Monday, July 20, 2009

The houses were smaller

Well, I have just returned from my Grandma Hal's funeral in Indiana. I met cousins and friends I hadn't seen in at least 30 years. With that Rip Van Winkle effect, people instantly look like their parents and their children are what you thought they'd look like. My god the generations roll along faster there, women my age were grandmothers and great-grandmothers.

People were so kind, we were put up in cousin's homes, we heard stories, were treated to meals, including memorable sweet corn, the first of the season, and felt just how much Grandma's life had been tucked into theirs.

After the burial we drove on to Rochester, the town where we spent summers living in Grandma's two houses. The whole way there, Nedra (my stepmother) and her sister Sonya kept saying the houses didn't look good, one of them apparently had been a meth lab, that we should just look at old photos, spare ourselves, etc. But all us "kids" were adamant, we needed to see the streets, yards, gardens, alleys, and houses--no matter how they looked now.

And then we drove down the shady street and there it was. Not the hideous wrecks we expected, vinyl siding had gone up on both places. New management? They looked fine. Motorcycles parked out back, neatly mown, and tidy. Everything was smaller. So much smaller. But there was the gravel driveway where I accidentally dropped my end of carrying my sister Christina and a piece of the gravel had nailed her scalp. There was the L shaped porch we had lined up on to take turns cranking the home-made ice cream, ice and salt spilling into the lawn. The alley where cousin Robby, with all his ADHD energy, had peddled maniacally on his tricycle. And then I realized what was missing. The gardens behind both houses were ordinary and lacked transformative magic. My grandmother had grown a parking-lot-hiding jungle along a fence, had a grape arbor over the path to the back door, and her clusters of lilies and blooms had made the eye travel the yard the way a great painter arranges the composition of a group portrait. Even the bushes of honeysuckle, where I'd extract a drop of sweetness before the hummingbirds beat me to it, was gone.

A woman drove by, saw all us folks with rented cars just standing there, and gave us the finger. I wonder what ticked her off more, us standing in the street or staring into houses we had no business looking into?

So much change over the decades, houses knocked down to make way for the expanded church, stores with changed purpose, and being a recession, quite a few shops were empty, but the old stone courthouse with its blurry faced stone lions was just as I'd remembered it.

And then it was time to go, as we drove past the cemetery Nedra waved and said, "good bye Mom" just as she had every night on the phone.


mpillbox said...

Thinking of you, Claudia. Micki

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