Today, my mom's mother would have been 101 years old. Grandma died 9 years ago, just ten days after her 92nd birthday. Until she moved into a townhouse a few years before she died, Grandma (pictured here with me at my high school graduation) lived in a quaint white house on a quiet street in a city about 30 miles from my hometown.
Many memories of visiting my grandparents' cozy white house revolve around holidays and family gatherings. During those visits when the adults were busy cooking and visiting, we kids were off entertaining ourselves, exploring the house. Of all the features I loved about Grandma and Grandpa's, my three favorites were the phone, the basement and the kitchen's treasures.
On a desk in the front dining room sat a lamp designed like an old-fashioned candlestick phone; removing the "receiver" from the hook turned the light on. I always liked the lamp, but next to the lamp perched the only phone in the house: Grandma's black rotary dial phone. Whenever the coast was clear—which wasn't often because of the phone's front room position—my cousins and my sister and I would stealthily lift the receiver from the cradle and listen. Listening in on that party line felt, back then, like hardcore spying. I can't remember any conversations we heard, but I'm sure none of it was scandalous or even interesting by our standards as children. Still, the idea of listening in on other peoples' conversations provided the thrills we sought.
It seems my cousins and my sister and I spent much of our time playing in Grandma and Grandpa's basement. The half of the small basement where we played was clean and almost completely empty. But in the other half of the basement stood the most intriguing basement fixture: Grandma's wringer washing tub. (This washer is similar to my grandma’s machine.) In pristine condition, Grandma's manual machine seemed like a museum piece, in part because I never saw Grandma use the thing. We definitely were forbidden to touch it; I think we were warned that by playing with the dangerous machine, we could lose a finger.
Best of all was the kitchen, mostly because of the treats, of course, but also because the vintage cabinetry included a pull-out flour drawer; a tall, narrow broom closet; and a small drawer where Grandma stored tiny toys. As for treats, Grandma always had three varieties: jello, individual boxes of cereal, and cookies. Among other pantry items, Grandma kept boxes of Royal brand gelatin on a narrow shelf in the basement stairway off the kitchen. She always seemed to have a bowl of jello in the fridge too. (Then, as now, my favorite was strawberry or raspberry sans fruit.) The small boxes of cereal were a treat because for breakfast we could choose a sugary cereal, something my sister and I rarely ate at home. Grandma kept an abundant supply of store-bought cookies—I especially remember cream-filled wafer cookies—in Tupperware containers that filled the racks of her oven. I always thought it was funny that her oven's primary purpose was cookie storage rather than cookie baking.
All these years later, I can clearly picture Grandma’s brown eyes and her apple dumpling cheeks as she smiled and shook her head at us kids. I can see her pure white pin-curled hair and hear her high-pitched voice. Every now and then I'll catch myself saying, "oh, honestly!" or "for Pete’s sake," and, in my head, I'll hear my grandma's voice in place of my own.
Sometimes I imagine that if I drive by that house I might still find her there, pulling a sweater around her shoulders, waving and smiling and sending her love with me down the street.
Happy birthday, Grandma.
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