The teary goodbyes were over or maybe had just begun. I had gotten to my Grandparents home in Platteville with Daddy as my chauffer carrying my packed suitcase and doll’s suitcase. It was three years after my sister, Colette, had been paralyzed by the polio she had come down with a year before the big epidemic in 1952. She and Mom were off for the summer to get treatment at a chiropractic hospital in Denver after the Mayo Clinic had held out little hope for her walking again without braces and crutches, falling down every third step.
What I left behind besides Dad was our neighborhood. Our block went from 14th Street to 10th Street with only one intersecting street. Within those blocks there were forty kids. I was one of the oldest. This was the “post war baby boom” era. We always had someone to play hide and go seek, kick the can, red rover, jacks, jump rope or dolls with. They lived just a couple houses away.
Grandma and Grandpa lived in a huge house near downtown Platteville. Yes, it had five bedrooms but they had raised eight kids so that made sense. The wrapped front porch was big enough to roller skate on although I don’t think we dared.
The front door went into Grandpa’s insurance office in the foyer. To the left was the living room which ran the length of the house, to the right was the curving stairway which went upstairs. Straight through was the dining room. Did that huge table really seat over twelve people? Behind that was the kitchen and back entry. Eventually they had a half bath put in there. All told there were steps that led to the basement, first floor, second floor and whole attic way up there. This house made ours look like a cabin.
“Grandma, what can I do?” My eight year old heart was begging.
On one side of the house was an apartment building, I never met one person who lived there. On the other side was Mrs. Murley. I think she was related to Mrs. Santa Claus as she looked about that old. We visited her, she occasionally produced a cookie but she didn’t have anyone in her huge house to play with me.
A block away was the “down town” where Grandma and I could get groceries, clothes, bubbles for blowing and see many of the people she knew. We walked and she introduced me to lots of grown-ups. Eventually she’d give me a quarter to go down to the dime store and see what treasures I could find. I could go all by myself. She probably produced those magical quarters when she couldn’t bear to hear “Grandma, I’m bored” one more time.
Yes, I helped her. We did dishes, ran the wash through the wringer washer, into to rinse tubs then out to hang on the clothes line. We fixed tea in the pot that matched the green walls in her kitchen. We worked in the hot, sweaty garden too. Peonies, they were pretty and ruffled – pink and reddish and white. Bet they smelled good I thought as I bent to take in a big whiff.
“Grandma, they have ANTS and one went up my nose!”
“Yes, my dear, we need to spray them off really well before we cut them. Then we shake making sure we got all the ants off. Would you like to take some into the house?”
They were gorgeous on the table and without their ant companions.
Grandpa traveled selling insurance and was gone a lot. That was OK. Grandpa had a “telephone long distance” voice. When he was home he boomed on the phone and off. I remember laying awake house because of that booming and then getting in trouble because I was “still awake”.
Tonight Grandma had tucked me in way in the “back bedroom” where Colette and I usually slept. That bed was huge without my sister. The shadows through the window were pretty monstrous too. The wind picked up,the huge tree branches were scratching against the house. Soon the lightening and thunder began, it was going to be a long night. Somehow I drifted off and was awakened to a loud scream, mine. Grandma came rushing up the stairs to tell me that we were having a thunder storm but it was going to be OK. She straightened the covers over my shoulders and patted me as she kissed my forehead and left.
But I saw those monsters by the window, shadows flitting, some inside and some outside. Finally that night was over. We went outside to see a huge limb from the biggest tree in the yard laying on the ground. Yes, it still had green leaves on it but not for long. Our family was like that tree all ripped up by the thunderstorm polio had caused in our lives and laying on the ground…..
It was later that week when I parked my suitcase and my doll’s. I was going to visit my favorite older cousin, Paula and her family. I loved Grandma and Grandpa’s but that big old house was empty without my sister.
(C) Marijo Phelps all rights reserved. Use with proper credits.