Wednesday, August 12, 2009

MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS

I borrowed part of a lyric from an old Dean Martin song for the name of tonite's blog. That was even a memory, a memory of a time when the airwaves were full of singable songs and wonderful artists. If we try to find any of this music on the radio today, the Station calls it THE OLDIES. Pretty soon that's how we'll be referred to. What I've done tonite has actually surprised me because the subject matter of this blog was just going to be a little prose about a memory and wasn't meant to be a lengthy epistle, just a few thoughts that weren't going to be in poem form about:

RECOLLECTIONS OF GRANDMA’S HOUSE
By Patty Lynn

Tonight as I was watching television I looked up at the screen during the commercial, no less, and had a memory flash. Pictured there was a white old- fashioned house with sunlight that caused dappled shadows to filter through the trees and I couldn’t help but recollect a memory from my childhood. I lovingly recalled the times that my mom and dad would drive me to my Grandma’s house in the summer to spend time with my favorite Grandma, the one I called Nana. As a side note, I thought it would be so great to have my grandsons call me Nana, but it never stuck. Instead, I’m Grandma, Grandma Pat or, on some occasions, I’m known only as Gram. Now maybe those will morph in to Nana someday but as of now I’m Grandma. What’s in a name anyway? It’s just great being a Grandma. But I digress.

My grandma, Nana, lived in a quaint little Wisconsin town called Jefferson which, at the time (1953ish), had a population of about 5000 people. That is only significant in comparison to the town I lived in, which was considerably larger (Milwaukee). I couldn’t wait to get to Nana’s house. She was always doing things like baking and cooking things with delicious smells and her house had so many nooks and crannies to investigate. Her house had a barn-shaped roof with two stories and I loved the way the inside steps led up to the second level. It had a balcony with a railing and when you reached the top, you could look down the stairs or go into one of three rooms. It had that smell, you know, that grandparents-house-smell, and each room seemed like a trip back in time.

One of the upstairs rooms was Nana’s sewing room. No wallpaper or paint, just a cardboard-like wall board, a bed, Nana’s sewing machine and a closet off the main room where Nana stored all her sewing materials. She loved to make aprons, really pretty aprons, ginghams, ones with hand embroidery and ones with rick-rack. I loved just saying “rick- rack” but for those of you who don’t know what rick-rack is, it’s a kind of trim that created a wiggly line on many of her aprons. She’d put it on the bottom or a couple of rows on a pocket and it came in hundreds of colors. Besides her sewing goodies this room had the “coolest” real, candlestick phone, chrome and black with a cotton cord. I thought it was the neatest thing I had ever seen. Not many people had a phone like this one, considered “old-fashioned” even at that time. You couldn’t use it to make calls out, because it had no dial. You see, when this phone was installed, you’d have to pick up the receiver and an operator would ask what number you wished to call and she made the connection. Now, it could only be used as an extension. It was heavy, too, not like the reproductions you see today. I liked to pick it up and pretend I was making a call or talking to someone. I guess I thought it might have been a reminder of the time my grandpa, who I called Papa, first began working for the telephone company. He worked there his whole life. He was devastated when he was forced to take retirement at age 65. He just gave up.

The room next door was the room that had been my mom’s room when she was growing up. It had a modified four-poster bed in dark wood with a beautiful hobnail bedspread. There was a matching dresser and what was called a vanity. It had a tall mirror in the middle that had hinged sides to give you a better angle when you were looking at your reflection. There was an opening in the middle with a chair so you could sit and brush your hair before bed. At the time my mother was a girl, you were expected to brush your hair at least a hundred times before you went to bed to promote healthy, shiny locks. On either side of the chair were two sets of drawers to keep your powder, your brush and comb set, bobby pins, pretty hair combs, and stockings. I loved to sit on the chair and imagine I was a girl back in my mother’s day, primping and preening, getting ready for the “Big Dance” or the School Prom. On the wall was a pair of framed silhouettes that my mom had made in school. For those of you not sure of what that is, it’s the profile of a person, usually, done in black paint that was applied to the underside of a piece of clear glass. In this case it was a man and a woman, full figures. These were particularly intricate and I marveled at my mother artistry.

The final upstairs room was Papa’s room and just stepping into it, you got the feeling of him. What I mean by that is, it was simple, masculine, no frills, practical, just like Papa. He did have a monogrammed brush, mirror and comb set but I could never visualize him using it. My Papa was a very stern Welshman, almost devoid of any real emotion. I remember his black, bushy eyebrows that always seemed to be in a continual scowl. I often wondered how my Nana had ever been attracted to Papa because they were the polar opposites of each other. Nana was sweet, kind, soft-spoken but with a darling way about her. Papa, well Papa, was Papa, just like his bedroom, rather stoic and not much of a participator in life and certainly not demonstrative. My mother told me once that her dad had never told her he loved her in all the years she was growing up. I can’t imagine that and it was obvious she was hurt by that, but it was the way it was. No wonder my mom gravitated toward a guy like my Dad, outgoing, loving, verbal and an incredible sense of humor.

