Her house smelled like what I later came to know as “old people smell.” but I never thought of my great grandmother as being old. She was just… matronly. The carpet in her house was green like split pea soup. There was a woman laying in bed, in the room nearest the front door. Mother told me that GG took care of the woman, and that she was a widow. Her home was mostly one large room, but it was relatively well lit, in my experience. There was a dirt road that seemed to end right on her doorstep, bringing a garden of geraniums with it. I was sitting on the floor near her old Franklin stove. My great grandmother offered me a coffee, and I felt like an adult… sipping an adult beverage, sitting with the only human who never once talked down to me. She walked with me to the block stairs leading from her porch, around to the basement floor, where Mother met me, took my hand, and with a few pleasantries, walked me down to our home.
My great grandmother’s sister-in-law seemed frail to me, even then. Her kitchen was the most well lit place on the entire planet, and everything that came out of it was made of pure sugar, except for her bean soup, of course. I ate a lot of bean soup that year… but that one day, the three of us were in the kitchen, great-aunt was spooning sugar into her coffee, Uncle George was sitting in a plastic and metal dining chair with a yellow and brown daisy print. He said to me “Would you like some liver and onions for lunch?” I politely declined, and he laughed kindly. Nona said “George, don’t tease.” then to me “We’re having bean soup, that’s why I called you over. Now then, would you like a coffee?” It was in those meetings that I first learned to share a quiet camaraderie.
Given what Mother has told me, and in light of stories yet told, it strikes me as odd that I have so few memories of my grandmother from my early years. Nevertheless, the one I do have is full of emotion. I was standing in the entryway to the old house on the hill. Papa was watching his color TV, which sat on a flimsy metal dinner tray. There were other people in the room, but they exist in my memory as little more than vague awarenesses of occupied space. Off in the same corner as another dimly lit room I associated with Mother, was a similar kitchenette, which as expected was the source of the entire floor’s lighting.
“Well come on in” she said with a beckoning gesture.
At that time, she would have been the same age as I am as I write this.
Great-Grandmother was standing on the far side of the porch, the end paved with makeshift flagstone. She instructed me to be careful and not to put my hands into any moving parts, but for one rare instance, this warning was unnecessary. The washing machine was a metal barrel with no lid or distant dreams of safety features. The beast rumbled and lurched as my great grandmother stuck her hand down into the cauldron and fished out an article of clothing, stuck it into the wringer, and reached around back to catch it. She carried the basket of damp clothing around back to her laundry line. We would chat and sing as she worked, but in my mind I knew that steel beast was still sitting up there, waiting to feast on one of my limbs.
It may very well have been the first year I lived in Colorado with my family, but it feels to me that it was the second. Perhaps it had already snowed, but I remember there being mud everywhere, more bog than yard. My paternal grandparents were visiting, but they were quiet people and I have few memories of their visit. One of the gifts I received was a Tinker-Toy, a collection of sticks and slotted hubs for building various models. Grandpa and I sat on the living room floor and did our best to assemble a wire frame Ferris wheel. Behind me, Sister laid in her crib. I don’t remember Mother having been pregnant, or Sister coming home… just that she quietly cooed as I enjoyed that Christmas morning. Another of my gifts had been a Playdoh toy that used a lever to squeeze the goop through holes of various shapes. For some reason, there was a shortage of Playdoh, and Grandma used some mysterious recipe to make more. It turned out to be a recipe for modelling clay, which hardened into rock. The toy was broken in the process, and Mother was rather unhappy about it, but I thought it was interesting that Grandma had made any such thing out of what we had around the house.