Grandma Ruby’s Cactus

At Grandma Ruby’s home on the farm, you never used the front door. Everyone was drawn to the back door, even salesmen.

The back of the white frame house was cozy and inviting. Plants, large and small, a porch swing painted white, a brick patio that she herself had laid. I can imagine her–stooping over in her homemade print dress, tan lisle stockings, and sensible black shoes–arranging the bricks on a bed of sand. In spite of her ample girth, she always bent straight over rather than stooping.

Kenneth and Ruby Neal, near the brick patio

When you knocked at the back door, Grandma’s falsetto echoed from the kitchen, “Come in!” She’d greet you, wiping her hands on her cross-stitched apron. Mornings you’d catch her kneading bread dough or baking a pie or thickening a batch of apple butter. Afternoons, as likely as not, she’d be stitching on a quilt–Double Wedding Ring, Grandmother’s Flower Garden, and Dahlia Star Flower being favorites–using scraps from sewing dresses and aprons and curtains and work shirts.

Once a salesman came to the back door. He noticed a large cactus in a clay pot on the patio. Taller than it was round, it had a flock of little prickly bumps clinging to it, especially around its base. It reminded you of a mother hen with its chicks.

“That’s a mighty nice plant there,” he opened the conversation. “What is it?”

“Oh, mercy. It’s just a cactus.” Ruby chuckled, adjusting her wire rimmed glasses.

“You wouldn’t sell it, would you?”

“Oh, my.” She absently pushed a wavy brown hairpin into the gray strands that were wound around her head.

“How much would you take for it?”

She had other cacti started–plucked from the mother plant, growing in their own pots. “Oh, a dollar.”

The salesman was pleased with his bargain. And Grandma was pleased with hers.


I ended up with one of these heirlooms, which traveled with us from state to state. For years it spent summers on our patio made (not by me) from Redfield Pavers. It spent winters in the basement, just like Grandma’s used to. I’d start cactus chicks in their own pots, just like she did. I wish I still had one, descended from Grandma Ruby’s from the farm.


Ruby Blohm was my only grandparent to earn a high school diploma. Dexter High School 1916. She was also my first ancestor to play basketball in high school!

Ruby Blohm is in the center with the basketball.

18 comments

      • Looking back I think we all probably know/knew someone like that. But at the time we just didn’t realize what a special quality it is/was.

      • After my mother passed away over 25 years ago we found a diary she had written in her twenties. Nothing startling or naughty … lol But a new sense of who my mother was and that I never knew. Maybe the Constitution should be amended that everyone be required to write memoirs to be opened after death. Probably change the whole history of the US.

        Sorry to get off the subject of the Ruby Cactus.

      • Pleas don’t be sorry. The best part of writing (or even doing a program) is the stories others start to share! Grandma Ruby shared hers before she died. I knew Grandma Leora was working on hers but we didn’t get them until after she died. Journals, though, are a different matter. Perhaps I should read them over first (no, there’s too many), or just chuck them and keep the diaries, which aren’t as detailed, but do settle arguments!

      • Did she make those decorative doilies with the stand-up pieces stiffened with sugar water? They were a very big deal among the grandma set in Vermont when I was growing up.

      • I never had any of the doilies; I saw them at friends’ houses. I do still have a crocheted afghan my best friend made for me the year after I graduated from high school. It’s th one I use in the winter when I’m working at my desk.

    • Adair is at the west end of the contemporary White Pole Road (named in 1910 to get travelers across the state) which leads to my home town of Dexter. And most of the Wilsons were born in Guthrie County. I have so many old photos that I started the Guthrie County history Facebook page. It’s turned into my favorite one because of the members who are so willing to share photos and stories. I grew up with the Neal cousins, since we went to the same school, same church, until I was ready for high school. Kind of an idyllic time.

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