Slide 39: My family outside my Grandparent's house.
The Date: October 1964
The Photographer: My Grandfather
The house was red brick that rubbed off on my hands, around the pockets of my pants and too often on my Sunday shirt and it wouldn’t wash off like regular dirt. The front porch spread the whole width of the house facing the street where tar bubbles snapped beneath my new bike tires. It contained a wicker rocking chair painted green and a matching sofa swing. The porch was a refuge on warm summer evenings where we’d husk corn, crack beans and shuck peas, my grandma collecting a pile in her sagging apron knees.
The back porch was a wonderful dusty place to explore. There were old gallon jars full of beans, meat scales, rotted out hip waders and lots more all of which I was forbidden to enjoy. Grandpa’d say, “That’s no place for a little boy.” Freshly painted grey wooden steps (I never recall them being faded) lead down to a cracked cement sidewalk bearing the stamp of the man that laid it.
The sidewalk lead to the barn out back where Grandpa toiled over raspberries and rhubarb with little strips of tinfoil that he heard would scare the birds away. Those were the same birds that came to play with the little strips of tinfoil each day. The barn had housed no animals for twenty years or more but there were still signs like feathers and white streaks and a kind of dusty floor that had a texture unlike that of ordinary dirt. Grandpa was afraid I’d either get sick or hurt if I played in there so most of the time I didn’t dare.
The front door had a built in ornate combination lock though no one came in who didn’t knock.
The rooms were connected by wall papered arches.
There were wooden floors with woven carpets.
The clock was wound with a key kept in the china closet.
Every sink had a green copper faucet.
On a corner desk stand sat the phone with a cloth-covered cord that didn’t coil.
Right around the corner in the kitchen the corn boiled and steam rose through a ceiling vent where my eyes looked down on Grandma bent over cooking a meal. I understood the deal. When I was at play, if that vent was open it was to stay that way. If I were to close it, dust would float down and ruin what Grandma’s been cookin all day.
My favorite spot in the house was in the closet by the itchy chair. Behind the coats and up on a shelf there were, I’d say, nearly a dozen instruments my grandpa taught himself to play… two guitars (Spanish and Hawaiian) a fiddle, banjo, clarinet, and accordion, a trumpet and several harmonicas and, most impressively, a musical saw. He’d bend it over his knee and with his violin bow play song after song for me.
I didn’t understand the nature of his illness but Grandpa had been sick for several years and I guess the house became too much for him. I remember when one day a stranger drove up in a noisy truck to look at the place. He was loud. Wore a dirty t-shirt. Had an uneasy smile on an unshaven face.
And he bought it.
He bought my grandparent’s wonderful home.
Got if for a song no doubt as he knew my grandparents really needed to move out.
I said indignantly, “What do you mean it’s sold? This can’t be true. This place is ours and if I want to play in the barn or sit on the porch then that’s just what I’ll do. You’ll see!”
Even as I spoke, I knew it was foolish as my mother so aptly pointed out. “Who are you thinking about Bobby? This has to be. Your poor grandpa can’t even get up the stairs.”
So for the next week or so we hauled out tables and chairs and the women cleaned closets and shelves. So many things I’d known and loved since birth were thrown out or just left behind. I swear, I’ve never known a sadder thing than saying goodbye to that red brick, that barn, that front porch and that old sofa swing.
The new house came in two pieces, lifted on a foundation with a big crane. For a kid like me the excitement of this lessened the pain a bit. Better yet, the lot was right next to our own. So close I could have carelessly thrown a stone through the bedroom window… and once did.
Dad and I spread grass seed and Grandma planted flowers and pretty soon that little place started to feel like ours.
And the old place started to feel like it belonged to someone else.
The noisy truck rusted behind the barn, tall weeds growing up around the wheels. The back steps rotted and the porch paint peeled. Grass went uncut. I still remembered the combination to the ornate lock. I would have never wanted to go in though and only once did I look in a window but it wasn’t the same… at least not much. You see the house no longer bore my grandparent’s name and certainly not my grandparent’s touch.