Last night I dreamed I walked through my father’s mother’s house with him. He was showing me the place. Strangely and sadly, it was empty but still had those good bones, that warmth. In the dream he mentions off-hand that it fell into hands after she died. I ask him questions about who will be living there but he can tell what I’m thinking and says,
“You don’t want to live here. You’d be a long phone call away. No one is out here.”
I remember my visit to my grandmother in college, as a sophomore. I took trains most the way and then she’d picked me up in a big car. We had Chinese food that night near the station. I remember the smell of her house which is a memory going back to me at months old and if I visited this house again today I’d be overcome.
She had magnets on the fridge in a pristine kitchen. She had this lumpy sewn frog made of cheap dark velveteen. Who made it and why did she have it? She slept with a Smith & Wesson at the side of her bed. The gun was bigger than she was!
The last time I saw this grandmother I was twenty-five. She held my infant daughter in her lap and we sat in her boyfriend’s too-cramped and too-hot living room. Phoenix was the size and temperature of a bread loaf out the oven. We’d dressed our daughter in a special organic cotton dress with purple butterflies and poison-green binding. We’d dressed her up as special as we could for her to meet this great-grandmother. My grandmother was close to ninety and not well but she clutched that baby to her like she knew how to do it.
These memories, and the memories of my grandfather’s ashes and the desk my dad built in college – both of which lived in my grandmother’s house – they swim through my mind, and flutter in my chest while I dream.
But when I wake, I remember everything has been lost.
She is gone; Lucy is gone. Her husband, my grandfather Fish, he died when I was a baby. My father is gone. My grandmother’s gentleman friend who’s living room we visited, well he’s probably gone too.
My grandmother’s house is probably no longer in the family, let alone not waiting, open and ready, for my own family to flee to the mountains and make our roots in the dirt. The house is grubby or updated. Who knows. Would it smell the same, would it really?
This morning, online, I find the little mountain town where my grandmother’s house lives. I clicked on “street view” and find the A&W, and the fish hatchery where we’d visit for walks. It’s as close as street view can get to her house, which I could find from memory.
She kept her house very neat. I guess that is one heritage I get from that side of the family – that, and my style of cooking. Not the Polish details as much but the simple and hearty ingredients.
I can make roots in the dirt though, still. Because they are all still here, with me.
I understand how you feel about your grandmother’s house, Kelly. I feel the same about my grandmother’s house. She was my father’s mom, and she lived their with my grandfather, as I remember her, although they had seven children in early days: my dad and his six siblings. But, in a way, my story is even sadder than yours, as my grandmothers’ house is gone. The last time we visited her, with our first two children still very young, her house was the only one left, and it was surrounded by stacks of lumber being churned out by nearby (small, I think) mills. “The workman keep an eye out for me,” she said, and I believed they did, too.
Not only is my grandmother’s house gone, the LAND that her house stood on, about 12 feet from the Columbia River, in Kalama, WA, is also gone, washed away by the big river that provided my commercial fisherman grandfather with income to provide for his large family.
About three years ago, her surviving three sons, all World War II vets,rode down the river on a navy ship,bound for Portland and the Rose Festival. As a newspaper story said, the three stood by the railing and as the ship passed near where their house would have been, all three just gazed quietly at the place that was no longer a place.