The lower level of my grandparents house had some pretty interesting things as well. There was a living room that they called the parlor, the room you in which you received your guests and in it was a full counsel radio with a mantel clock on top that struck on every hour. The only place you can see a radio like this is in an antique store. Adjacent to that was the sitting room. I never quite knew what that was but I just loved Nana’s beautiful china cabinet. In had rounded glass sides and housed both the “good” china and some special things, paperweights for one. She had a substantial collection and as a child I marveled at how these detailed flowers and lacy patterns could be created inside these clear, glass globes. I often wonder what happened to those treasures. I do so wish that some of these mementos could have been kept. When my grandparents passed away my mom had an estate auction. I would have loved to have been there and been able to say, “No, don’t put that up for auction. I want it.” But, as life goes, I was in bed trying to salvage a pregnancy that, as it turns out, could not be saved.

Besides the living room and sitting room, Nana had a lovely dining room with a hutch in which she stored the best silverware and fancy glasses. This silverware was real silver and had to be painstakingly polished. What we had at home was called silverware too but was stainless steel and required no polishing. There were times I remember helping my grandmother with the polishing but it wasn’t very enjoyable. I suppose in the days when most women stayed home and the fathers went off to work, there was plenty to do, like polishing the silverware. Those moms of old had plenty to do besides taking care of the children. Nothing was speedy. No Pledge Wipes, and Swiffer mops for those ladies. We’ve got it pretty easy.

And now, I’ve saved my favorite place for last, the pantry. I had never seen such a thing and to my youngster eyes, it was amazing. It was long and narrow and was filled with the best things. Stored there were the ingredients for everything from cookies and cakes, to kuchen and bread. What’s more, the pantry was also used to store those delicacies. I loved to spend time opening drawers and cupboards, just looking at everything, smelling it all, and, of course, stealing a sweet or two. Gosh, I loved that pantry! I thought it was fantastic a veritable wonderland of all things yummy. I’ve never seen another one to this day. To get to the pantry you had to go through Nana’s kitchen and that was pretty unique, too. Nana had what I called a hang-on-the-wall sink, one side was the basin and the other was the drainer. No dishwasher here. Pretty inconvenient by today’s standards and the sink was where my Papa shaved in the morning. It had a mirrored medicine cabinet above it where he could see his reflection and hanging from the sink was his towel and his leather strap. That was there so he could sharpen his single-edged razor. It was a different world back then.

Some of the summer’s I spent with my Nana, she tried to strike up a friendship with one of the neighbor’s kid, a girl about my age. I don’t remember much about her but I do remember that she, like I, was a plain, rather plump girl. She had red hair and her name was Nancy. It’s pretty hard to entertain a kid when you’re long passed the child-rearing age, but my Nana sure did try. I remember the one day she took me out to meet her friend, Fuzzy, who had a farm. What a character! She and my Nana were good friends and Nana got all of her eggs from Fuzzy. These were actually plucked (no pun intended) from the chickens in her hen house. I don’t remember actually being in the hen house but I do remember seeing a real cow in the barn, up close! What a shock! I’d never seen a cow except in pictures or through the car window on the way to Nana’s house, in a field, quite a ways off. Gosh, those cows were BIG! I couldn’t believe it.

I do have one unfortunate memory of one of the summer’s I spent a few days with my Nana. I say this because no sooner had mom and dad dropped me off at my Grandmother’s house than I was sitting on the porch in her porch swing, but I wanted to call home and tell my parents that I was “…Bored! Can you come and get me. It’s so quiet. Maybe a car or two goes by the house once an hour, but come on. I can’t stand it. Nothing happens here.”

That commercial, that thing that prompted all these memories, seen now from the perspective of a 60 something Grandma myself, was a reminder of how incredible those times were. And the quiet, slow paced days are ones I wish I could relive. It’s too bad the old adage is true: “so soon old, so late smart.” The days I feel are passing by so rapidly and what I’ve learned from being a Grandma is simply this, we must savor every moment, every memory, every person in your life, for we never know when our time will come, or how many days we have left. My grandma, my Nana, was the best Grandma any child could ever have and the home she shared with Papa was a magical place, a place of quiet peace and lots of love. I only hope I can be the kind of Grandma to my grandchildren that my Nana was to me.

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