The past few weekends have been clean out time at the house. I’ve been going through closets and making stacks of things I no longer want or need in preparation for a near future yard sale. I’m not a collector or hoarder. When “things” start to build up, I get twitchy. This leads to biannual, if not more often, clean outs. Recently, while rummaging through storage bins and random stuff I had shoved into the front closet, I unearthed a couple of boxes I did not immediately recognize. One small one had my name written on it and I was surprised to find a set of individual, glass salt cellars that had been my grandparents. There was also another larger box with small drink glasses in it. Sippy cups is not the proper term here, but I’m not sure what they’re called. I guess they’re for tasting, not chugging.
I lucked out big time being adopted into an amazing family. Finding these heirlooms and holding them in my hands brought on a flood of thoughts. I imagined a dinner party with tailored suits, A-line skirts, coiffed curls and spit-shined shoes. The dining table would be set to the nines. My grandmother in an apron that matched her yellow kitchen, serving up a perfectly cooked meal–everyone complimenting and reaching for more. Ladies smiling and taking dainty bites while the men talked shop. Men grunting and shoveling down more meat while the ladies talked kids. After the meal, the women would have coffee in the living room, chatting and playing on the organ. The men making drinks on rocks and retiring to the back room with cigars. My mom and aunt peeking through cracks in doors to see the clothes and listen to what the grown-ups were whispering. Dessert would be a pound cake with vanilla ice cream and cookies. At the end of the night, they would all kiss cheeks, shake hands, and disperse in a cloud of liquored breath and perfumed necks.
Holding those hand-me-downs created this imagination in my mind. I don’t know whether my grandparents had dinner parties or not. I would venture to guess that they did, but the fact I don’t know for sure is what got me thinking how important it is to learn all of these things before you’re left holding stuff instead of stories.
Today is Grandparents Day and although I do not have any living grandparents, my recent baking and cooking trials have definitely been inspired by my grandmother on my mom’s side and the only one I ever knew well. My dad’s parents lived in Michigan, where he’s from, and the one thing I remember specifically about them is that on one of their visits, they brought me a Glo Worm and I was very excited. I loved that thing.
My mom’s father died when I was still young, so I don’t have too many memories of him, just stories I’ve been told. One such story is that I’d sit next to his chair out in the Florida room and he’d share his Pepperidge Farm cheese straws with me while we watched whatever was on TV and he’d have a cigar. I like to think that the reason I have a soft spot for the smell of cigar smoke is because of him.
But my grandmother was a big influence in my life. She comes to mind often in many little things that I find myself doing from growing philodendron cuttings in my kitchen window to collecting pretty plates and having a house full of things I love, not necessarily that match or follow a theme, to good posture and thank you notes. Years ago in one of my first poetic technique college classes, I wrote a poem for her about her house that we always gathered in as a family. She had to move into a retirement home for health reasons and we were all upset about not having that house in our lives anymore.
I thought I’d share that poem today and in revisiting it, will work on editing it. Because like gardens, writing has to go through many, many edits until it’s time to move on. Here is the original.
835 South Wilson
Grandmother, I miss your house on 835 South Wilson,
the brick house with the fifty-foot tall Southern Magnolia
out front, the one with the white blooms that I would hold
cupped in my hands, the one we always climbed
until the wind whipped my hair and I would wrap
my arms and legs tight around that tree’s trunk
looking up at Jeff looking down at me, laughing. I miss
the bottled Coke that I was only allowed to have at your house,
that tall iced-tea glass filled to the brim with igloo shaped ice cubes,
the sound of those igloos popping and cracking
as you’d pour that sugary Coke bubbling and fizzing
over them, the rolling of my mom’s eyes as I would take
my first gulp and our smiles as it slid down my throat.
I miss your pool with that rubber bottom I would slip on
trying to pull myself out over the ledge because who needed stairs?
Calling out ‘marco polo’, my mom’s hand in the scoop
of my spine as I arched backwards into the water, the melon sized
hydrangea blooms that fell into the pool, the ones
I would pick and put in a vase for you, Grandmother,
I miss the Easter egg hunts in my new pink dresses, Christmas
day photos with the family lined up and Bowdon would set
the camera timer and run to get in the shot as the red light
blinked, your vegetable garden, the old grapefruit tree
we would pull all the fruit we could. I miss your plate collection
in the dining room, the pale green tiles in your bathroom,
the smell of cigars and cheese straws that lingered
in grandfather’s recliner, the organ we played like we knew how.
I miss the feeling like the fizz in that Coke
when we pulled into the drive and saw you at the door.