Grandma’s House

Day 21

Each window in the ramshackle cabin had a jagged starburst framework of glass shards. After Mom knocked out the most dangerous pieces from the bottom part of the window frame, she lifted me through. We were both careful so I wouldn’t cut myself on the glass knives on my right and left. Mom, who wouldn’t fit through the window herself, watched protectively as I stepped onto the glass-covered floor and walked toward the door to unlock it from the inside. I jumped when a mama bird took flight across the high ceiling of what would later become Grandma’s bedroom.

We worked every weekend for months to get this old homesteader cabin in shape. My grandma needed a new place to live, and my grandpa provided this little cabin for her to live in. He had built it decades before. (They were long ago divorced, so he had his own place.)

This became the grandma’s house I knew and spent many nights at. It was a two-and-a-half hour drive east from our home near L.A., and we often drove there on Friday after school and came back Sunday night. It’s where we went to the Sky Drive-in Theatre, hiked over the mountain to see what we could see, explored other abandoned cabins, flew cracked broken asbestos hot pads like frisbees, caught lizards and stink bugs, read from cover-to-cover the latest Mad Magazine that Mom and Grandma brought home from their  grocery runs, took baths outside, hung laundry on the clothesline, ate Grandma’s popovers, and feasted on Grandma’s favorite KFC fried chicken for special occasions.

We had Thanksgiving at Grandma’s every year. She, and all of us, thought more is always better in both the food and people departments. So we often brought others along who needed a home for Thanksgiving. When the Thanksgiving meal was finished there was always pumpkin pie and a nap or two. Later if anyone was hungry, they could warm up another plate of food from the spread that was left out on the naturally-refrigerated screened-in porch.

The next day we woke up bright-eyed and in a new holiday spirit. We put on our ugly Christmas sweaters (but no one called them ugly back then). We put away all the fall colors and turkeys, and we transformed my grandma’s house into a Christmas wonderland. A tree went up, red and green decorations and Christmas tablecloths adorned all the many dining room tables that had been pieced together. Gifts went under the tree. Games were played and gifts were exchanged. (Earlier we had chosen a name for one gift to give.)

When I got married my grandma couldn’t come to the wedding. They told me she was sick, but they didn’t tell me how sick. The day after the wedding, my husband and I went to Disneyland. We had a family tradition that when someone went to the Magic Kingdom, they would stop in Tomorrowland at the futuristic surround-sound telephone booth and call home. I didn’t want to stop that tradition, so on our Day 2 of married life we called home. My sister greeted us and gave us the news that my grandma had colon cancer. We actually left Disneyland at that time and drove the two-and-a-half hours to see my grandma. It would be the last time I saw her, as she died six-months later during my husband’s last semester of graduate school in Michigan.

The next time I went to Grandma’s house, it had become my Mom’s home. She had moved from our childhood home, where my brother and his new wife were living. Not exactly like a palimpsest, scraped clean and ready to be used again, for she had just moved into the same home and was now the grandma there for a new generation.

When we had children, the girls and I would leave at 5 in the morning and drive (not often enough) four hours west from Phoenix. Grandma would have breakfast ready for us, and then my girls would do some of the same things I did when I was a little girl.

When my mom got sick, she moved to another place near my sister, just a few miles away. We were all there with her the last week of her life. I was glad my teenage daughters got to be there to say goodbye.

Beside my dying mom
During her last days
In her rock house living room
Next to the rented hospital bed
Because of love
With sadness in our hearts
With fear, but with God
Good-bye, Grandma

Now the house stands empty, owned by my siblings and me. Will someone in this generation or the next scrape it clean and use it again?

Today’s idea is from The Isolation Journals, and it challenged us to think of our lives as metaphorical palimpsests. 

Prompt 144. Greater than the Sum of Parts, by Maura Kate Costello

Think of a site that holds many stories—like your hometown, an heirloom, your family tree, or even your own body. Can the stories live together in harmony? Or does the tablet need to be scraped clean, the story rewritten?

5 thoughts on “Grandma’s House

  1. I’ve long loved the metaphorical implications of a palimpsest. The layering is so apt to life. Having that family home still a part of your and your siblings’ lives is remarkable. This asbestos frisbees caught my attention. The things we played with back in the 60s would shock young mothers.

    1. Today was the first time I even heard the of the word palimpsest! It is a fascinating concept.
      Oh, yes, one of my favorite “toys” as a child was when a thermometer broke and we were allowed to keep the little quicksilver roly polies in a tiny medicine bottle.

  2. Truly, the many lives of your Grandma’s house! So many extraordinary memories, beginning with you slipping through the window, letting your Mom in, to fix it up! How wild is that? So much history; I would have serious trouble selling this to anyone else. Can you imagine yourself living there, one day? I love all the little details you wrote in – for example, “but no one called them ugly back then”; this was SO TRUE about Christmas sweaters! Thank you for this treasure of a post, Denise!

    1. Thank you, Maureen. I don’t know if we will sell it, and I could imagine myself living there one day. Actually my husband and I bought a retirement cabin about 15 miles from this one. It’s near my sister’s, and the house where my mom died. I’m moving back close to the memories.

  3. What an intensely interesting and detailed slice with all the layering of family life involved. Life with your grandma sounds homely and fun and then you shared life with your daughters in a similar way until your mum died.

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