Monday, January 23, 2012


Grandma With Birds And Tree Lungs
When we traversed the river in my hometown, I knew we were heading not only to my Grandma's house but to another world.  The houses on her side of town sagged a little more, were closer together, and sometimes painted hot pink.  Occasionally one of the larger Victorians boasted a cluster of mailboxes next to the front door. Although both of my parents grew up on this side of town, it was foreign and separate from me.  And it felt even more strange to know that there were people and places of which I wasn't a part.

Once we pulled into Grandma's driveway, she would greet us waving through the screen door.  She'd usher us in, whooshing my brother and me onto the davenport.  Before we knew it, we'd have a hot, mushy bowl of goulash on our wobbly metal TV trays.  She'd switch on the TV set and we'd be turned on like automatons while she'd take our Mom out back to marvel at the flocks of flowers and visit with old friends and neighbors.  We sat happily on our thrones only leaving to steal a chocolate covered Graham Cracker from the tin in the kitchen drawer.  Somehow, getting caught never felt like a real threat considering Grandma regularly pushed cookies on us like a --- grandma.

There was not much to do at Grandma's house, but enough to keep us occupied.  Either we played with vintage baby toys, tinkered with the police radio, or drew on envelopes with crayons stored in an old tin.  (During the holiday dinners, my cousins and I would melt these crayons over an open flame creating our own "candles.")  Grandma didn't even have paper in her house, so she saved the envelopes from her opened mail.  This completely baffled me, and I probably secretly resented her not having a flawless, smooth sheet to bedazzle with my drawings.  But, I cherished her teaching me how to draw birds which I am still constantly drawing, painting, and sewing. 

My Grandma was and still is beloved by her neighbors on the other side of town.   She was the queen of a block that organized a community yard sale in the fall.  Mom would empty drawers and closets hauling bags to my Grandma's house.  We'd pile the tables high with items priced from a quarter to a dollar.  I'd sit behind a card table loaded with a muffin tin full of neatly separated coins, homemade muffins and brownies, and brown lunch bags stuffed with freshly popped popcorn which my Grandma popped on her basement stove.  Neighborhood kids would empty their piggy banks to buy these treats.

Though the neighborhood demographic had shifted since my Grandma had moved in, she found common ground with her new Mexican immigrant neighbors.  Her standard remark was that she loved their "peppy" music.  My Grandma never met a polka beat she didn't like.

Whether it was the freshness of the fall air, the vibrance of the neighborhood, or the anticipation of the high-school bonfire that night, I was always left feeling giddy as quarters passed through my hands, clinking into the muffin tin.  In retrospect I loved seeing my Grandma buzz around us like a productive bee around placid flowers.  She worked and served with such pleasure that you felt like you were doing her a favor by not helping.  I've never known another queen bee who earned her crown through a life of servitude.

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