How did we keep from killing each other in the smallness? Little people fit there nicely, aunts and uncles must have slept standing up.
Too ill to live alone Memo moved from her home in 1978 and entered a nursing home. I was her first granddaughter, first born of her first born and she had no daughters. So as her little girl I collected the cherished possessions from the list she gave me.
Upon entering the front hall, I noticed how dirty the house looked: dirty, cold and cluttered. I felt uncomfortable in the stifling surroundings, like an intruder invading her past. Falling plaster, inadequate heat from the one floor furnace register, and poor lighting cast shadows on my young memories. I pulled things out, placed them in boxes, and watched the dust swirl toward the ceiling. I sneezed. The bookcase wouldn’t open so I could remove the moldy books and inventory her meager possessions. Memo’s house was empty of all her children and grandchildren who gathered for holiday meals and slept on pallets under the dining room table.
Here was where Memo taught me to set a formal table and serve tea. She told ghost stories, leaving her teeth out so her dialogue matched her characters. I watched her iron linens, nightgowns and handkerchiefs. Do ladies still carry real handkerchiefs? I let my mind wander to a safer time.
The red brick, two bedroom house, on Fair Park Boulevard had a half circle, uncovered front porch that acted as a stage for a little girl’s fantasies. Lots of oak trees cooled the air and hid the yard from the rest of the world. Memo’s tea roses, never off limits, beckoned to be picked for every party my dolls and I had. A photographer going door-to-door used the house as a backdrop for a picture of my sister and I wearing cowboy hats and sitting on a black, brown and white paint pony, his traveling companion.
Characteristic of houses built in the thirties the walls were hand scrolled plaster that resembled an endless maze. Instead of a den or library, Memo used the wide central hall as a combination library and office. Here stood a barrister’s bookcase on legs under which I used to hide and read, lying flat on the hardwood floor. Each one of its doors squeaked when I tried to sneak a book I had been told not to touch. In a hollow pocket carved into the wall sat a generic black rotary telephone, Mohawk 3-8222, the first phone number I learned. Just below the phone was Memo’s desk, marvelously cluttered with menus, shopping lists, partially finished letters and church business.
The one bathroom had intricately designed china faucets that, when turned, cried mournfully like a trapped person begging to be free.
The kitchen boasted a white enameled top table with leaves that folded neatly under each side and a single center drawer. The glass front cabinets held a mixed assortment of china. A Kelvinator with the freezer on the bottom had long since replaced the original icebox. In the corner hung an ordinary door that, once opened, revealed an endless closet reminiscent of C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Hidden inside were potatoes and onions and paper sack trees* that climbed the walls. Oversized pots and baskets floated in mid air below an unseen ceiling. The odor of spices gave the pantry an exotic personality. Kitchen paraphernalia dangled from the door and jangled like a tinker’s cart when it opened.
I wanted to be a little girl again.
After spending five years in the nursing home Memo died. Occasionally I drove by the house, slowed to look at it, but never stopped. One day, without warning I saw some men tearing down Memo’s house. No, I mean tearing down the house that used to be my grandmother’s. I avoided Fair Park for several weeks after that, but soon mustered enough courage to check on the demolition progress. As I drove by I saw nothing: the house was completely gone, the lot leveled and vacant. To the average passerby it appeared no house had ever been there. After a moment of nothingness, I smiled. The plans and failures, decisions and arguments, births and deaths that happened at the house on Fair Park were not gone. They lived in the collective memories of twelve grandchildren and a staggering number of great-grandchildren.
*Paper sack tree: wire rack usually fixed to the wall where folded paper grocery sacks are stored for reuse.
Word count: 737
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