Sunday, April 20, 2008

Over the River and Through the Woods

I love talking to my grandma.

Grandma will be 93 this September. She would probably shush me for saying that, but I happen to think it's one of the greatest things in the world. 93? How many of us even know anyone that old anymore, for Pete's sake?! In this picture, Grandma's holding my four-week-old Monkey. Grandma was a mere 90, and my Monkey was her 10th Great-Grandchild. Two days later, my cousin's wife had Number 11. We will be giving Grandma Great-Grandchild Number 14 in December when the Bean makes it's appearance.

About three years ago, Grandma started making noise about selling her house. She had lived in her little house (she called it her little cottage) for 55 years, and was ready to move to an apartment that was easier to care for.

Grandma's house had three bedrooms--they were perhaps a bit on the small side, but it was, after all, a cottage. :) There were hardwood floors in each of the bedrooms, and Grandma swept over them with the dust mop every week. Long braided rugs cushioned your feet each morning, and these were taken out and put on the line to air after a good shake when company was coming. There was a beautiful bathroom upstairs, with a deep cast iron claw foot tub that is just right for a long soak. Interestingly enough, when we were kids the tub was never used. I don't remember why. But we always brushed our teeth in that bathroom when we spent the night, which was often.

If you were lucky, you'd get to sleep in Aunt M's room. The wallpaper was a warm dark peach color with fancy birds on it. Even though those Sell-Your-House-If-It's-Designed-Just-Right shows would tear it out in an instant, I loved that wallpaper. The bed was a double, and there was a reading lamp fixed to the wall above the headboard, and a nightlight plugged in just above the pillow. I loved sleeping in that room. The east window looked out on the river. The north window looked over the side yard, with the purple hostas below. The pillows and sheets were always soft and cool, and had a very comforting smell about them. As a child, that smell meant it was time to snuggle down and go to sleep. It was the smell of being safe, warm, and well loved.

The linen cupboard in the hall had a scent I'll never forget. I don't know what kind of wood it was lined with--perhaps nothing special. What I do know is that when we bought this house and I stored my folded linens in my own cupboard--some of them my Grandma's that she had given to me--and then later took them out to make a bed, the pillow cases smelled just the same as Grandma's! This is a thing that shall never fail to bring me comfort and joy, for it gives life to my memories of the pillows at Grandma's house.

To go down the stairs at Grandma's meant that you stopped on the fourth step down...because there was a nook in the wall. We were absolutely fascinated by this nook. Why was it there? What purpose could it possibly serve? It was about 15 inches square at the opening, 18 inches deep, and framed and lined with darkly stained wood. It had things in it that didn't require daily use--those old, tall votive candles that our schools used to sell in fund raiser fliers, that had scenes of cute animals in winter or bunnies in the spring. Little plastic pine and poinsettia wreathes. Crocheted door decorations. We would take the things out, line them up on the steps above us, and imagine ourselves small like the Littles, so that we could climb into the nook to play. Even though we knew we couldn't fit, somehow it was always a little bit of a disappointment to rediscover the truth. Eventually we'd have to put the things back into the nook and head downstairs.

On the landing was a double window with a seat. It was a west-facing window, so Grandma had a shelf along the middle of the windows, lined the whole works with a scrap of vinyl flooring, and had dozens of plants there. Some of them were in clear plastic dishes so that the water didn't dribble down onto the carpet stair runner. After a fashion, there were folded towels in place so that the cats (she always had one, sometimes two) could sun themselves in the afternoon.

The bottom part of the stairs was where we'd shuck our coats. Since the stairs were right inside the door (actually though, to the left), it was also where Grandma would put things that needed to go to someone else's house--a magazine or book, a small box of something--but if it was not easily squeezed between the rungs, then it was placed on the square-topped newel post. I never heard anyone else call it that, though I knew many other people who had them. In the fall, the newel post held small dishes of candy corn or chocolate kisses. At Christmas time, there were red hots, peppermint or traditional ribbon candies.

The kitchen was big enough for a small table, which sat in front of the west-facing window from the time Grandma and Grandpa and my mom and her sister moved in. Grandma would sit at the table and play solitaire, or work on her Meals-on-Wheels route list, or read, or just look out the window at the hundreds of birds that visited her feeders each day. She could name a kind of bird in a flash, and if she didn't know what it was, she'd have you get the "B" encyclopedia from the bookshelf in the entry hall so she could look it up and help us to learn something new.
Sometimes we would sit at Grandma's table and play Go Fish or War or King's Corners with her. Maybe she'd fix macaroni and cheese or cream of mushroom soup. It was at that table that I first tried cottage cheese. "College cheese," she called it, and declared that to eat it would be to become very smart. She fed me cream of broccoli soup one day, using the excuse that she was out of cream of mushroom. "It tastes almost the same," she said. Of course it didn't, but it was her clever way of getting me to try something new. It worked. From that day forward, I have loved both cream of broccoli soup and broccoli itself.

When we were very small, we would sit in the youth chair--a glorified high chair, to be sure, but try to find one nowadays and you pay a pretty penny. That chair made even the shortest whelp feel tall, because you could reach your plate and you weren't looking the edge of the table in the eye. Grandma had a glass divided plate with strawberries on it and little Real Silver silverware. And to finish the setting, a pink plastic cup in the shape of Captain Kangaroo. I suppose one could be a little creeped out by the swirly golden eyes, but we loved the Captain Kangaroo cup and if there was more than one of us at Grandma's, we would fuss over who would get to use it.

The living room and dining room were one big room, with a long wall of east-facing windows which looked over a Japanese rock garden, and, after a fashion, the river. Grandpa had painstakingly laid out and built the rock garden after their family lived in Japan for three years while Grandpa fought in the Korean War. He had loved that garden, and it saddened Grandma greatly when she could no longer keep it up the way she wanted to.

I realize now how long this entry is becoming....I'll have to section it, I suppose. More Grandma's House Stories another time.

1 comment:

Jenni said...

Your powers of recollection are amazing! I can almost feel myself there in your grandma's house. What a wonderful place it must have been.

I think the wallpaper sounds beautiful. Phooey on those stupid TV shows.