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


Filed under Family, grandmother, lesson

287 responses to “Just Some Vanilla

  1. My Grandma ‘let’ me iron my Grandpa’s work clothes. He was a plumber and wore heavy khaki slacks and shirts with H.E. Boatman & Son Plumbing embroidered on the shirt pocket. I’m sure she had to redo them later, but I can’t tell you how important I felt with a GE iron in one hand and a can of spray starch in the other!

    • Exactly the same concept! Love it.

      • Also, humbled by your follow, thanks so much. Just like Ann Handley, you make me want to be a better storyteller. Do you have a ‘little house’ like she does where you sit and look over the meadow and write great stuff? Maybe the ‘little house’ is a chick thing. I think I’ll write about that. See how good you are Stuart—super inspiring???

      • Ha! A little house overlooking a meadow sounds great, right? I generally write my blog posts at my desk during lunch…and my window overlooks the gravel of the roof below – no meadow! In my mind there’s a great meadow though, I suppose.

  2. A beautifully piece that evokes those yesteryears when we were kids and our grandparents played such a wonderful role in our lives. Love it 🙂

  3. What a lovely story! And thank you for your like and follow 🙂

  4. Wonderful story! The caring your grandmother had for you and your sister had obviously been passed down through the family because you and your sister cared enough about your Nannie to make sure she was okay when it snowed!

  5. That is a great story! Now lets just hope the rest of this winter is just reading about snow and not getting anymore this year.

  6. Stuart, great post. Enjoy the stories from our elders. They carry such wisdom.
    Also, thanks for you recent visit and becoming a follower. I generally post twice per month. Will be following you.

  7. You’re such an amazing and inspiring storyteller, thank you for the follow.

    Hope you’ll read my posts on https://acapturedreverie.wordpress.com/ and keep inspiring me to write better!

  8. Wonderful story. And here I thought she was simply baking lots of cookies and cakes with the vanilla.

  9. Pingback: Plant vs Toddler | Inner Ramblings:

  10. Sweet memories to pass on.

  11. So heart-warming and beautifully told Stuart – thank you so much. I have had a wonderful life with my grandma before her passing, and this story makes me think of all those lessons she taught me too.

  12. I have similar habits with my boys. They so desperately want to help me with everything, so I create “tasks” for them so they feel like they really made a difference 🙂 They feel so proud after !

  13. I positively SAVOR it when adults empower children. I really don’t think kids are empowered enough. I hold steadfastly to the belief that if a person wants to make the world a better place, do something good for a kid, even if it IS “only” asking for vanilla. And good form for your determination to bless your grandmother.

  14. A very lovely story, very moving, thank you 🙂

  15. Oh how I love this post!! Smart Nannie!! 🙂

  16. Reblogged this on bizworldconnect and commented:
    Everybody is useful in life. But it requires love and care to bring out the positive usefulness embedded in a child. Every child you see is unique.

  17. Beautiful… brought tears to my eyes thinking about my grandmother who I lost a few years ago. Thank you for sharing this bit of your life.

  18. mgsunshine

    This is what I call perfectly good-curl-up-in-the-corner-on-a-quiet-afternoon-and-get-lost-in-a-book kind of writing. What a delightful Sunday afternoon treat! Please let there be more! I’m going to browse through your blog and take a look see. . . .

  19. How sweet. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  20. There is no start or stop age for importance. Great read.

  21. This is such a beautiful story. I felt like I was in the snow with you and your sister. I wanted to get some vanilla too. Simply gorgeous.

  22. This is such a lovely post; and so true. It’s easy to get caught up in daily life and forget how much children want to help and to please. Your nannie was very wise. 🙂

  23. This is a story that touches my heart. Beautifully done. Thank you.

  24. Nice story, that is a great memory.

  25. This is such a lovely and heart warming story. Thank you for sharing.

  26. lcwoodbury

    What a beautiful story.

  27. toad2014

    Every kid loves snow, we use too get snow in Vancouver, however i don’t know what happened this year…

    Also thanks for dropping by to have a read.

  28. tmezpoetry

    Very touching~

  29. My mom always asks for chocolate but hardly eats it herself. It doesn’t snow here but I offer to go to the store when the weather is foul.

  30. I’m needing this lesson for my two boys. I think I’ll send them out for some vanilla today!

  31. Pingback: Just Some Vanilla | Red Tape for Humans

  32. Great story and apparently you had a very wise and caring grandmother. How nice that you were given a chance to keep one of those bottles of vanilla as a memento/reminder.

  33. What a great story and reminder! Thank you.

  34. Great story – I love the detail and your ending was perfect. Yes, you are right everyone needs to know they have a purpose – a project to help someone out! Thanks for sharing.

  35. Beautiful story and a Nannie with a heart of gold….

  36. I loved this and shared it (and a few of my own thoughts) on my book’s facebook page. Thank you!

  37. You are indeed the Storyshucker my friend. This is beautiful and your style of writing makes it easy to read. I really enjoyed this one.

  38. This was just what I needed!

  39. I often let my kids stack the dishwasher (or sometimes, more like make them!) for similar reasons. Even though I generally have to re-stack it after they’ve gone to bed …

  40. A beautiful story! What a wonderful woman your grandmother must have been.

  41. lisa d

    Love the Nannie stories.

  42. Reblogged this on West Coast Review and commented:
    Wonderful story!

  43. Can I get some vanilla for you Stuart ?

    Blessings – Anne

  44. Lovely story… These are the moments to treasure…

  45. Laura McDaniel

    Loved this story!

  46. What a memory to treasure. Your grandma seems like a woman with a large warm heart. Made me smile.

  47. So, so true! Thank you for sharing. This is such a good reminder that we all need to allow others to feel valued and needed by our actions and words, and we also always need to keep that childlike wonder to long to help someone else and feel value through it. 🙂

  48. Wonderful story! I had a Mommom instead of a Nannie but I think the two of them would have gotten along famously!

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