My parents divorced when I was 11 years old and my siblings were aged 10 and 7. A single parent, working two jobs, my mother could not afford summer camp programs during summer school break. And so, off to Gram’s house we went. I say “Gram’s house.” Gramp was also there, but the house was Gram’s domain. They raised six children, so Gram knew a thing or two about kids.

Every other week, Charlotte H. Bishop and her siblings would churn butter with the cream that the local home delivery dairy would drop off at their grandmother’s house in the summer. Przemek Klos/

Gramp was a man of few words, and we learned to stay out of his way. I’m pretty sure he was not as thrilled with our visits as Gram was. A master plumber, he retired just about the time we began showing up – to pursue his passion of farming. Acres of vegetables, strawberries, raspberries and an apple orchard. Chickens for eggs, cows for milk and meat, pigs for ham, bacon and pork. A continuous bounty to Gram’s kitchen.

No boxed mixes, prepackaged frozen meals or commercially canned foods; every meal made from scratch. Gram baked their breads and sweets, canned and froze vegetables. Every Saturday night, baked beans and brown bread were as regular as clockwork.

Saturday was grocery day. Piling us into the old car, Gramp drove to the grocery store. He manned the cart and Gram had her list, purchasing only items not provided by the farm. Flour – lots of flour – sugar, paper goods, etc. No unnecessary items like potato chips. We loved Saturdays, as we could each choose one comic book and candy bar. Decisions, decisions.

Every two weeks we made butter. That’s right, made our own butter. The local home delivery dairy dropped off the cream they did not sell. We took turns churning the old-fashioned barrel churn to yield soft, yellow, fragrant butter. We might make 20 to 80 pounds of butter at a time. Per the dairy agreement, Gram kept half to sell and the dairy sold the other half on the delivery trucks.

Gram didn’t have “butter and egg” money – she had “butter and cake” money. A talented cake decorator, she created elaborate wedding cakes. She would bake two or three extra small cake layers and we’d sit at the kitchen table with piping bags, tips and frosting, creating our own masterpieces while she worked on hers. She believed in keeping us creatively occupied.

Because of Gramp’s prolific gardens, we picked extra produce and sold it from a stand my uncle built us. The money we made was saved in a jar for the most anticipated event of the summer: the Bangor State Fair. When the time came, we divvied up the money and used it for the rides, games and fair food. At the fair Gram entered her baked goods, jams and handcrafts, earning her many blue ribbons.

Looking back, I wouldn’t trade those visits for any organized summer camp program. We had our own personal summer camp program at Gram’s house.

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