Saturday, January 19, 2013

Not Quite Sleep Walking...

It seems I have spent an inordinately large number of hours lately, sleepless and walking through places of my childhood as I seek to nod off. Tonight I found myself walking the familiar paths through the house I knew as "Mawmaw and Pawpaw's"--even though I've not set foot there in at least sixteen years, the doorways and floor coverings, the worn spots on the kitchen counter and the bathroom backsplash, the door knobs and latch-locks all creak and rattle so realistically in my memory, it's like a motion picture. Slow motion, somehow. I can walk through in my mind and see every inch of it just as it was when I was a young kid.

Tonight what set me off thinking of the house was the memory of Mawmaw's bedside bag. She had sewn a small silky-fabric pouch that was tacked to the headboard to hold chapstick, her nitroglycerin pills, nail clippers, and tissues. I don't know if there was normally a bedside table or not, but I imagine in that cold old house just having those bedtime necessities within easier reach than the table was a high priority. Of course, the electric blanket control also hung beside the bag on the headboard. There was always an electric blanket in winter, and when I would sit or flop--as children will do--on one of the tightly-made beds, I was often chastened about being "on that blanket". The wires were apparently quite fragile.

Mawmaw's bedroom also contained a diminutive dresser with a mirror(it may have been considered a washstand, but my memory fails me on this detail)made of oak and a tall chest of drawers in a Deco style. Across the room, on the wall where the "path" ran between the kitchen and the "fireplace room" where my grandfather slept, hung her simple white-framed mirror where makeup was applied before trips into "town" to "see her boyfriend". She would joke with me about that as I watched her apply lipstick, first to her lips and then a dot smoothed into each cheek as rouge. The bathroom in the house received much better light than her little bedroom, but I never remember her putting makeup on anywhere but there, in that little no-bigger-than 11x14 mirror.
If I turn from the mirror wall to the right, I see the door into the kitchen. This door could be secured with a turn-latch made of a bit of wood and a nail driven into the door frame. The kitchen side had a hook-latch and a wooden thread spool screwed into the door to keep it closed--mostly to hold in the heat from the gas stove and floor heater on those COLD mornings. The table was right of the door, and the pantry,which was always a wonder-filled place to my young eyes, was in that corner. A few feet left is the door to the dining room, then the stove, a rolling cart that held Tupperware bins of cornmeal, flour, and sugar, as well as the bacon grease tin which always sat by the stove. Then the long expanse of jade marbled green countertop trimmed in aluminum stripping, and the large double-drainboard sink centered under the double windows. The dark honey-colored pine cabinets with their sleek chrome handles always shone in the morning light in that kitchen, even as old as they were. I have a tiny pine table with a silver handle that I bought right after we moved into THIS house--only because it reminded me of her kitchen cabinets.  
Moving around to the other corner was the dishwasher--a portable thing with hoses and knobs that rolled to the sink and dubiously hooked to the faucet to wash dishes. I think she hated that thing, but can't be sure. I do know she seemed to use it rarely, probably because there were "just the two of them"--although I KNOW she messed up some serious dishes, as she cooked nearly everything from scratch, and she cooked several times a day. In later years, after the Christmas when my 3 year old brother gave away the surprise, the microwave sat where the dishwasher had been. I'm not sure if it sat on top or on a cart...but it was next to the refrigerator, where I loved to stand gazing with the door open, and even now when I absentmindedly open the fridge, I can hear Mawmaw talking about "Cerenthia's at it again!" Cerenthia was her mother-in-law who apparently liked to gaze into the icebox. Odd what things are hereditary, isn't it?
Next to the refrigerator was the door to the back screened porch. My pawpaw used the open-framed roof under the tin on the porch to house many of his tools. Screwdrivers, hacksaws, measuring sticks, fly swats, oil cans, and many other things were stored there just overhead. I always thought that was a neat way to keep up with things! That screen porch had some seriously steep steps down to the back yard. They were hard too--I know because I rolled down them several times when opening the screen door would set me off-balance. The barn was off to the back of the house. Pawpaw always had a few cows milling about the pastures. The one I remember best was his BIG old black cow, "Candy".  In later years, we kept our own Jersey cow, "See Claus"--named by my 3 year old brother--in this pasture and barn. 

Back inside the house, I walk through the kitchen door into the dining room where the big buffet, corner cupboard, and the table I now use as a crafting surface ALWAYS stood. This room was a pass-through to the living room, but it had lovely windows out to the side yard with a view of the huge pecan trees(where I spent many long hours swinging) and the pasture, and it had french doors that opened into the living room. The dining room was often kept shut during the winter, but I remember on several occasions helping Queenie the cleaning lady scrub those french door panes--she would get on one side and I'd take the other, until I couldn't quite reach the glass well enough. That was always fun and made me feel so BIG and helpful!

