When you're a little kid, grandma and grandma's house were not entirely separate. It was one big experience. I would leave the world of Boulder, with schoolmates and wild events, and travel to Windsor Gardens, where these old ladies lived in an apartment building with lots of sidewalks. All of the furniture was different, all of the rooms were different, all of the people were different. And since these experiences were linked, I wrote the following poem.
In my grandmother's house, there were two walls of pictures.
I was told that some of the pictures were my mother, but somewhere in my mind I doubted that. "She doesn't fit on a chair that small. She doesn't have curls. She's much taller than I am."
I was better able to believe that the other people on that wall were my grandmother and grandfather.
Almost every time I heard about him, I was told he died from smoking a pipe. By the time I entered middle school, I was rabidly anti-tobacco.
The other wall had art that I didn't care for. Lots of fancy frames that a little kid might destroy.
But on the wall also hung a small mirror and a green music box. I would kneel on the couch and play Greensleeves until everyone was annoyed but me.
In my grandmother's house was a bedroom.
It had two separated double beds, like Bert and Ernie.
My grandmother's sister Margie slept in the other bed. She was Ernie. I barely remember Bert. Blodwyn died when I was three.
On a dresser was a pin cushion. Since the house had few toys, I found amazement in old ladies' beauty supplies.
In my grandmother's bathroom was a plastic troll. The kind with pink hair.
I learned about control in the bathroom, and cued my memory with that doll.
There was a scale. "Look gramma! I'm twenty-two and a half pounds!"
It was easier to adjust than the one we had at home. I'd make myself weigh 250 pounds and imagine a really fat person. Or I'd imagine I was pregnant.
In my grandmother's house was a room full of old stuff.
It was a dining room, but we never ate there.
It had a cabinet of old dishes that we never used.
It had decades worth of objects saved by a teacher. Some interesting, some just kept out of habit.
I'm sort of amazed that all of that stuff was kept in the dining room. My grandmother's history fills significant portions of two rooms in our house today.
In my grandmother's house was a couch.
It was pretty firm and had a bit of a musty smell, but I could still have fun with it.
I slept on that couch. I'd wake up early to the distinctive cough of my grandmother, her unique footstep making its way from carpet to kitchen tile.
In my grandmother's kitchen was a display of cooking herbs she didn't use.
There wasn't anything particularly exciting in her cooking, but she could present it with a funny face, so I laughed and enjoyed it.
In my grandmother's stove were pots and pans. I always wondered what would happen if she forgot them and tried to cook something. That wasn't ever a problem.
In my grandmother's refrigerator there was ice cream.
She always put on a sly grin as we were getting ready to leave, knowing I would ask for ice cream. If I didn't ask, she'd suggest it. I don't eat ice cream any more, and neither does she.
In my grandmother's refrigerator was a jar of wheat germ. I don't think she ever used it. It sat in the corner until I came for a visit. Then I'd eat it by the spoonful as a snack. She probably thought I was kind of strange. I do.
On my grandmother's refrigerator were several "Hide-A-Key" magnets. That always confused me. If someone's looking for a key, won't they look there first? But when I put keys in them, neither my grandmother nor my mother could find them. They'd rightly accuse me of putting them someplace squirrely.
I think I got squirrel genes from my grandmother. She excelled at hiding pills under her plate, Kleenex in her bed, and small objects in drawers.
My grandmother's house, in contrast to my home, was always clean.
We did the dishes after every meal.
There wasn't clutter all over the floor.
When a few crumbs attracted ants, we all got down on hands and knees and crushed them with spoons.
And when the plastic bag was full of garbage, I would carry it down the hall and drop it down a pull-down chute into a mysterious hole. This hole must have been very deep to hold everyone's trash. Garbage trucks never came, so the trash must have stayed there.
On my grandmother's porch were a few relics of decades gone by.
A mobile made of 7-Up cans spun in the rare breeze.
A foldable wire cart captured my young imagination. I loved to push it around the sidewalks.
A broom handle allowed the door to slide open a crack at night, but kept the burglars away. If they weren't clever, anyway. I liked to play with the broom handle, but was always told not to. I might lose it.
A medium sized light rubber ball complemented the door stick in minimalistic baseball games. The ones where a clump of grass is first base, a tree is second base, and third base is a long way away. You know the ones. Where the kid plays all positions simultaneously.
I still play games with people in my head. And yet I spent many an hour in my grandmother's later years trying to convince her that the people she was talking about weren't real.
Near my grandmother's house were neighbors.
They were as mysterious to my four-year-old mind as kings and knights were to my eleven-year-old mind.
They had furniture with lots of frills, the sorts of things rambunctious kids would destroy.
Mr. Seeley's apartment had a lot of mirrors. My grandmother said he would get in trouble for feeding the birds.
In the middle of June, a surprising number of flags would appear about the lawns of Windsor Gardens. Back in Boulder, it was a holiday only because school was out.
Christmases were brightly decorated too. My generation has a very different set of holiday values than my grandmother's.
I would imagine the sort of people that lived in the blue building, the red building, the yellow building. What was it like in someone else's grandmother's house?
All these old people, connected by flat sidewalks.
I learned to walk on those sidewalks. They presented a small child with boundless possibilities for travel.
Not like the sidewalks I traverse today -- cluttered with cigarette butts, political chalkings, and skateboarders.
I've replaced visits to the retirement community with life in the residence hall community. Surrounded by 20-year-olds instead of 70-year-olds. Apartments with antique furniture have been replaced by dorm rooms with plastic chairs and ratty couches. Happily married couples in their sunset years are now hormone-ridden teenagers chasing each other like animals.
But I still make funny faces.
I still play with language in strange ways.
I still walk down the sidewalk having fun, not caring what others think.
That's what I learned at my grandmother's house.
At my grandmother's house, I hardly ever saw any other kids.
I wondered what the purpose of grandparents was if they didn't have any grandkids.