Tuesday, November 4, 2003
quote du jour:
"Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit (Perhaps it will be pleasing sometime to have remembered these things)" -- Virgil (Roman poet) in "Aeneid"

s you walked into my grandparents' house through the carport door, there was a hallway to your right that led to the bedrooms. To your immediate left was the end of the hall and a door.

It's possible that you wouldn't even notice that door if you weren't looking for it. If you did happen to notice it, you would have probably dismissed it as being a closet or having some sort of other boring function for its outward appearance was not spectacular. Behind that door, however, lay a world all of its own.

Generically speaking, we called the room behind the door at the end of the hall "the darkroom." However, it was actually a utility room of sorts with an attached closet. My grandfather converted the closet into his darkroom... the rest of the utility room was a command center for my imagination.

The room was probably two or three times longer than it was wide... and it wasn't very wide at all. There was a homemade table attached to the wall that ran the length of the room. For some reason, parts of the table's plywood top were covered in old green shag carpeting.

If you can imagine it, it was in this room... Old books, a set of kitchenware from a hunting camp, a few pair of old golf shoes, an assortment of screws and bolts and other hardware, photographic equipment... I honestly don't know of anything that would seem out of place in there. The room, with its long table and shelves on both long walls, had a little bit of everything.

Three things in particular stick out among the eclectic mix... A 1960's typewriter, an old CB radio and a big lighted magnifying glass mounted to a shelf above the table.

Long before I knew that I enjoyed to write, I banged out all sorts of things on that typewriter. There were official letters to no one as dictated by my adolescent mind. There were what I'm sure would make interesting journal entries today. Sometimes, there was just banging.

The CB base radio wasn't connected to any antenna, so I'm sure I would have had trouble talking to someone in the carport some 10 feet away. Yet, that didn't stop me from using it. I had entire conversations with people that I could only hear in my imagination.

The magnifying glass was just cool. It was about eight inches in diameter with a round florescent bulb mounted underneath. You might not think that you can spend hours looking at stupid stuff under a magnifying glass, but you'd be wrong. Either that, or I was really good at wasting time. Seriously, it's amazing what things like golf tees and pencils and fingernails look like when they are lit up and many times larger than life.

When I wasn't sorting through the treasures of the room... it was still a good place to sneak off to and hide away. It made for a good place to read and to imagine and to be away from everything else. If you didn't think about it, the closed door at the end of the long hall was just another door. And, so, it mostly stayed closed when I was in there... leaving me in my own world and everyone else in theirs.

It's hard to believe that I haven't been to my grandparents' house in nearly 10 years. My grandfather died in 1987. My grandmother died in January 1994.

Part of me would like to say that I didn't appreciate how wonderful of a time I had whenever I visited their house, but that's not true. Instead, I think that in the the time they've both been gone, I've just not given those memories as much thought as they deserve.

One night a while back, I was driving back into Franklin and caught a whiff of "fresh spring rain." I'm not talking about the stuff they try to sell you in a Glade pop-up. I'm talking about the real thing. I'm talking about the smell that only mother nature can deliver in the smog-free rural areas of our country. It got me thinking about the past, my grandparents' house and about Sarah. What follows are just a few of those memories...

Sarah was the older lady that worked as my grandparents' housekeeper. She cleaned and helped cook, but was anything but an employee. Without either of us knowing it, I think I learned an important lesson from her. Sarah was black. Yet, I don't think that fact ever dawned on me until I was well into grade school. The color of her skin didn't even register on my radar... she was family. When I think back to my first decade or so of life, Sarah is in many of the memories. She was there for Christmases, Thanksgivings, birthdays, week-long summer visits and everything in-between.

Sarah would wash the sheets, dry them on a line in the backyard and iron them using rain water for the steam. Just climbing into a bed that she'd made would make you feel clean. It felt crisp, but inviting and it smelled fresh enough to make a Bounce sheet jealous.

My grandmother had something in common with every grocery store in town -- she was a regular stop on the Coca-Cola truck's route. Two-liter bottles and cans of soda were unheard of at her house. My mom and uncles (and later, my brother & I) grew up on Coke in the 6.5 ounce glass bottle. The Coke man delivered them in the old wooden cases with 24 individual slots for each bottle. I don't care what anyone tells you... there's nothing like Coca-Cola from a glass bottle.

