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To Whoville With Love

August 6, 2010

The mourning dove coos as the sun settles low in the sky.  Mourning doves remind me of my grandma Bert.  My mom’s mom.  Her birthday would have been on Tuesday this past week.  She lived in a small town in the bump on the west side of Minnesota, right on the South Dakota border .  We would drive out to see her at least once a summer.  It was usually for the week of her birthday.  There was always the corn festival that happened right about the same week, so we would walk to main street and then to the shores of Big Stone Lake to shop all the little vendors that gathered there.

My grandma’s house was next to a park, so her backyard blended in to it.  You could run out the basement door and not stop until you got to the edge of the overlook.  You could see the whole lake from there.  I remember chasing rabbits in the park with my butterfly net.  There were so many rabbits, that I thought it was a sure thing to catch one.  My parents told me if I caught one, I could keep it.  Let’s just say, I don’t give up easily.  I never did catch one, but I tried all night, until I was forced to go in and get ready for bed.  There were so many close calls too.  I thought for sure I would have a pet rabbit by bedtime.

My bedroom was called “the back bedroom.”  It had a double bed in it with a white chenille bedspread.  There was a round TV tray for a bed side table, and a beautiful oak desk that sits in Jeff’s office in our basement now.  On that desk sat a frame with a birthday card from Ronald Reagan displayed in it.  My grandma was so proud of that!  One wall was covered with  plaques with pictures decoupaged on them.  I had a couple of pictures up on that wall, but so did my mom when she was little.  I used to stare at all those pictures and try to memorize them.  Every morning when I woke up, I would hear the mourning dove cooing.  I remember laying there and listening while staring at those pictures.  I loved it.

I loved everything about my grandma’s house.

She had an attic that had a stairway up to it, so you could actually go up into the attic and look around.  She never let me go up there to play, but she would take me up there to poke around at all of her stored treasures.  I don’t remember any of the artifacts, but I remember walking slowly up the stairs, and how with each step the air got hotter.  There was a window at the top of the stairs that looked down onto the driveway.  There were boxes of stuff neatly scattered around.  I still wish I could go up there and snoop, it was like learning a secret.

Her kitchen was huge.  She had a red stool by the rotary phone that had steps that could fold up under the seat.  I marveled at that, and took ownership of the stool.  Her kitchen table is where we played Yahtzee and cards, mostly Kings in the Corners.  We would play for dimes, and keep score.  We would always eat dinner in the dining room.  The dining room was always freezing.  That was where the window air conditioner was.  It was always turned up to “high.”  She was the best cook there ever was.  I pale in comparison.  I try my hardest to get my scalloped potatoes and ham to be like hers, but I don’t think I ever will.  I still have her small egg timer.  It sits next to my stove shaking its head at all of my mistakes.

The sun room was my place to read.  There were windows on three walls, a couch and a chair.  I keep dreaming of adding on a sun room of my own some day.  A place that is off the beaten path, where the sunshine lives.  I spent hours on that couch with my feet propped up on the back.  If I wasn’t reading, I was exploring some aspect of her garden, which was right outside the windows.  I was in this room when I was told that my Grandpa Doc died.  I was in fifth grade.  I remember not being able to cry, and trying to make myself teary.  I knew that was what was supposed to happen, but my body was not cooperating.  I can still go back to that moment when my Grandma’s best friend, Helen, came in the front door, my grandma met her there, and then cried out, “He’s Gone.”  I remember panicking.  Everyone else was crying.  I hid in the sun room.

The basement was my favorite place to play.  It was a big open space with tiled floors.  The old tile, just like the ones they used to tile school classrooms and church basements.  We could roller skate down there.  We had the roller skates that you could fasten on your shoes.  There was a big closet that held all of the toys.  There was a baby buggy that my kids play with.  Sadly, they have wreaked havoc on it, and it is almost ruined.  I also have the high chair that I used to play with.  It’s cushion was made out of the fabric from the window treatments in her kitchen.  I never let my kids play with it.  It is very wobbly, but still intact.  The cushion is my favorite part.  My grandma made it.  The fabric has the exact same pattern that her kitchen wallpaper had.  My mom used to do that in our house when I grew up too.

The basement also housed an old fashion wood burning stove.  The kind where you could lift up the burners with a handle that fit into a groove.  We would play with that for hours, cooking things.  It was right next to the door that led out to the backyard.  Obviously, the basement was our “house.”  It had a couch and coffee table, a bed in another corner, a bathroom, and a kitchen.  We would open the door and sweep the entry.  And then go and sweep out the screened in porch, and play in there too.  It was the perfect play place.  I bet my mom loved to visit there.  She never saw me.  I was too busy.

It is summer days like today that remind me so much of my trips to my grandparents house.  We always complained about going.  It was such a long drive.  But I loved it once we got there.  I wish my kids could have known my grandma Bert.  I loved listening to the stories she told about how much trouble she got into when she was a little girl, I know my kids would love them too.  I wish I could remember them better.  Some day we will go back and visit her town, and I will take them to the park and show them her house.  Maybe we will go during the corn festival, so we can walk along the shores of Big Stone lake and let all the ghosts of the past walk with us.

  1. August 6, 2010 10:07 pm

    Oh I loved that story! I read it sooooo slowly and I could picture everything-I think especially the tiled basement floor and the air getting hotter and hotter as you climbed the attic stairs. I remember that so well from the attic in the house I grew up in. I would love to visit that town in the summer. The lake, the vendors, fresh corn sound so wonderful. I hope your kids enjoy it when you do take them.

    • August 9, 2010 11:18 pm

      Thanks Jamie~

      It is amazing what your brain can do when you are not distracted every 5.3 seconds. I love remembering my time there, and I haven’t had the opportunity to sink into memory lately.

      Hey, since Christina thinks this will be a great writing assignment for my students, will you write a memory piece that I can share with them?

  2. August 7, 2010 1:42 am

    That was pure beauty!! What a treasure trove of wonderful memories, and the best part? You brought my own memories of my grandparents home and summers there flooding back. Thank you. :)

    • August 9, 2010 11:19 pm

      Oh, thank you! I would love to hear about your grandparents too. Will you write a memory piece for me to share with my students? It is Christina’s idea, and I think it would be great to share a bunch from all my favorite writers!

  3. August 9, 2010 5:54 am

    Loved this. This glimpse into memory. This, btw, is a lovely writing assignment for your students. Everyone remembers a place from their childhood… a bedroom, a house, a basement… theirs or someone’s that they loved…

    • August 9, 2010 11:20 pm

      Yes, I agree. A perfect writing assignment. Will you write one that I can share? Or, can you pick one that you have already written?

  4. August 9, 2010 7:45 am

    Sigh…so good, Megs. Isn’t it wonderful we can remember everything as it was, even if things have changed? I still miss my grandparents’ old house (that burned). The new one is just not the same, never will be… I agree with Christina, this could be a great exercise for your students.

    • August 9, 2010 11:22 pm

      Oh, my gosh! Your grandparent’s house burned down?? How awful! What happened?

      And as for the writing assignment…will you write one that I can share? Or, pick one that you have already written?

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