Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I've been thinking a lot about my grandmother over the past few days. I go through episodes where I painfully miss her. I don't just miss her. I miss her house. I miss the way I felt when I was at her house.

The older I get, the more I try to temper my memories with what must be fact. She couldn't have been perfect or my mother would not have felt so weak and unvalidated to have become what she did. She married and remained silently by my grandfather who, through his own insecurities and need to be validated, made my mother feel she didn't get what she needed. I obviously don't know the whole story. I was recounting my memories once to my my husband in front of my mother. She interrupted to tell me that this was not my family but hers. I dutifully put my memories aside and shut them back into the shuttered clutter of my brain. But they don't seem to go away. My memories make noise in my head. I long for feelings I had. Maybe my memories aren't completely accurate, but the feelings I had and the feelings that seep into the cracks in my are real to me. My memories are real. I am really remembering the safest place I've ever known.

My grandmother's house was tiny. It was on the outskirts of a small western Idaho farming community. The house always needed a coat of paint and repairs. It never looked dilapidated or unloved. It looked much too loved to have clean lines and a definable color. When entering the house, the door opened directly into the front room. There was barely room for one low sofa, once maroon, a chair for her, and a duct taped chair for him. A table sat between them with crossword puzzles, reference books, writing utensils, magnifying glass, and notes scrawled across memo pads. A round dining table was pushed against the wall, and a credenza of sorts was against the other wall. A television was moved about on wheels as desired. The walls of cracked plaster were adorned with fading photographs my grandfather took, developed, and framed.

A tiny hallway to the left led to the two original bedrooms. One bedroom, the one I loved and stayed in had a double bed pushed against two walls to make room for a clothes rack on wheels. A bookcase contained National Geographic magazines dating back to the 40's, all in order. A homemade large pinkish plate hung on the wall. At night, I stared at that plate as I drifted off to sleep. That plate hangs in my bedroom now. I have asked others what the plate looks like to them. It is so familiar and burned into my psyche, it is devoid of style to me and represents nothing but a wheezing breath looking at me as I slept. That bedroom was cold during the winters. The plaster was cracked, and the windows seeped wind. I had to cover my whole body and face with an electric blanket. I could hear the sound of a train whistle long in the distance at night as I fell asleep.

The bathroom in the middle of the hall remained blue right up until the time we decided in my post college days to "renovate" it form them. Surrounding the tub was board, cut to look like tiles. A shelf behind the tub contained jars of dippity do and a plastic vase of plastic flowers. The sink and tub had rubber stoppers attached to chains. My grandmother did not ready herself in the bathroom. She took her wooden framed mirror and propped it against a brown clay cookie jar in the living room on the table. She brushed her barely graying brown shoulder length hair of no particular style straight back away from her face.

The other bedroom was a mystery. I know it was blue. I know it housed a built in book case, and I know my aunt lived in there. My aunt was mentally retarded and also had severe rheumatoid arthritis. She never attended school as she was before the day of mandated free public education for everyone. She was the oldest sibling, and she called the shots. I know she loved the cartoon Garfield and her teddy bear, had a dog eared box of saved greeting cards that she read daily, that she loved babies, but did not like at all nosey nieces. I stayed pretty clear of her. She did not engage in conversation with me but did laugh at my brother's and my antics through the years. She was also the only person I've ever met who could make my mother stop speaking immediately.

Back in the living room, a doorway led to the kitchen. When a full sized stove was finally installed, it was too large for the kitchen, and the a few inches of the back of the stove showed through the doorway to the living room. A round table was pushed against an alcove. The smallest children sat in the back. On the wall hung a large yellow rotary dial rented telephone, the only telephone in the house. The cabinets, sink, and dish drain area were all chipped metal. The walls were yellow. The house always smelled as if something had just been baked. The kitchen was shaped like a 'L'. it led to a side door opening to an added car port. This hallway looped back around to a laundry area and the entry to my grandparents' bedroom. This area of the house smelled of dirt and rocks and earth. Boots lined the wall by the door and rocks saved due to their color or shape or peculiarity were stored in coffee cans and empty buckets. My grandparents never made their bed or at least I never saw it made. My grandfather kept a picture of my grandmother on the inside of his closet door. She was wearing shorts and was standing on a ladder. My grandmother only let him display that picture there. He called it his pin up picture.

The house oozed comfort, acceptance, and peace to me. I was exactly who I was in that house. Through the years, I tried on different versions of myself and brought those incarnations to my grandmother's house. It never took me long to drop the act and sleep. I always slept the first day I was there. It angered me. I was afraid I was missing something. But I couldn't help it. My grandfather would have plans for us as soon as we arrived. My grandmother would study my face and tell him that I was staying back. I always said I wasn't, and she agreed with me. She always asked me to go rest for a bit and leave later. It never failed. I only drowsily opened one eye as she was tucking me in for the rest of the day and then the night.

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