This is the second installment of what I’m referring to as Stomping Grounds. I’m choosing cities that I have visited a lot in my life to talk about them from my perspective. I started with my hometown, but in this post I’ll be talking about my parents’ hometown.
I understand that towns and cities grow and change. I also understand that while this, or any other towns are not my hometown, I also, in a way, grew up in them, for whatever reasons. I’m not an expert, but I’m just sharing my experiences from these cities.
This is where both of my parents hail from. Neither were born in Laurel, but they spent the majority of their lives here until they were about twenty. My mothers parents were from Ohio and moved down to Laurel in the early 1940s. They couldn’t have children of their own, so they adopted. Both my aunt and my mother were born in Mississippi, and for my mother, from her infancy, knew nothing but Laurel as her home. I’m told that their first home was “in the country”. But I assume that it was close enough to laurel. But, when she was a little over a year old, they moved into Laurel proper.
It was a grand house with all the furnishings. Located on Kingston Street, and therefore my entire family just called the house Kingston. Apparently, one of the original founders of Laurel owned that house, and also apparently he made his fortune in producing wagon wheels and wheel hubs, and apparently he also built one of the grand houses on 7th Avenue? My mom’s information has been known to be sketchy at times, so I am uncertain of the actualities of such things.
So, that’s the house. Apparently Ohioans are really big on taking photo’s of their own houses and having them framed in said house. Also they seem to be really big into keeping vast collections of newspaper clippings. I don’t know. Anyways, if you are from Laurel, you probably remember this house. Though now it’s green.
My grandmother sold this house in the mid 1980s and moved uptown onto Northgate Lane, so that is where the majority of my memories reside, but I do well remember this house. Obviously I heard droves of stories from my mother, since this was her childhood home, and from my dad since he started dating my mom when they were about fifteen. But, I’ll only really talk about my memories.
First though, we’ll hit dad up for a second. His parents came from Arkansas, and his dad’s work brought him to Laurel when my dad was in the fourth grade. They however, had three different, rented homes during the time that they lived here. In the mid seventies, they would move away from Laurel, but all that is for a following post. Before settling in Laurel they lived all over Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, never staying in one place very long, so my dad never really considered any of those place to be home. Even his older sister considers Laurel to be more of home than their other residences.
My parents are really big on nostalgia tours. Just about every time that we went up to Laurel dad would drive us around to show us the schools he had attended, as well as the houses he had lived in. But his trips down memory lane were always sad. “So and so lived there and he was my best friend… he’s dead now.” “This was my grammar school… it’s closed now.” “This was our first house… it’s a parking lot now.” He’d even do this on our trips to Arkansas. But for Laurel, mom would only chime in with things like, “Oh, that’s where your father carved our initials in the tree!” “That place had the best steak sandwiches… your father introduced me to them!” “I went to see House on Haunted Hill at that theatre, though I wasn’t allowed.”
Besides the drive by reminiscing, they’d also complain how Laurel had changed. “There used to be a stop sign here!” while dad is stopped for no apparent reason. “There didn’t used to be a stop sign here!” while dad is running through a neighbourhood intersection. I think the biggest complaint was some pool. I hear the words Daphne in my head, but this could be something else entirely in Laurel. Anyways, there was a public pool. Whites only. Laurel was forced to integrate everything and that meant this pool, so instead of allowing non whites in, they cemented it over. My parents were pretty hopping mad about that. They were fine with the integration, they just thought it was petulant to cement it over and punish everyone. Of course, I agree. But that was twenty or more years before I was even born.
So, obviously while my dad has huge memories here, his family was no longer in residence when I was born, so we’ll only be focusing on my mother’s family. Three years before I was born, her dad died, so I never met him. For me, it was just my grandmother in that ginormous house. My aunt and her son (who is generally referenced as my brother, but by sentimental reasons and nothing like blood or actual relation) would visit sometimes, but mainly it was just grandma.
The house was really big and really creepy. Pretty, but just really creepy. Since she didn’t move out until I was about five, meaning I was rather young, I did not like straying far from the adults, because being alone in the house was not fun. I’d mainly stay in the kitchen and play with vintage Fischer Price Toys that my grandmother had found at yard sales for me; Parking Garage and Village. Other times we’d play with her homemade town. It was fabric that she had drawn a town on; roads, railroad tracks, houses. That was always a lot of fun.