An area rug always laid rolled up under my grandparents' dresser. The rug was old and worn around the edges even when I first found it as a very young boy. It was an olive sort of green with a thick black border. It has thick black stripes crossing it wide and long. Those stripes formed perfect city blocks for Hot Wheels cities.

I guess you could say that my grandparents were somewhat well off. I don't think of them as rich, but they certainly had the things they needed. Yet, they were still common folks. For a while there, they had the one good TV in the den that sat on top of the big old television set that had long stopped working.

Bookshelves lines the walls on either side of and above the television. They contained mostly old encyclopedias, Time-Life collections and Reader's Digest condensed volumes. The real highlight of the shelves were a collection of plastic models that my uncle constructed while he was home sick one week in junior high (circa 1967-68).

When you walked into the carport door -- just outside the door to the darkroom -- there was a small but very thick white carpeted rug. Looking back, it probably looked very out of place to others as it was so thick, it could possibly pass as fur. But, to me, it always looked like it belonged because it had always been there. Anyhow, they had one of those golf putting machines where you putt the ball into the hole and it spits it back to you. We'd do our putting down the long hall from the carport door. The thick white rug was the perfect sand trap.

For a long time, the room where my two uncles grew up stayed untouched... complete with the "State College" stickers on the window and posters of Raquel Welch from "One Million Years B.C." and some dude riding a motorcycle flipping the bird. There was a hole in the ceiling from an air gun mishap and pictures above each closet of a car one of my uncle's totalled. That room had character. I liked staying in their room.

There were old Archie comics stashed throughout the house. For the most part, the bulk of the collection resided in the night stands in my uncles' room and in my mom's room. A lot of "late nights" were spent reading the same Archie comic book for the umpteenth time.

For perspective's sake, keep in mind that most of these memories are from a time when I found it difficult to stay away past midnight.

My grandparents' house had really long hallways with no windows. This made them great for all sorts of games. Long before arena football was popular, my brother & I were playing it in those hallways. We also played many innings of home run derby using a tennis ball and an egg crate mattress turned up on it's side as an outfield wall.

The kitchen table from their house now sits in the computer room at my mom's house. It's top has probably long since needed stripping and resurfacing, but I've always protested such. If you look very carefully, you'll see where my eldest uncle carved his name into it as a boy.

Until the mid 1980's, my grandparents burned their trash in brick incinerator in their back yard. What would the EPA say about that now?

Wherever there was a large window, there was a bird feeder or bird bath somewhere nearby. Squirrels and birds were always welcome at my grandparents' house.

I thought my grandfather could talk to animals. He could go out onto the front steps and invite the squirrels to the yard. "Sqwaaaaals," he would yell out... and the squirrels would come. They came because they knew he would feed them. There was always a bucket of pecans around for the squirrels.

My grandfather, a World War II submarine veteran, taught me the importance of flying your flag. His flag showed its age a bit -- some stains, but no tearing -- and was mounted to an old wooden pole. It was flown on all of the appropriate holidays and many of the days in-between. After the fire at my mom's house, the flag earned a complimentary cleaning. It still flies today.

Near Memorial Day weekend, I always helped my grandfather and his war buddies put out flags at the local cemetery. A couple of those old fellas are still around and I'd really like to go next May and help them out again.

My grandfather had his law office downtown. It's facade consisted of a plate glass door and a large plate glass window. He'd let me draw pictures and tape them on the window for the world to see. If you had seen some of my early works, you'd know how much love him allowing me to do that involved.

There were always 6.5 ounce Cokes and miniature Milky Way bars in the "ice box" at my grandfather's office.

At my house, it was the fridge, the couch, the toilet and the trash can. At my grandparents' house, it was the ice box, the divan (or davenport), the commode and the wastepaper basket.

In my uncles' room, there was a panel that originally controlled most of the lights in the house. A small button would light up when a particular light was turned on. My mother tells me that her and her brothers would wait there on Christmas Eve to see the living room light come on when Santa entered. They always fell asleep before it did.

My grandparents' house had a living room and a den -- something I finally got in my own home when we moved the summer before my senior year in high school.

I loved the way my grandparents' house smelled. It was especially warm and welcoming on holidays with plenty of homemade food... but it was just as warm and welcoming on ordinary days, too. Now that I no longer live at home, I've noticed that my mom's house has a smell very similar.

I love that.

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