V is for...
Grandma and Grandpa's house. I miss them. Grandpa died a few years ago and Grandma has been getting more and more lost. She recently dislocated her hip again, after falling while wandering the halls where she lives. She doesn't know where she is. She will be 94 on Christmas Eve.
There were many, many holiday meals in that dining room. The grown-ups around the big table, card tables set up for the kids. My grandparents had six children and nine grandchildren. We are lucky enough that there have even been meals with great grandchildren around the "kids' table."
I remember my sister Sharon being made to sit at that table until she finished her mashed potatoes. I know... it was Christmas (or whatever)... and she didn't like mashed potatoes... but there were children starving in Africa.
I remember my kids and nieces and nephews, spending much of a Christmas afternoon building and decorating a gingerbread house, which we then had for dessert! That little activity was one of my few-and-far-between strokes of genius! Mothers, take note: The kids were kept occupied and they had fun and they could slip a piece of candy or lick frosting from their fingers, there was little-to-no whining about when-this and how-come-that! What's not to love?
I remember my Uncle Jimmy coming home from his first year away at college. His hair was longer. A lot, lot longer. He wore a braided leather headband. We listened to Cat Stevens records and played board games in the music room. Grandma asked him to say the before-meal prayer and he stood up, almost shouting:
Thanks for the grub
Well, yeah! Grandma was... "stunned" is a good word. It kinda blew us all away! Grandma always thought more carefully, weighing potential risks, about who she assigned that task to from then on. We remember it, warmly, and laugh at every single holiday meal. "Remember the time when Uncle Jimmy..."
I've written about my grandparents' house a few times. It is very, very old. During the '30s and '40s, a doctor lived in the house and it also served as the "hospital." When I assisted at a rummage sale there a couple of years ago, lots of people came just because they wanted to see the house. One woman asked, "Do you know which was the Birthing Room? I was born in that room." I didn't really know which was the Birthing Room, but I gave her my best guess(es). All I really knew about the use of rooms at that time is that Grandma's "dining room" was the "operating room." Another man had a little blast from the past as he walked up the back steps, remembering the same walk some 70 years earlier when he'd come to have his tonsils removed.
My favorite room was always the music room. It could be accessed from the vestibule, had sliding doors to the living room, and there was also a door to another adjoining (possibly the "birthing" room). My dad built a huge book case and cabinet surrounding the window on the entire east wall; it held books, of course, and also the stereo and record collection. I used to spend hours in that room when we visited, with the doors closed, listening to records and looking at Grandma's old photo albums. I memorized every word of Jesus Christ Superstar in that room. One Easter at Grandma's, there was a little scavenger hunt for us to find our baskets. The last clue led me to the music cabinet where I found a "45" of Don MacLean's American Pie nestled among the jelly beans in my basket.
The room that adjoined the music room was occupied by my great grandfather, Grandma's dad, until he died. He loved doing jigsaw puzzles and my sister Karen would often help him; in high school, she worked at a nursing home, the only one of us who ever did. I was always a little scared of Great Grandpa, he was old and thin and quiet and whiskery, and I didn't know what quite what to make of the well-read Bible alongside the Playboy magazines on his shelf. During a family meeting in the music room once, my brother Mike and a cousin carpeted the entire living room floor with Playboy centerfolds, giving Grandma quite a shock as she emerged from the room!
Those two rooms were later used as showroom, classroom and studio for many years after Grandma retired from the bank and taught ceramics or painted. She had huge kilns in the basement, shelves and shelves of plaster molds and tools, glazes, greenware, bisque, books and trade rags, buckets and boxes of slip and clay. After Grandpa retired, he did all the pouring and took great pride in doing it well; he liked the compliments of the ladies, Grandma's students. Grandma was a prolific painter, as well, generally watercolor, mostly scenes from the lake.
I always loved the attic in that house. It was a walk-in attic, in the space above the dining room and kitchen, accessible through a small door in the upstairs bathroom. It was fascinating -- all that stuff. Furniture, clothing, books, paperwork, holiday decorations. I remember finding a really cool old vintage coat, way back in my high school days, that Grandma let me have -- it was wool and pink and had a huge, decorative button.
It was interesting to me that my grandparents did not share a bedroom. They had adjoining rooms, though, hers a little bigger and only a tiny bit frillier than his -- Priscilla curtains at the windows. They would share Grandma's bed if the house was full and they needed Grandpa's bed; it was the same at the cottage. I remember Grandma's dresser with all the Avon jars and bottles, her jewelry box and earring tree.
The most flattering full-length mirror in the world was at the end of the upstairs hall. I used to hike up my skirt and do the runway walk -- oh, if only my legs really were that long and thin! I remember mentioning the magical mirror to Grandma once and she laughed, "Oh, you mean I don't really look as good as I think I do?"
I am thankful for family, thankful for memory, thankful for friends -- friends like you. Thank you. Thanksgiving. Rub-a-dub-dub...