The only thing better than getting a box from grandma, was getting to go to grandma's in the big city of Wichita, KS. Grandma Dorie's house was nestled in the Riverside neighborhood in central Wichita. It was a nice, quiet, middle class neighborhood with wide streets, old trees and sidewalks. Being in the city both thrilled and scared me. There was a neighborhood watch sign across the street from my grandma's house, and it used to make me think that any night a burglar might break into the house. Locking the door and drawing the shades were both considered city things, as we did not have locks on our doors -we even left the keys in the cars in the driveway. But under the light of day we had a wonderful time exploring the block my grandmother lived on. I should note that my grandfather also lived here until I was eight and he died. He was only 64, which at the time seemed like a ripe old age, but now seems awfully early! I say that we explored the block my grandmother lived on because we were not allowed to cross the street until we were 10. Given the size of my family we were usually sent in groups. My oldest sister and brother were a group and then myself and one older and one younger sister were a group (my baby brother was not born yet). Arriving at grandma's had a ritual feel to it. One, she had air conditioning, which was the highest form of luxury to a kid during a Kansas summer. Two, there were candy dishes out all the time, with real candy in them. After hugging my grandma we would all run to the cut blue glass candy dish in the dining room and reach in for a small handful of butter mints-the sugar orgy had begun. Grandma had two refrigerators, one with food and one with pop and jello. It was one of those old fridges from the 50's that had an internal freezer, called the icebox by my grandma, and a heavy duty handle that was a release lever. It lived on the back porch, and we loved it. After the butter mints it was a bee-line to the pop fridge, where we would each get our own whole soda, and I am not talking Blue Sky, I'm talking A&W, Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper.
The other constant companion to the pop was jello. Sometimes this was individual cups of jello, but for my grandmother, jello was like a food group, and it was usually a mold with lots of stuff in it. This was called jello salad, which always confused me, since we had salad every night at my house and it never had jello in it. Red jello blended with cream cheese and strawberries, orange jello with shredded carrots, green jello with pineapple tidbits, you name it we had it, with every lunch and dinner. Seriously it was a food group. I learned later that Jello was like a status symbol back in the day because it meant that you were wealthy enough to have a refrigerator. To us it was another sweet treat in heaven! Another thing that was different at grandma's was gum. My mother had a zero tolerance policy for gum. It was absolutely verboten in our house. Grandma Dorie, on the other hand, had stockpiles of Hubba-Bubba that we chewed with relish and had many bubble blowing contests. If and when the gum got in our hair, grandma patiently cut it out, and never once admonished us about it. We had no chores at grandma's and were were allowed to watch cable TV as much as we wanted. Lunches were often served on trays, delivered by grandma, into the living room where we were gorging on Nickelodeon.
In the very early days of visiting grandma's, my mom sent a multi-page list of prohibitions about what we could and couldn't eat. My mom says the first time my brother went there to visit (he was her first biological grandchild) he came home sick as a dog from eating so much sugar. My grandma dutifully followed the instructions and started clipping vegetarian recipes from newspapers and magazines. Luckily I was the fourth born and the prohibitions had relaxed some. Grandma was always trying out vegetarian recipes that she found in the paper. My favorite was tofu mannacotti with walnuts and ricotta. She also baked wonderful multi-grain bread. She ate pretty seasonally corn chowder in the summer always accompanied by vinegar cucumbers, a family favorite.