Granny’s green Chevy ground up the Snake Road, a 30-degree grade driveway with 13 hairpin turns. Looking up from the breakfast table, I glimpsed the glossy side of the car, the wheels on the edge of the gravel road. The engine roared as she accelerated for the next of the turns. We could hear gravel spitting out from the tires and the intermittent honking as Granny climbed the hill, announcing to oncoming drivers that she was on the road.
Almost daily, Granny headed to town from our lakeside cottage to purchase groceries for our noon-day dinner. From start to finish, she cooked a roast with baked potatoes, freshly cut garden green beans, ice tea or milk, and home-made pie or cookies for dessert. Our two families crowded into her cottage for a week every August, and she orchestrated dinner for the 10 of us every day. We ate at noon, so Granny could nap in the afternoon. It didn’t matter if it was a beautiful, sunny clear-water Lake day and we wanted to spend hours on the beach. We were expected up at the Cottage, dry, dressed, and quietly seated at the dining table by 11:30 sharp.
Every morning, Granny created her grocery list, and then headed into Canandaigua. She wore a button-down mid-calf dress and sturdy high heels, ready to shop at the butcher Mr. Meath’s and the Red & White grocery store. Sometimes she stopped at the dairy for milk and ice cream if it wasn’t a day when the milkman ventured down the hill to our cottages. She also bought the New York Times for Uncle Hy and mailed our letters to friends back home.
As she gathered up her list, her purse, car keys, and the outgoing mail, she grabbed the smelly paper bag of vegetable scraps. This was the time before garbage disposals, and she refused to dump the vegetable peelings and skins into the regular garbage. So every day she brought a paper bag of vegetable scraps up to the top of the hill to dump in the garbage pit.
Once she’d settled into her car, she then roared the engine, ensuring it was warmed up for the challenging uphill climb. At the top of the hill, just around the last hairpin turn, she stopped the car, stepping hard on the parking brake. She climbed out of the idling Chevy, carrying the bag of scraps, and then maneuvered up the grassy bank to the hidden pit about 20 feet off the road. Lined with narrow, rotting wood planks, the mouth of the pit was not easy to locate for the uninitiated. But Granny knew just where to stop the car, where to climb, where to carefully locate the open pit hidden in tall grass. And she did this in her dress and heels. Looking down near her feet, she threw in the paper bag of vegetable scraps, and then navigated her way back to the car and headed into town.
Growing up and seeing Granny go through this ritual a number of times, I never quite understood what she was doing, and I certainly never tried it myself. We were warned not to try, since the pit was hard to find and the boards rotting and uncertain. But this was a ritual, a routine, that Granny completed every trip to town.
As adults, we have tried to locate the pit, realizing now the value of this rich, hidden decomposed organic matter. But we have not been able to find it, and it has probably caved in, filled with leaves and brush of the many passing years. Today at home we pride ourselves on our carefully designed compost system and feel virtuous as we trek out in snow, rain, or sun to add scraps to our compost bin. But my 70-year-old Granny was clomping up road banks and high grass in her high heels in order to maintain her own compost. 45 years before it was in vogue.