My Grandmother’s House

Pam’s Pictorama Post: These recent photos of my grandmother’s house were sent to me and brought a parade of memories to mind. To start, it is interesting that for me it is my grandmother’s house despite being the house my mother grew up in, not only with her mother, father and younger brother, but aunt, uncle, cousin and, I believe, my great grandmother at one time. Still, my grandmother was widowed at a young age, family moved out and the upstairs rented to tenants during much of my childhood. Therefore it was always my grandmother’s house in my mind. The house, I recently learned, was built by my mother’s grandfather, an Italian immigrant to this country who I believe brought his family here when my grandmother was a small child. My mother tells me that the house was built solidly with thick beams and hand hewn wooden nails that could be seen in the attic and basement, places I have little or no memory of. My mother grew up on the ground floor and her cousin on the second floor. These photos were taken from a car by one of my cousins.

The house sits on a corner. When I was a child there was a large empty lot next to it, and between the house and the lot was an enormous cherry tree. (My mother says her grandmother had the entire lot planted with a vegetable garden and chickens. She remembers helping her with the garden and collecting the eggs.) When my sister and I were little (this is before the appearance of my brother or at least when he was a tiny tot) the extended family would gather on a late spring day and pick endless buckets of cherries. Those were cooked down into preserves which found their way into cherry pies and onto toast for the entire year. (I don’t know why, but I have no memory of just eating the cherries. Odd when I think about that now because as an adult I adore cherries, but these were for cooking.) There were other big, old trees on the property, a swamp maple, another cherry. There was also an enormous hydrangea and my grandmother threw rusty nails near the roots where the iron made the flowers bloom an icy blue.  (Although I liked the white flowers too.) There were flowering plants on the porch and around the yard. I remember my grandmother as being partial to geraniums. Easter egg hunts in her yard are my first memory of snow drops and daffodils that were just poking out of the early spring soil.

Her house looks much the same, although painted a different, tan color instead of the medium gray I remember. The house next to it, which was later built on the empty lot, distracts though and it makes the house look a bit unfamiliar at first. The memorable features of the house for me were the deep, shady porch where we spent endless hours. There were wooden rockers (very comfortable) and a few scant lawn chairs (itchy and uncomfortable) and my grandmother would have us all on display for the neighborhood. The neighbors would indeed stop by, see us grandkids and hear or share what the gossip or news might be. There was a sweating glass pitcher trimmed with metal (looked like one part glass coffee pot, I have not seen one since) which would be full of very sweet lemonade or ice tea which we drank from reusable, thick molded plastic cups. My grandmother’s house had no air conditioning so summer meant the porch. (Although I guess a window unit eventually found its way to her bedroom window.) The other great feature of the house was a small windowed side entryway which my grandmother called the sun parlor. It was a catch all space and a room I always liked, but one we never spent much time in.

Lastly, there is this photo of the garage which is hard to see here, but I have special memories of that. My mother’s father repaired outboard motors, hunted, made fishing lures and was a gifted all around mechanic and handy guy. The garage contained his work area with a cement floor, smelling distinctly of petrol, motor oil and wood. In the off seasons, his wooden fishing boat The Imp sat outside next to it. I have memories of watching him and my father scraping barnacles off the bottom, sanding and painting it, gray I believe, with perhaps a little white. It seemed huge to me, but I’m quite sure in retrospect that it was a relatively small boat. There is a side door across from where the car is. The trees and hedge were all planted later for privacy – I remember it as all being open.

garage2.jpg

Also well remembered was the kitchen which, although well proportioned, was not huge, always very sunny. It somehow expanded magically, like a clown car, as we crammed what seemed to be the ever growing family around meals at that table for many holidays, but most memorably Christmas (breakfast) and Easter (brunch). My mother’s brother, John, would be telling funny stories that made everyone roar with laughter. I wrote about this a little quite a while back in my post Ann’s Glass.

However, as families sometimes do over time ours has contracted rather than continuing to expand. Folks are living in different areas, retirement, death, divorce and rifts mean there are cousins and others I have not seen in a long time. As with most people though, they all live in my memory like I saw their forty year younger selves just the other day.