Tuesday, February 14, 2017
A Treasured Gift
By Kimberly Mack
I miss my grandparents. I think of them often. They were the most supportive and loving influence in my life. Many years ago, long after their passing, while I was living in San Diego, I suddenly had the urge to find their old house. So, I pulled out my map and set out in my gray mustang.
I remember very clearly the first time I saw my grandparents. My mother had died after a long illness when I was seven. My father decided to send my older sister, Judy, and I to San Diego to live with them until he could get settled in Los Angeles.
It was early in December when we left Michigan. There was snow on the ground, and the sky was gray. I watched Judy push her loafers through the snow as we were getting into the car. She said it would probably be a long time before she saw snow again, so she’d better make it good. She was 11. It’s funny how some things remain crystal clear in your mind and others are so easily forgotten. I clung to my father’s hand on the way to the plane. My hand felt so small in his. Trying very hard not to cry, my sister and I got on the plane. We didn’t speak much. I held her hand and she gave me her dolls to play with. I chewed the purple ball of gum my father gave me. He told me if I chewed the gum my ears wouldn’t hurt. I don’t think I ever took that gum out of my mouth the whole way to California. I remember the pilot telling us if we looked out the left side of the plane, we might catch a glimpse of the Rockies. Sometime later his voice again floated over us to announce our air speed and arrival time in San Diego. Then we were on the ground and walking down the ramp of metal stairs into a hot blast of Southern California heat. I was wearing my red wool coat and couldn’t wait to take it off. It felt itchy and uncomfortable, where before it had been warm and snuggly. But I soon forgot about the heat, for my grandmother and grandfather were standing up ahead on the tarmac calling and waving to us. My grandmother, Meme, as we called her, was holding out her arms. I broke into a dead run and straight into her embrace. My grandmother had a wide smiling face, shining brown eyes and her short hair was streaked with gray. My grandfather was wearing a suit and a hat, and his blue eyes were twinkling at us. They took us home and I began to feel safe. We lived with them for two years.
I hadn’t seen the house in over thirty years, but I was excited and filled with a sense of purpose. I felt my grandmother’s presence as if she knew I was coming. I could easily picture her answering the door at my knock and I’d fly into her arms just as I did that day at the airport.
Traffic on the freeway was light and I found my grandparent’s street with little difficulty. I smiled as I drove past the park with the Eucalyptus trees, remembering my bike route planned by my grandfather. When I began to approach the house I could barely contain my excitement, and I held my breath. There it was; 2332 Myrtle Ave. As I slowed down, my eyes swept over the tangerine colored Bougainvillea covering the gate to the walkway. It looked just the same. The blue shutters on the front windows, the maroon garage door, everything looked the way I remembered. I felt as if I had been transported back in time. Any moment my grandmother would come walking out through the garage, her gray hair escaping from her hairpins, her stockings sagging around her ankles, calling me to come in for dinner. It was a weird feeling. I drove on to explore the rest of the neighborhood. Although excited, I also was aware of a feeling of sadness. They were both gone, as were most of the residents from those days. I could not stop time, nor could I bring them back.
Passing the house one last time I peered through my window. It was then I noticed a young girl sitting on the front lawn reading a magazine. She looked up. It was clear I had been studying the house and thought she might think my behavior odd, so I pulled over and got out of the car. She was friendly as I introduced myself and explained that I use to live with my grandparents in the house when I was a little girl. She looked to be in her late twenties. When she told me her landlady was home and invited me in, I couldn’t believe my luck. I jumped at her invitation. As we walked through the familiar gate to the front door, my mind became flooded with more memories.
The landlady was an elderly woman named Lila, of small build, with dark hair and of a European descent I couldn’t quite place. She had a pleasant face etched with wrinkles and warm brown eyes. She offered me tea. I was very touched by her kindness, but not wanting to put her to any trouble, declined. I explained the circumstances again of driving by the house. She told me to make myself at home and look around. I was elated and felt as if the house knew I was there.
