

  25. Thank you Stuart. You have learned your lessons well and passed them on. What more can be asked or expected of us? Love your expressiveness.

  26. rudyhou

    great story. when i was little, i never get to ask to help, as i was always told what to do. if i wasn’t needed, i should stay away. i’m glad you feel the same importance with your own kids the way your grandma felt about you and your sister. i think more people need to reexamine they way they communicate and teach the younger generation, and to realize how important it is to make them feel needed and appreciated.

  27. Deborah

    Reblogged this on Memories and Treasures and commented:
    A wonderful heartfelt story I just had to share on a chilly Sunday! Enjoy!

  28. What a beautiful story. I can picture it so vividly. I am 42 years old, and live in Melbourne, Australia. I have only ever seen snow twice in my life. And I wouldn’t even call it real snow that I saw. Love your beautiful words. Cheers, Jo 😄

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