Jilly D.

Archive for October, 2012|Monthly archive page

My Grandma’s House

In Grief, New beginnings on October 27, 2012 at 11:24 pm

Diffuse daylight came through the tightly gathered pale sheer curtains on the windows along the porcelain-blue north and west walls of the bedroom in Grandma and Grampa’s cream-colored stucco house. You couldn’t see in the front windows, but you could look out onto the front stoop on North Dupont Avenue. This was where my dad grew up in the Camden neighborhood of north Minneapolis. His parents slept here in this bedroom. Then Grandpa died when I was 5 years old. A heart attack. Grandma became a widow.

Their darkly stained oak four poster bed covered in a white chenille spread stood against the south wall. An oak bureau banked the blue wall across from the end of their double bed. The drawers stuffed with white cotton undershirts, bleached boxer shorts, and white pressed hankies. His sweaters in another drawer; mostly knit by Grandma. Socks and extra tablecloths took up the other two drawers.

The bureau glowed with Guardsman furniture polish. On the top a finely edged piece of linen served as dresser scarf on which lay my grandfather’s pocket watch, his wedding ring, his comb, shoe polish kit, pipe stand, jackknife, and wallet. Small framed sepia-toned wedding portraits stood like dominos. The bedroom closet smelled like Grandpa; his shoes, suits, starched shirts, and ties kept so neatly inside. Between the closet and the bedroom door fit Grandma’s vanity with two porcelain dancing lady lamps atop the side drawers of her cosmetics, costume jewelry, girdles, and bobby pins. Her hand mirror, comb, brush, lipstick, and crystal parfum decanter graced the curved wooden countertop carefully; placed upon a tray before the triptych of mirrors. When Grandpa was still alive, we’d go hurry Grandma and find her putting on lipstick and perfume before the mirrors. Readying herself before we’d all go out on a family excursion. To Forest Lake. Or a leaf-peeping drive along the Mississippi River. White Elephant Sale at the Methodist Church with dish to pass supper.

After Grandpa died the bedroom door remained closed. Grandma’s undergarments, nightgown, robe, and hosiery took up residence in the dresser in Aunt Carol’s old bedroom in the back of the house. This is where Grandma used to hide our Christmas and birthday presents, where she stored the wrapping paper, ribbons, stashed her knitting projects and yarn. I don’t know when I realized she slept in the single bed in the back bedroom and not where she and my grandpa slept together. Their bedroom became our memory chamber for an earlier part of grandma’s life. I’d remind her of the things Grandpa did with us and how much he made me laugh. He’d cut up wooden scraps into blocks of various shapes and sizes and sanded them down by hand. Under the elm in the backyard he’d set up the croquet set for us to play while our dads and moms cranked the handle to make the fresh strawberry ice cream.  He’d grab our noses and show us his thumb between his fingers as though he’d stolen it from our face.

“See you later, alligator…..” he’d tease me.

“After while crocodile,” I’d giggle in response.

When I was a toddler, Grampa rested me on his right foot, with his right leg dangling over his left at the knee. Then he’d lift me up by raising his foot and play horsie. He’d read to me out loud while holding me in his arms as he sat rocking.

When Rick died, Meta kept these memories alive for us. But she closed the door on their bedroom.  Infused with the taste of black cherry soda, the scent of fresh-cut flowers from her garden, the ruckus of her wringer-washer machine in the basement, the scratchy texture of the wool carpet as I laid in front of the hi-fi stereo, and rolling out the hardtack on her kitchen table, she created my memories of remembering Grampa.

Meta kept their bedroom spotless for 25 plus years as though she expected Rick to return home at any moment. It was a sacred place, full of the magic of marriage. I loved when she let us go inside their bedroom and remember together.

There are still some fleeting semi-conscious daydreams I have of sitting in his lap, on the overstuffed plaid cushions in the maple rocking chair with the magazine rack attached. Wrapped up inside his mind and his arms. Grandpa’s maple rocking chair sits next to my window today. Grandma’s kitchen table from their home on Dupont Avenue is here with me.  And I still have the Swenson steam trunk that crossed the Atlantic from Sweden to the US. These solid pieces of family lore remind me their past is here with me now.

From Sunday October 21st until Wednesday the 24th  this week, I enjoyed four of the richest days of my adult life with three of Rick and Meta’s granddaughters: Sandy, Sue, and Julie; my first cousins.

Sandy whose sweetest childhood impression left upon me was playing dress-up in her bedroom in the house on Winchester Circle where Uncle Dick and Aunt Jenny still live.  A canopied four poster bed and French provincial furniture befit for a princess. And in your closet you had princess outfits. Tights, tutus, ballet slippers, dressy dresses, and frilly frills all clean and neat in your two-tiered little girl closet. I learned a lot from you about what it means to be feminine.

Sue who spent so many sleepovers in my bedroom in the basement on Grimes Avenue and would try to stay up all night playing card games of War. Sleep overs at your house on Lamplighter Lane when we would watch the test pattern before the Saturday morning cartoons came on in the den. Fractured Fairytales. Remember going Christmas caroling after dinner before Santa arrives at Iris and Emil’s and the people next door who you could see through Grandma’s dining room and kitchen windows?  I wanted your freckles more than I wanted Christine’s copper gold hair.

Julie. That infectious giggle. The orange and pink bedroom with lots of stuffed animals on your bed and still you wouldn’t go to sleep. Playing Trouble. You loved pushing that bubble button to toss the dice. Your generous spirit; pitching in immediately to make the most beautiful salad my bowl has seen Monday evening. And for asking if you could see where Sam and I had made our home. Thanks so much for asking. It was hard but I so needed you three to go with me as Swenson girls.

And yes, Sam and I lived on a place that can only be described as sacred. I know you felt it there.  For me it’s my spiritual home. Thanks for taking me to “chuch,” Sue.

Next year. Same time. Same place. (Hopefully my sister Barb, too.) And maybe a full week with writing memoir, basketweaving, mosaic, quilting, and knitting components besides the spa and wine trail. October here is the best time of year. It comes after September. Amen.