I don't remember who actually picked out that couch--maybe an aunt or even a decorator--but it was the boldest piece in the room. Even the red glass chandelier above the stairway (which one uncle once likened to something seen in a bordello) couldn't compare to it. As I linger in Grandma and Grandpa's living room, I am drawn to the serenity of one corner where her chair waits patiently each evening, the floor lamp hovering beside it. Here, at day's end, Grandma sits and reads her Bible like a devoted scholar of the Word. I used to watch her, quiet and careful, to see if she was getting comfort, peace, happiness, or enlightenment from this daily ritual. Each time I observed her, she seemed to be studying, learning, almost...girding. My grandmother, who saw the Reverend Billy Graham as a sort of ecclesiastical superhero, was gritty about her Bible.
As is the case with many homes, Grandma and Grandpa used their dining room for everything but dining. Theirs contained Grandpa's desk, a dark mahogany trove of drawers which seemed to contain something new and exciting every time we visited; an exquisitely carved tall writing secretary that would make an Antiques Roadshow host salivate; one of Grandma's several sewing machines (I think this is the one she won as a prize for something); an actual drop-leaf dining room table shoved up against the wall; an incredibly comfortable but noisy rocking chair which all the grandkids loved because it rocked so far back that it was almost dangerous; and a frosted glass light fixture hanging from the middle of the ceiling that all of us kids called The Wedding Cake. This light fixture was huge, looked handpainted, and did look exactly like a wedding cake. Sometimes, my little sister and I would lie on our backs just to look at it. And on one memorable visit, we found an ancient pack of cigarettes in the desk drawer.
In the kitchen is where the defining character of Grandma and Grandpa's marriage becomes clear. On any given day when we would come to visit them, we would be likely to find Grandpa washing dishes or setting out the lunch dishes (only, they called the afternoon meal "dinner"; the evening meal was "supper") or puttering at some chore or other. Grandma was invariably at her sewing machine--the primary one--in the kitchen. She had a couple of machines she used, and her Number One was a treadle machine. There it is, at the back of the kitchen behind the table, right under all the windows. Next to it is a little half-bath. Grandma's kitchen is, to me, huge. And the cupboards seem to go all the way up to the ceiling. How can they reach all the way up there? It isn't a big deal, though; all the everyday things are down low, and the Important Things For Grandchildren are stored in the lowest cabinet of all. Those things are the cookies. I can see them now: thick, brown molasses cookies and her "white" cookies made with sour cream, both soft and fat and as big around as a baby's head. Oh lord, those cookies. Some years, I was all about the brown cookies; other years, the white. And it didn't matter when we came to visit, there were always cookies! How did she do it?
It is a kitchen of Many Little Miracles. Horehound drops and pink wintergreen discs. Creamy homemade mints from my Uncle Marshall's candy shop. Pies with strange fruits like ground-cherries and elderberries and my all-time favorite, rhubarb. Pennsylvania Dutch pot pie, which isn't pie at all, but doughy dumplings and ham hocks and rich broth. Grandma and Grandpa canned everything, and we had corn that tasted like summertime, even in the grey doldrums of winter. Grandpa was famous for "cleaning up the last" of everything, leading to odd mixtures and creations on his plate. Once, Grandma scolded him for eating peanut butter and baloney, and he made a funny face at her behind her back to make us laugh.
It was decades before the idea of the Man Cave, but that's what Grandpa's basement and garage were. Downstairs, Grandpa had built himself a workshop for turning out whatever hardware was necessary for the latest of Grandma's sewing projects. For the longest time, it was fancy doll beds that Grandma was making skirts and sheets and coverlets for and selling at the Senior Citizens' Center. Grandpa made the actual beds for her to dress. Also downstairs was a sawhorse with a real saddle that we grandkids would ride to let off steam, the canning stove and equipment (perfect for playing house), and the door to the garage. We didn't go out in the garage without Grandpa, and my memory is very dim here. Stories abound, however, about Grandpa letting cider "go hard" out there. I'm not sure I believe them, partly because I can't imagine Grandpa ever being without full possession of his faculties, and partly because I can't imagine Grandma putting up with that behavior because, believe me, there was absolutely no way it could have occurred in secret.
Sometimes, if it's a particularly sleepless night, I even drift all the way up the steps with their comfortable, familiar creaks and pause in the bedroom where I used to sleep when we'd spend the night. The wallpaper is greyish blue with sprigs of dogwoods, and the bed is soft and springy. Outside, I hear the sounds of mourning doves and the occasional car as it travels the brick street, stops at the intersection, then continues up the slight hill on its way. I know the pictures on the skirted vanity--wedding pictures of my aunt, my mother, and all their attendants. I can hear the soft murmurs and laughter of the grownups down below as they talk about relatives, kids, the past, and the future. I can feel the crocheted fancywork on the end of the case as I turn my pillow to the cool side and fall asleep in the big, wide bed at Grandma's house.