As 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
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
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
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
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
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.