Saturday, March 30, 2013

Remembering My Grandparents' House

Eight months ago, give or take a few days, I became a grandmother. I babysit for that little sweetheart every weekday, and I LOVE the way she smiles when she comes through the door. I don't know if it will always be this way, but right now Grandma and Grandpa's house means FUN!

Adaline meets Grandpa
Adaline has a routine with her grandpa (who is one of her favorite people in the whole world) where he takes her around the living room. She greets the gnomes on top of the bookcase, squeals at the picture of her daddy's cousins and points out "Mama, Dadadadadaaaa" and herself and Uncle Nick in another picture. She also loves a very old picture of "Becky and Tommy" although I'm certain she has no idea that little girl in the picture is her grandma!

A different picture of Tommy (now Thom) and Becky (now Becke) 

The other day we drove through Evanston, and I had trouble remembering the cross streets that led to my grandparents' house. They lived on Lawndale Avenue for about 40 years, and I spent a lot of time there when I was a kid. I have some very random memories of that house.

The house was a bungalow, with concrete steps up to the front door. The first level of steps (four, as I recall) were easy to jump from - no challenge to me or my younger brothers and sisters. Up by the front door, though, there was a concrete "shelf" considerably higher up. Jumping off of THAT to the sidewalk below definitely earned points with the siblings. I don't like heights, but I jumped from that "shelf" more times than I can count.

My grandmother came from New England, and she had definite ideas about how kids should behave. She had an attic packed to the rafters with all kinds of cool things, and yet she wouldn't let us play up there. The basement was allowed, but to my mind, it wasn't nearly as exciting. Looking back, though, I remember a few things about the basement that intrigued me:

*My grandfather had a couple ping-pong tables situated under Gro-lights, where he grew begonia cuttings in vermiculite.

*He had a bomb shelter-slash-pantry in the basement, filled with old canned goods and drying bulbs that he forced every spring, mainly narcissus and hyacinths.

*There weren't many toys around the house, but there WERE some Big Little Books that belonged to my uncle Jim, who was only ten years older than me. My grandmother suspected they were valuable, though, and didn't like us to play with them. (Which made those books all the more attractive to us!)

*I don't remember my grandfather ever building anything, but there was a workshop in the back of the basement with a work table and some interesting tools. I was fascinated with the heavy metal vice - I'm amazed I never used it as a thumb screw on my siblings!

*My uncle Jim had a bedroom sectioned off near the work table. My favorite thing about the room was a painting hanging over the bed of a big old train. The train's headlights were trained on the door, and every time I walked into the room I shivered, feeling like the train was going to jump off the wall and run me down.

*I remember my grandparent's bedroom best the way it was when I was a little kid. The curtains were patterned with big cabbage roses, a pattern I've always loved. My grandfather would pull a book down from his closet shelf and show me his silver certificate dollar bills. It seemed like hidden treasure to me! On hot summer mornings he would make us each a bowl of blueberries with milk and sugar, a treat that stills makes me think of childhood summers.

*My grandmother collected china and her table was always beautifully set. When she made pancakes, the syrup was never poured from a bottle - it was warmed up and served in a moose-shaped creamer. To me the moose = syrup, but for some reason my grandmother put vinegar in it once. I poured it on my pancakes and, embarrassed to criticize her cooking, choked them down until someone else complained. I can still remember the taste of vinegar-soaked pancakes, which is probably why I rarely eat pancakes these days.

*My uncle Dave was in the Navy when I was young, but Jim was a teenager, and he was often stuck babysitting for me. I was thrilled to be taken along on his dates, and if he was upset at being saddled with me, he didn't show it. Jim's bedrooms changed as I grew up - for awhile the middle bedroom was his, then the room on the back porch, and then the basement.

The middle bedroom held the secrets. The wallpaper was patterned like wagon wheels, and when I was supposed to be taking a nap one day I noticed Jim had written letters between the spokes of several wheels. I loved mysteries, and I assumed the letters were a secret code. They were, in a way. He'd written the names of all his girlfriends between the wheel spokes. I seem to recall earning money by hinting about the secrets of the wallpaper whenever he brought a girl to the house.

*In the living room was a grand piano my grandmother played regularly. She and my grandfather, who was a notable tenor, sang duets. They had a Lerner & Lowe songbook I memorized back in the day, although my piano playing skills never went much beyond "Heart and Soul." There was also a big white fireplace with bookcases on either side. Before I could read, I'd look for the red book with the gold crescent moon on the side, and pull it out so my grandfather could read Br'er Rabbit to me.

*My grandfather liked to have a fire going even in spring, and after my grandmother's big meals he would flop down on the carpet in front of the fire and take a nap. The first time I brought Marty - my future husband - to the house, I neglected to tell him about my grandfather's naptime habit. He was appalled when we all moved into the living room after dinner. My grandfather was sprawled on the floor and everyone just kept talking and stepping around him.

Marty gasped and caught my arm, gesturing to the floor. "Your grandfather..." he choked. "He's..." "Sleeping," I said. And then felt my face turn bright red when I realized what he'd thought. Oh well, we are a strange family. It's probably a good thing he learned that early on.

My grandfather in a hat my parents brought back from China

*I still remember the neighbors - Dr. Hedge, who had a beautiful Annabelle hydrangea at the corner of his house, the Rockefellows a few houses down, my friends Linda Smith and Jeannie Hamer.

We never did find Lawndale Avenue when we were driving around. Maybe it's for the best. It's always weird to go by the houses from our youth and see someone else living there.


Rosa's Journal said...

I loved reading this.

Becke Davis said...

Thanks, Rosa!

Debbie Haupt said...

Becke, I loved being with you in your grandparents house one more time

Becke Davis said...

Debbie - I'd love to drive by it sometime, but it would be weird to see someone else living there.

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