My great grandmother lived in Springfield, Oregon all my life and I had the pleasure of knowing her for the first ten years of my nearly thirty. When I look back on the times I spent at her house the memories are of blurred bodies moving in and out of bedrooms, indiscriminate laughter, and snippets of crystal clear objects which belonged to her and her home.
I remember the snails that would crawl in the ivy of the alley way behind her house. I remember hearing the whistle of a train somewhere in the distance. And I remember my mother telling me that whistle made her feel safe. To me that implied the whistle meant we slept in a home she loved and felt complete in. I remember the rounded curb that held the front yard in from the sidewalk and trying to balance on it. And one time getting a flat tire on the way to visiting her and another looking out the backseat window at the stars the day my boyfriend moved away to a new school when we were in first grade. I remember her neighbor telling me I had beautiful eye lashes and to never pluck them. And I remember being confused because she probably meant eye brows.
I remember the neck breaking steepness of the stairs which led to the attic. They were the kind of stairs you climbed upward with your hands on the boards and gripped the railing fiercely on the descent. The closet at the top filled with my late great aunt’s clothes. Inside that white closet a full dress of native american garb with dangling beads and tan rawhide. The room to the right was her’s and like a time capsule you entered onto worn floorboards and a full sized bed. There’s a window somewhere on the back wall and a bookshelf filled with knickknacks beside it. I remember this room, but I don’t remember it fully and the feeling I got when I stood inside the low ceilinged room was neutral. A child exploring, respectfully, the relic of a lost one. The door always remained closed and I had only entered it once with my mother.
Across the landing was another room; a child’s play room with two twin beds on each side. It was a fun room in the daytime, but one I was fearful of at night so I slept downstairs in the room that had a sawn off arm cast in the closet. The dresser in the left corner next to the window with the blue towel instead of drapes housed old check books and wooden spools for us to play with. My cousins and I were rarely in the house at the same time, but you could feel their residue in the space. We shared it, connected by time and card games and glasses of milk; I could feel them in the carpet, in the receipts in the cupboard, the blankets on the bed. A cast iron pipe shot through the floorboards in the back right corner, black and cold, surrounded by the toys of my mother’s youth. Stuffed animals – a panda bear and poodles – comprised of stiff felt from the fifties and glass eyes sewn in.
I remember the ironing board that came out of the wall and the measuring stick she had made for us kids in the mudroom. The whipped honey we would put on our toast and the constant supply of Chips Ahoy! cookies in her cupboards. In the eating nook attached to the kitchen her table stood with chrome trim and a green with gold swirls Formica surface. And when there weren’t enough chairs for everyone I sat on the little stool with the hard seat. The same stool my mother used to sit on when she was a child. The same stool that sits in my kitchen today; one of only two pieces of my great grandmother that I have.
I don’t remember the flooring or the color of the walls, but I remember the cobalt blue pillow that sat on her couch which sat under a picture window overlooking the yard. If you pressed on the pillow it would vibrate – the early stages of a massage pillow. In the living room there was a closet filled with coats hanging on the rack and on the floor wooden Tinker Toys that entertained us for hours. I remember the bathroom vaguely and the time I accidentally opened the door when my great grandmother was getting out of the shower vividly. I will always remember the wrinkles and frailty of her body and the embarrassed anxiety of feeling I would get into trouble for seeing it. I think the tub was green, but I know she had one of those shower heads that were on a long cord. I remember never being certain how to use the shower, but I don’t remember ever actually taking one.
I remember the day I was in PE class when the school’s secretary pulled me out and walked me back to my classroom. The brown, flat carpet of the hallway, cream walls speckled with art, and the sharp left turn to Mrs. Stuernal’s class. I remember thinking someone had died, knowing someone had died and assuming it was she. My mother’s voice on the end of the phone was clear when she told me and although my grandmother meant much to me, I did not cry.
I remember the last night we all spent together in that house after she was gone. The night before the funeral when all the furniture had been sold and we slept on the floor in the living room. In that memory I believe the carpet was brown and beige, but I can’t be certain. The house was lonely and quiet. It no longer radiated the welcomeness of her love and eagerness to see us each and all. The next morning we sat in chairs in a building I can’t remember and my cousin stood up at the podium to speak. I remember thinking how much braver she was than me when I slipped my letter into grandma’s open casket. I don’t remember the tears like I remember the tears from my great aunt’s funeral when I was seven. But I know they were there.
I remember her white permed hair and how when you hugged her you could feel her spine through her shirt. I remember her always sitting in her chair in the living room and once she let me watch her cook in the kitchen. I remember the space she occupied better than I remember her and I often wonder what all I never knew about her life before becoming my great grandmother. And now, with my aunts, mother, and uncle being the oldest generation on that side of my family, I wonder what else I missed while I was too busy playing on the floor.