The living room is the largest room in the house. To the left of the french doors was the corner for the TV. It sat on a square table on casters with a gold-fringed tablecloth covering the table. Mom and I set the small Christmas tree up between those french doors and that TV table almost every year--while watching "A Christmas Carol," usually. Next to the TV was a window. One summer I opened the curtain to see a baby SNAKE sandwiched between the window glass and the screen. Pawpaw dispatched that chicken snake with the hoe quickly and efficiently, but I was always afraid to look out that window after that--afraid that the long coiled cord of the rooftop antenna would disguise another snake!
On around the livng room was a gas floor heater, then a rocking chair or loveseat(depending what year), a lamp table between the two front windows that look out to the porch, another rocking chair with an ottoman, and the front door. I would often get in trouble for turning the ottoman on its side and rolling on it across the floor. Once, Pawpaw even took his belt off and patted me with it, scaring me to death! He wouldn't have spanked me for real, but it made an impression. I can still see the twinkle in his eyes, as he knew he startled me pretty good that time!
On the wall just inside the front door was the sofa. In later years Mawmaw bought new furniture, but the sofa I remember best was an old rose-patterned shabby thing that looked like it had taken years and years of after-dinner(midday)naps under a man who had been outside working. Pawpaw "rested his eyes" after lunch every day. I don't know WHAT time he got up in the mornings.

Right of the couch stood the door to the tiny tile-floored hallway which contained four doors. Straight ahead, the small bathroom with its tub-only, toilet, and wall-hung white porcelain sink that I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned for FUN on long afternoons staying with them. Once I cleaned it with a Bounty paper towel and clogged the drain. Uh-oh! I never did THAT again! The bathroom had a wonderful closet where towels and such and wonderful mysterious bottles of all kinds were stored. It also had a clear crystal knob on the closet door. I just LOVED that knob.

If you turned LEFT in the hallway, you went to the front room, or the guest room. This bedroom also had a crystal-knobbed closet door, and it also held a dresser with a large mirror, again in the Deco style, and a tall chest of drawers and a bed that matched. The bed was wonderful--the headboard had sliding doors that concealed storage. Those cubbies held dusty old yearbooks from my mom's and aunts' high school days in Baton Rouge. It was kind of off-limits to hang out in that room, but I would sneak in there and "plunder" the drawers anyway. Mawmaw had some old toys in there--a Viewmaster with slides from a trip to California they once took to see Pawpaw's sister, Katie, and she kept some odd pieces of wonderfully outdated clothing packed away in plastic bags in the closet. This room was always wonderful to me because it had windows on two walls and a door out to the front porch. I always thought it would be PRETTY SPECIAL to sleep in a bedroom that opened to the porch!

Turning right in the hallway, exactly across from the guest room door, was the door into the fireplace room. This room had my pawpaw's bed, mawmaw's sewing machine, a large sleeper sofa, a chest of drawers, a small bookshelf that held stacks of old Reader's Digest magazines and a few books, and of course, the fireplace. It also had a wonderful walk-in closet where I would spend HOURS....Mawmaw kept bags of fabric remnants in that closet, along with her best dresses and shoes(her own bedroom didn't have a closet at all). There was one particular bag that held scraps of blue velvet and some of them had velvet-covered buttons still on them. I made tiny doll clothes out of some of that fabric, but was mostly enamored with her sewing box and all its amazing gadgets and spools and buttons. 

Like I said, I've not been in the old house for at least sixteen years. When I moved off after I married, and then my pawpaw passed away, the house went to the oldest daughter of the family--she had done so much to care for Mawmaw and Pawpaw in those last sick years. They don't actually live there, so we don't get to visit the old place when we go to Mississippi to visit my parents. But every time we pass by there, be it spring when the azaleas are going strong, or fall when the leaves are changing and the spider lilies are in bloom, I expect to see someone sitting in the rockers on the porch, waving a hand and waiting for the next person to drop by for a visit and cup of coffee. When we are there at night and I see the lamplight(on a timer)in the front window, my heart skips just a little before I remember they're not there.
When I was VERY little, we lived in an old green rent house just around the sharp curve from Mawmaw and Pawpaw's, and there was such a wonder to me to be able to look out the bedroom window of that house and see Mawmaw's lamplight shining through her front windows through the woods.

I guess on these late-night treks through her house in my memory, I'm still just wishing I could look out MY front windows and see the lights of home.
There's really no place on earth quite like it.



Marissa said...

What sweet memories you have!! I remember our first home too and it feels like just yesterday.. :) Loved this post!!!

Laura Ingalls Gunn said...

Isn't it amazing the precious memories we have? I too can walk my grandparents home in my mind.

It makes me feel warm, safe and loved. :)

GardenofDaisies said...

What sweet memories, obviously of happy times with people you loved. I loved my Grandparents dearly, and can remember every inch, every drawer, how the coffee pot went together, what the faucets in the bathroom looked like, the chenille spreads on the beds, specific juice glasses in the cupboard, books in the book case... Isn't it funny how these early memories of people and places we love mean so much to us that we keep them forever in a special place in our heart.

Coloradolady said...

I could not agree more. I have some of those same memories from my grandmas home and can tell you each and every detail!! I loved this story.