Grandma and Grandpa’s house.
In my mind’s eye, I see them – clear as day. They stand strong. Nothing fancy or flashy about them. Square foot wise, neither are worth mentioning. But floor plans and bedroom to bathroom ratios don’t matter when it comes to my grandparents’ homes. There weren’t any secret passage ways or musty old attics with clothes from the “olden days.” I didn’t care. To me, they were special. They were my grandparents’ houses – made of wood and perishable materials. Nothing special to the naked eye. But inside. Inside was where the magic took place. Yes. Inside is where love grew strong and laughs rang out loud and clear.
As one of the “babies” in the family, on both my maternal and paternal sides, I don’t know anything, except from what others have told me, about my Grandma “A’s” house on the lake. It was a long time ago. Back when Grandpa was around – years before any signs of sickness came his way. I just remember the “house in town,” as opposed to “the house on the lake.” But what I remember is good. It makes me smile. It floods my mind with memories. The smells of Christmas dinner. The cramped kitchen table. The cold basement that required at least three hand-made quilts to keep from freezing. The way the floors creaked. The view of the Christmas tree in the front window all lit up with blue lights (Grandpa’s favorite). How you could sit in the living room and watch people – cousins, aunts and uncles, and my grandma’s dear friends walk along the sidewalk to the back of the house. The tomato plants on the back deck. The pictures that hung on the wall. The exact spot the family photo albums were kept. The narrow basement stairs. The sound of my grandma’s lift chair. The way you had to hurdle over people’s legs in the living room in order to get from one side of the house to the other. The time I flooded the bathroom because I didn’t put the shower curtain outside the tub. The sauna in the downstairs bathroom that creeped me out. How I would rather die than shower in the basement shower. The time my two older cousins hid in the bathroom tub and I thought it was the best idea ever. The bench covered in a “horse blanket” in the back entry. The years shared with Grandma and Grandpa “A.” After Grandpa’s passing, much earlier than we would have liked, I was only in kindergarten, it was just Grandma’s house. And I loved it.
On the other side of town, lived my dad’s parents. There house was so different from Grandma’s. Yet, simple and understated just the same. And I remember dinners at the dining room table. The candles my Grandma would burn at every meal. The smells. The narrow stairs leading to the low-ceiling bedrooms. The weird shape of the bathroom countertop. The room that housed Grandpa’s hunting guns and gear. The place on the stairs where they kept extra pop that couldn’t fit in the fridge. The old fashioned freezer next to the washing machine. The sight of my Grandpa watching the Twins or Vikings. The exercise bike, oddly tucked in the actual front entrance (no one used it – ever). The family Christmases where Grandpa would video tape us saying “hi” to our relatives out West. The sound of my Grandpa playing guitar. The funny looking pictures of my dad from high school with “weird hair.” How you could see the church from their front window. The picture my dad took from their cabin at sunset that hung on the wall. The village my Grandma would set up every Christmas. The gum Grandma would pull out of the freezer for us to chew. The funny way my grandparents would argue over the details of their last vacation/trip (“oh, no, I thought we stayed at that other place.” “are you sure?”). The jokes and sarcasm that my red-headed cousins would spit out at the most perfect moments.
These houses, these homes, are no longer part of my life. And neither are three of the grandparents who resided in them. Kindergarten is the last time I remember Grandpa “A” being in the living room of his house – most likely weakened from the chemo. And 2007 is the last time I remember Grandma”A” waving goodbye from the front door, as my parent’s car pulled out of the neighborhood — my mom saying something to the effect of “Oh, shoot. We didn’t get a picture of you girls with Grandma. Well, next time.” There wasn’t a chance for a next time. The next time we were at Grandma’s house was to say goodbye to Grandma – minus any waving. Walking into her house, without her there to greet me, was the strangest feeling. Seeing her bed made all neat and nice. Her cane by the front door. Her shoes outside her bedroom. Her perfumes and jewelery on the dresser. The pictures were the same. The furniture didn’t change. The people inside were the same. Some had not been there for years, their lives and families forcing them far away from that tiny house. But it wasn’t really Grandma’s house – not anymore. We bid a final farewell to Grandma, her body that is. And then we left that small town – the one Grandma had lived in. The house was sold. Much too soon after the funeral. The possessions were divided. I cried when my mom brought a piece of Grandma’s furniture into my childhood home. It looked so strange. It didn’t belong. It belonged by Grandma’s front door. The house is gone – like Grandma and Grandpa. It belongs to someone else.
And shortly, the other house, the other Grandparent’s house will also belong to new owners. Furniture will be removed and divided. Boxes will be labeled and carted off. I won’t ever return to that house . To see my Grandpa come to the front door to greet us. To hear my Grandma tell us to watch our step on the walk. There won’t be any more meals at the kitchen table. I had similar thoughts when Grandpa died (the first day of school my So. year of college). I knew I wouldn’t see him open the front door again. He wouldn’t ever sing the old song with my sister’s name in it again. I wouldn’t hear his hunting and fishing stories any more. He wouldn’t tell me to eat more food. The Christmas before he passed, Grandpa and me, we had a special moment. I had forgotten to give him and my Grandma their Christmas presents. My dad braved the elements and retrieved the unwrapped gifts from the car. They were simple. Something from my campus store. Nothing to write home about. But Grandpa, and I’m sure Grandma, too, loved them. Grandpa teared up. I’d never seen him do that before. And he thanked me. Then he told Grandma to get the checkbook and proceeded to write me a check “to buy stuff I wanted.” It was only two days after Christmas and I still had the tags on the gifts they had already given me. I protested, as did my dad. But Grandpa was stubborn and insisted I take the check. I’m glad I did. Not because I needed the money. I wasn’t greedy or trying to suck-up. That’s the last check my Grandpa ever signed for me.
But as I type, exhausted from a long day and preparing for an early morning tomorrow, I know that this weekend will mark another real estate closing. Another “sold” sign hung. Grandma, she no longer resides at that house. She’s in a care facility and as many times as I’ve visited nursing homes in my lifetime, it breaks my heart to know she’s there. Christmas last year was spent at the nursing home – not really a home – just a place. It had smells, yes. It had people, right. But it didn’t have the right smells or the right people. My dad will head home this weekend. He’ll see his mom, the woman who hasn’t lived in that house for a few years now, and his sisters, the women who grew up in that house many years ago. They’ll work together to close up and pack up the house – the house they brought their children to.
Grandma and Grandpa’s. Grandma’s.
They’re just houses. Walls and windows. Cement and carpet. Beds and baths. The people I love no longer live in them. The other people I love no longer visit them. Christmases are not celebrated in them. Easter egg are not hidden in them. But still. It’s another goodbye. Another ending. And it stings. More than I imagined it would.
Goodbye seems so pathetic. Such a minuscule word to express the sadness I feel toward closing up another house. It means I don’t have them. I don’t have Grandma and Grandpa’s house or Grandma’s house or Grandma and Grandpa’s house or Grandma’s house. None of them exist in the real world. The houses may still stand strong and simple. But inside they are different. In my heart though, they will remain the same – the same places of love and support that I knew for all those years.
This is it. My version of so-long-farewell to those places. This is goodbye.