Not too much had changed. I wandered through the main entryway and found myself in the kitchen. It had been slightly remodeled with new cabinets and counter tops. I glanced at the table past the long counter and remembered the mornings before school. One of the things my grandmother would fix with my breakfast was a cup of hot cocoa with three small marshmallows. She always served it in one of her yellow china cups. I took a special joy in the cocoa and always wished the marshmallows would last a little longer. The lunches she packed for me always included the bag of Fritos I loved. I shared some of my memories with Lila. I smiled as I told her my grandmother always enjoyed a pot of tea after dinner. I would sit with her while she would peer deep into her cup at the pattern the tea leaves had made to see our fortunes. She had wonderful stories, and I loved to listen to her talk of the days she and Pappy were younger, and the exciting places they had lived around the world when he was a Commander in the Navy.
We wandered back into the dining room. I was especially anxious to see my grandparent’s bath and bedroom. As I walked down the hall, I caught my breath. I could swear it had the same odor. I couldn’t believe it and felt myself trying to get a thorough whiff. It was a scent I always associated with my grandmother. A clean smell of lavender and cedar. Yes, it was all the same, and I felt the urge to gently reach out and touch the cabinets outside their bedroom.
When I arrived at the stairs that led down into the living room, I paused. This room brought back memories mostly of my grandfather. He would sit in one of his big reclining chairs for hours. I remember when I first came to them; it was weeks before I ventured into that part of the house. He was quiet, and I think I was a bit afraid of him. But, I finally struck up my courage and approached him. We called him Pappy. I discovered later he never liked that name, but somehow it had stuck. Pappy taught me many things. I learned how to count change (a most intimidating task). He taught me to boil water, and how to make my first fried egg. Later, I graduated to the preparation of pudding. We would play The Spider and the Fly, and giggle when he caught me. At Halloween Meme made me a princess costume, complete with magic wand, and Pappy took me ‘Trick or Treating.’ He made me my first skateboard, using wheels from a pair of my skates and a piece of wood. It was the best skateboard I ever had. He showed me where I could ride my bike in the neighborhood so I wouldn’t get lost. I played hopscotch on the sidewalk with little pieces of chain he bought me from the hardware store. We’d watch TV; shows like Rawhide with Clint Eastwood, and Perry Mason, starring Raymond Burr.
I turned and began to go up the stairs leading to my old bedroom and playroom. There were rolls of brown carpet on the dark tiled stairs and cans of unopened paint. It was then I learned Lila had rented out my old bedroom and playroom, so those doors were locked. I was disappointed. As we passed what use to be my old playroom, I suddenly remembered my first discovery of Pappy’s old Royal typewriter. I spent many happy times punching the old metal keys as I wrote funny little rhymes and poems for my grandmother. It was the memory of the old Royal typewriter that was the most significant for me. When I was 13 my grandparents bought me a green Smith Corona typewriter. I loved that typewriter and spent hours writing stories and lugging it everywhere I went. Whenever it needed to be repaired, Pappy would see that it got fixed, and we would take the bus into town to the repair shop. I used it so much I always needed to buy new ribbons. I still have my typewriter and will never part with it. It is a treasured gift. For years, Meme subscribed to numerous writing journals for me, predicting I was going to be a writer. She bought me my first Webster’s Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She was always there to encourage my writing. She read everything I wrote, and always gave me constructive criticism and advice.
The last place I had to see was my grandmother’s beloved garden. She would spend every evening watering and tending it. I had many fond memories spending the evenings nearby collecting snails or making mud pies. But, I was to be sorely disappointed. Once the garden had been thriving with colorful Birds of Paradise, roses and a variety of flowers. Now there was nothing but weeds and dead overgrown brush. It made me sad. I felt like crying. Like my grandmother, her garden was gone as well.
We walked back towards the house and I felt it was time for me to go. I thanked Lila. She had been so kind to let me into her home. She smiled and I impulsively hugged her. As she went back into the house, I walked up the pathway towards the gate. I turned for a final look and silently said goodbye. It was time I returned to the present.
I drove home marveling at the events of my trip. I realized that somehow I had been given an incredible gift. What a wonderful surprise it had been to be able to go inside my grandparent’s old home to look around, and to relive so many happy moments. I made a mental note to write Lila a thank you card as soon as I got home.
An hour later I pulled my Smith and Corona out of my closet. Setting it on my desk, I opened the case and lovingly gazed at the green and gray machine. I checked the ribbon and rolled in a sheet of paper. My fingers hit the keys. I miss you Meme and Pappy.
©Copyright 2011 Kimberly Mack
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