I was thinking about when I was a kid and we spent almost every Saturday night at her house. They had a storey-and-a-half and we slept in a room on the top floor with sloping ceilings. She always had some kind of toothpaste that we never got at home and soap shaped like little lemons. Her bathroom had stripey carpet and I remember finding my favourite stripe whenever I was in there. I also remember one time when I locked myself in the bathroom because I had no idea that the tiny knob next to the regular doorknob was to lock the door and not a kid’s knob. They had to talk me out of the bathroom. Their house had a closet under the stairs where coats were hung and behind the coats there were shelves with all sorts of interesting things: ancient pencils, a stack of colouring paper, a measuring tape, Gramma and Grampa’s walking sticks (he made them out of old hockey sticks, stripped and stained nicely, used mainly to beat off aggressive dogs). We played in there for hours, by the light of a bare bulb that Gramma had to turn on because the pull string was too high for us. The smell always made me think of freshly sharpened pencils. In the basement there was a root cellar that smelled earthy and damp. They put carrots and potatoes from the garden in there and ate them all winter. Up in the bedrooms, there were little half-height doors into the eaves where Gramma stored all sorts of treasures. It was cold in there, and it always smelled dusty and neglected. The Christmas decorations lived there 11 months of the year, as did bags of scrap fabric which gave us endless hours of creative occupation, sewing clothes for our dolls with clumsy stitches and liberal use of scissors (and frequently tape).
Gramma’s house had different rules than home. We always ate a bedtime snack, usually potato chips in a little bowl, eaten on a tv table in the living room while we watched hockey or Love Boat or Lawrence Welk, none of which we would ever watch at home. Lunch would be Alphaghettis and Libby’s orange juice in a tin, which never tasted good at home. She bought puddings in individual serving size, the ones with the metal ring and pull-off top that I could never quite do. She would tell us to “go to the store” and we would go to the pantry shelf in the basement to choose what we wanted to eat. For breakfast, I always had All Bran, layered with Harvest Crunch and Special K. In that order. Gramma always had good cereal. I remember a corner china cabinet that Grampa made (there was a telephone book through which he drilled a hole and threaded a wire so it could hang from a nail behind the cabinet). There was a radio on top of it and I remember we were eating breakfast in that kitchen when I heard on that radio that Terry Fox had died (I was about 10). The kitchen was lit by a circular fluourescent light and I remember lying on the floor and looking at my distorted reflection in the metal fixture of the light. That was also the kitchen where my dad exploded the mustard, trying to squeeze through a blocked outlet. There was mustard everywhere; she still talks about finding flecks of mustard on the wallpaper weeks and months later.
They had a garage, and I remember the day we came over and saw a new car in the garage. It was a Dodge Dart, kind of a beige colour with a dark green interior adn a bit of a bend at the edge of the rear window that made it look like the world was being rolled out as we drove by. One time, my grampa spray painted a toilet seat, I think, in the garage, and forever after, there was a white outline of a toilet seat on the wall. There was a little patch of dirt right near the garage where the grass wouldn’t grow, but otherwise, their yard seemed huge and green. I remember doing cartwheels on the lawn, and I remember planting seeds in the garden Grampa planted every year. The raspberry canes in the back yard were prolific; the taste of raspberries still brings me back there instantly. In that back yard was where I learned, first-hand not to lick cold metal. One day, I touched the very tip of my tongue to the decorative swirly screen guard on her back door. I pulled it off instantly, but it hurt for days.
Gramma always wanted us to go for a walk after supper when we were at her house, so we walked to a school playground nearby. We had to walk through a back lane and there was a driveway made of crushed amethyst. We loved that driveways, but we were never allowed to take home a rock unless it was in the middle of the lane, nowhere near the driveway. I remember singing “I’m the king of the castle and you’re a dirty rascal” from the top of the monkey bars at Gramma and she would pretend her feelings were hurt. We always came home from that park with our hands stained rusty and smelling metallic from the ancient jungle gym.
The beds in Gramma’s house were always made and the sheets were crisp and flat and cool and smelled clean. She had a line outside for laundry with a little door in the back porch so you could hang the laundry without going outside. In the morning, probably ridiculously early, we would go into her room, across the hall from ours, and snuggle in her bed. She never told us to go back to bed.
Gramma made us the best cakes. There were cakes shaped like bunnies, like beautiful princesses, and one year, at my request, she made me a birthday apple pie. Her clown cupcakes were always the hit of any classroom party. She indulged us incessantly, but without spoiling us. There were always cookies in the cookie jar and jelly beans in the candy jar. I wonder how many times Gramma read us “The Tawny Scrawny Lion”? She herself was always reading whodunits with bloody daggers on the covers, and I used to take her bookmark out (sorry, Gram, I thought it was clever and funny at the time). They always looked thrilling and forbiddenly grown-up. She had a peanutbutter jar full of buttons that we spent almost as much time with as we did with the fabric scraps. She knit us a new sweater every year for the first day of school. Oh, and Gramma made me my gigi, my pink gingham quilt that lived on my bed until I moved in with Trevor. I loved it so much that the satin ribbon binding needed to be replaced several times before I retired it. Which, of course, she did.
Gramma is the reason I was able to go back to school for this degree; she funded my education. She also took Aimee, my sister, and I to South Africa in 1999 for three weeks, the trip of a lifetime. She typed my stories when I was a fledgling writer. She kept my little letters and drawings, too. I should find the letter she scanned in and post it. Without Gramma, I would never have known about The Moms and Dads (a singing group sharing space in the Lawrence Welk genre). She also taught me of the flavour adventure that is a warm peanutbutter and baloney sandwich (let me tell you, not all adventures are good). I swear it is true, but she refuses to believe me. Gramma also took me to buy my first hamster. He was a baby one, the cutest little thing. I named him Cupcake. We slept at their house that night, and of course he escaped. Grampa, who apparently had a thing about rodents, had to catch him. When I woke up in the morning, his cage was wired shut, with a piece of cardboard reinforcing the door, placed in a box, and the whole thing was in the bathtub, with the bathroom door closed. He went home the next day, and I don’t think any rodent ever dared to set a paw in her house again.
I could go on and on about my fond childhood memories of Gramma. We had such fun at her house. Even now, she keeps a little box of toys at her place for when my kids visit. She is a dedicate pet owner (she saved her cat from the needle… little Kleo was not a happy kitty until Gramma and her tuna came along). She mastered a computer and email when she was well into her 80s. She is a card shark and the main contributor of dessert for Sunday dinners. She watches baseball and hockey and men’s curling (but not women’s, they shriek too much). She volunteers at a nursing home once a week, calling bingo or transporting the inmates to and fro. Since Tim Horton’s opened across the street, we know where to find her on Sunday mornings, after her walk. In fact, she still walks at least once a day, except when it’s too cold or icy, and then she rides the exercycle that she hauled up from the dumpster one day. As a result, she looks 20 years younger than she should.
Anyway, this was to be a little happy birthday trip down memory lane. It’s been fun. I hope you enjoyed it too, Gram. Thank you for all the memories, all your nurturing and love. I wish you a wonderful day.