Granny Miller – My Inspiration
Alice Whyte Ferrier (1888-1974)
I have just polished a silver-plated casserole stand and cover, preparing it for the next phase of its journey. It is time to pass it on. Granny, an accomplished needlewoman, often vied for the top exhibitor status at the local fairs and the casserole, won at the Perth Fair one year, was one of her prize possessions. As a child, I remember it frequently appearing on the table when she prepared Sunday night ‘supper’ for relatives who had dropped by that afternoon.
One of my earliest memories was of sitting on the back steps with Granny Miller. She would bring a chair out to the back ‘stoop’ as it was a warm spot, protected from spring breezes. During the late mornings one could enjoy the warmth of the early season sunshine. Later in the year, it was a refuge from summer heat, shaded from the afternoon sun, with gentle breezes drifting through the open doors of the back kitchen. Granny always had some handwork in her hands when sitting there.
I took my first embroidery stitches under Granny’s tutelage. I held my first crochet hook with her help. I played under a quilt-frame while Granny and friends stitched a quilt pieced the previous winter. I learned to treadle her sewing machine and watched closely as she made aprons, dresses and other items for the family.
Granny had a ‘fair trunk’- a magic trunk full of beautiful items. Embroidery and crochet trimmed pillowcases, hand knit sweaters, appliance covers, quilts, crocheted tablecloths and doilies, various pieces of clothing and a list of other items that was endless. Each year new things would be added, and some removed and gifted or put into use within the household. Granny didn’t just exhibit at one fair! That trunk was used to store items that were rotated through a series of fall fairs, especially fairs where livestock from Tayside Farms was also being exhibited. Inside the trunk was a list of items, recording where each item had been exhibited the previous year. They could not reappear at the same place a second year! Sometimes items were sold as a result of these fair competitions and that money provide materials for next years creations.
Granny continued to construct items for family members until late in life. When Don and I were married we receive a quilt from her. I believe it was the last quilt she pieced, at age 79, and it was quilted by the ladies of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church.
Granny, born Alice Whyte Ferrier, only daughter of John Fisher Ferrier and Alice Charlotte Margaret Poole, was born in 1888 on the Scotch Line, not far from the junction with the Glen Tay sideroad. She grew up in a household with six brothers. John Ferrier, a successful farmer in the area, probably found lots of jobs for his sons to do but cutting the grass around the house does not seem to have been one of them! I remember one story she told of taking scissors out to the yard to trim the grass leading to the house before visitors arrived! Other stories were of the pranks her brothers would play. One time, while she and Grandpa were courting, Grandpa’s horse escaped from the pasture and found its way to the Ferrier farm. Her brothers, recognizing the horse, secured it in their barn but didn’t tell Alice of the horse being there. It wasn’t until several days later that the prank was discovered, and the horse returned to Grandpa.
Granny also loved to cook. I still treasure some of the recipes she passed on to me. One that has special meaning for me was the recipe used for her wedding cake and which was also used to make the cake for our wedding. It was a dark fruitcake, moist and laden with dried fruits. Not the type of cake in vogue today! We froze one layer of our cake and served it on our 25th wedding anniversary and it was still delicious.
As the years went by, Granny and Grandpa moved to Perth, first to an apartment on Mary Street, then to the St. Andrew’s Church complex on Foster Street. As the only grandchildren living nearby, my siblings and I loved to spend time with them over a weekend. Later, while in high school, I worked part time at Shaw’s in Perth. Grandma, who was living alone at the time, provided me with a ‘home away from home’. I still remember the ‘kimono’ egg, pimento and cheese sandwich filling she would make for me – and oh how I loved her lemon squares!
Granny remained active until well into her eighties, walking to the Perth post office daily to pick up her mail. Shortly before her death at age 86, she fell on one of those walks and broke her hip. Following surgery she suffered a stroke and the jolly lady with a twinkle in her eye disappeared. She passed away shortly after. Her memory lives on in her treasured casserole and the quilt that will someday be passed to my granddaughter.