I’d also help her do chores. Sweeping the back stairs, white washing the fence, things like that. She had Barbie’s and the cardboard and plastic Barbie penthouse from the seventies, but they were in my grandfathers old room. Everything was basically as he’d left it, but there was some Barbie’s shoved in a corner near his bathroom. I did not like playing in this room because I always felt like someone was watching me. Nothing menacing, but ya know, it could have been him. It didn’t feel creepy or leering, it was just unnerving having the feeling that you were not alone, though you were the only living person in the room.
Bath time was pretty fun though. There was a huge bathroom on the first floor; a long rectangle of a room with super huge ceilings. There was a big claw foot tub. It was massive and not like anything we had at home. My grandmother would run the bath and bring out this large paper grocery sack full of all sorts of plastic bath toys. Mermaids, wind-up turtles, boats, and other odds and ends. It was fun… until she left, for I always felt like the tub would uproot itself and take off… with me in it!
There was also plenty of walking to be done. My grandmother had been born at the end of the Edwardian Era, raised by Victorians, and so walking was a huge part of every day life; these were basic and healthy constitutionals! We’d walk around the neighbourhood, visit the corner store for an ice cream sometimes. We’d visit the various parks and walk around enjoying the nature. We’d visit downtown, park, and then walk all over it enjoying the scenery.
Day in the Park was a really big event when I was a child. I remember most people wanting to park as close as they could, so they wouldn’t have to walk to the event. Nope, my grandmother would circle around to the very back side of the very expansive Mason Park. She’d park the car at a tiny grocery store, the one where my dad had his first job bagging groceries, and we’d traipse through the woods like we were collecting wildflowers in Switzerland and finally emerge onto the event. That was really the best part of the entire affair.
Since she only lived thirty minutes away from us, we were always in Laurel to visit. We were there on every holiday from Thanksgiving and Christmas to Easter and Mothers Day, as well as on my grandmothers birthday in mid-summer. We’d have day trips in the middle of the year, simply to visit, or other times for special events. The Sister and I always had trips where we’d stay with her extendedly; either for a weekend or for a week.
While I remember Kingston, I don’t remember it nearly as well as Northgate, as she lived there from the time that I was five until I was about twenty. The twin bed that I currently sleep in was one of the twin beds that I always slept in while visiting her, as I inherited the entire set; two beds and two dressers, when she died. At Northgate they were located off the main entrance, down a long hall, all crammed into their own bedroom together. However they fit more perfectly there than they do at our house, so I’ve split them up.
My bedroom shared a Jack & Jill bathroom with a second room that was located off of the den. If our brother were staying for a visit, this is where he’d stay. If it was our aunt, then this was her room during that duration. If The Sister went for a visit, it was then hers. I never wanted the double bed, so there were never any spats between The Sister and I over lodging. It initially was my grandmothers bedroom furniture at Kingston, though I hardly remember her bedroom or what was in it. The Sister has inherited this furniture.
I’m getting off track. Let me get back to Kingston for just a quick jaunt. Let’s talk about how creepy it was. This house was built for wealthy people with servants at the end of the 1800s. There was a grand staircase and then a back one for the servants. The back stair case was narrow and painted grey. It was really cool, feature wise, but it was just creepy that you didn’t want to use them. The closet underneath the back stairs, as well as that hallway was creepy as well.
Here, I’ll give a layout. The front of the house that you see in the photo had double living rooms. The front door opened onto one, that contained a fireplace and the grand staircase and double doors. The one on the left had half walls and some supporting columns and a fireplace as well. Beyond the double doors was a long hallway. To the left, a door to the dining room. At the end of that room, take a right through the very, very, very dark butlers pantry into the kitchen. Back out into the hall and to the right was the playroom. It was originally the owners’ bedroom and was really huge. A door in there led to the large bathroom. Back out in the hall was the hall entrance to that bathroom and across from it on the left the closet under the stairs. Next the back stairs, and finally a door out onto the porch.
Upstairs, I’m a little less familiar of. At the top of the grand stairs and to the left was originally the library, then later my aunt’s room. It’s the room with the balcony. The hallway made an L shape up here, so that in this small corner was my aunt’s bedroom door on the left and then to the right of the corner (or straight off the stairs) was my mother’s bedroom. At the very end of the hallway was a window and the entrance to the back stairs. But this is where I get confused. Were all of the bedrooms to the left of the hallway, or were some on the right? I know my grandfathers room had three sets of windows with a bed underneath, a desk on the side, a small en suite bathroom in all white; with those hexagonal floor tiles, a toilet, shower, and pedestal sink.
My mom and aunt had to share the bathroom with my grandmother. I have small memories. Her bathroom with tile and blue, the door to the right leading to her bedroom and her bed set between two windows. I also remember having a bath in this bathroom once, however my mother and The Sister remember these rooms more. I know that it had a door to the hallway and one into her room. I know my grandfathers room was next to my moms, but did grandma’s come after that, or was it across the hall? All the bedrooms had fireplaces, though I do not remember the one in my grandmother’s room. As the library was not originally a room, it didn’t have one; you would think that it would have, but it didn’t.
So, what wasn’t creepy, you might ask? The kitchen, the kitchen pantry, the porches (and those were numerous; the one on the front, a small one on the right, a large one on the left, a small one off the left side of the kitchen, and one off the back.), the dining room, the playroom, the front living rooms, the grounds, the greenhouse.
If the adults didn’t want us to go outside, but wanted us to go to the playroom, this is where problems started. The butler’s pantry was SUPER creepy, as well as the downstairs hallway. One needed to pass through the butler’s pantry, to access the dining room, and from there one needed to dash catty corner to the left to gain the playhouse door. It wasn’t that these places were dark, as in lack of lighting, though they were; it was that they felt creepy like something very bad would reach out to snatch you away.
I do not know the validity of such stories, but now that I’m not a child I have been told that the owners nephews were reportedly very bad people. They lived with the owners for a few years in their late teens/early twenties. They would force the servants into dark spaces to well… ya know. Or lurk there and snatch them. It makes sense to me. I don’t know if there are ghosts in this world, though I’m inclined to believe that there are, but lasting energy, sure. Just that feeling left behind from atrocities. Tell me you haven’t gone somewhere like Auschwitz or a prison or a gallows yard or anything and not felt uneasy, though you can’t explain it.
The hallway, back stairs, closet, and butlers pantry were prime creepy spots and also prime spots for horridness to take place. We never told adults we felt like we were being stalked or would be snatched when we were kids. We just said it was creepy. Also, the playhouse out back was once the servants quarters and the laundry. It was split in two by a wall that didn’t extend quite the full length. One side, which is mainly where the laundry was taken care of, was a little creepy, but it was fine. The back side where the servant girls slept was SUPER creepy as hell!
The only other creepy area was the library, which I later found out was where the nephews had slept. The room was creepy, but like the laundry area, where it wasn’t very strong. The creepiest spot was the closet. I never wanted that door to be open. Ever. I remember one time I was there with my grandmother. We were sitting on the floor at the entrance of the library. The room door was open, my mothers bedroom door was open, the hall was not wide and the stairs felt like they were just within touching reach. But then she opened the door to pull out some toy.
She had kept everything from my aunt and mothers childhood. Most were tin wind-up toys, and while they were in good condition, they seemed far older than the 1950s somehow. I don’t have to describe it, I went and found a photo. Be-Bop Jigger. If that isn’t enough of nightmare fuel right there, I don’t know what is. Besides it being highly tacky and disrespectful to an entire race of people. It seems weird that in a house full of Yankees, who were all for the abolishment of slavery, and who opposed the Jim Crow Laws and anti Civil Rights hooliganism that was taking place, that they would have given this to their child. But, I’m sure it’s what was in the store window downtown. Plus, my grandmother didn’t correlated things like that. This was a toy, plain and simple. It wasn’t people. Just like Ouija Boards couldn’t summon the dead, it was just a toy. It might not be sound logic, but she didn’t see this as offensive, because it was merely a toy and had no meaning. If a white person had forced a black man to perform like a trained monkey, then she would have been mad, because that involves people.
Anyways, so she opens the closet door and just this feeling washed over me that this horrible black thing was in there just waiting to get to me. Long claws, very white eyes, just this thing, this really, really horrible thing. She brought out Mr. Bojangles, (which is what The Sister and I referred to the horrible dancing man as when we were older because we didn’t know its “proper” name) and set him to dancing… and then she left!
He danced his little jig with his arms and legs flailing around. The closet door was still open, the thing still excited and reaching. The stairs so close, yet I was so petrified that I couldn’t move. My grandmother came back up the stairs just as Mr. Bojangles was finishing his grotesque routine, picked the toy up, put it back into the closet and shut the door. I still have no idea what that was all about.
I don’t know if there was really a thing in there, or just the lingering energy feeling of things that had happened in that closet. I don’t know if it would have attacked, or if music kept it from attacking. What would have happened if my grandmother had not come back before the toy died down? Nothing? Something? Why was her timing so perfect? What had she been doing downstairs in just the right amount of time in that very instance? It is a memory that has haunted me to this day, and those are all unanswered questions that I have asked myself over the years.
Anyways, I could write an entire book about weird things I have encountered, but that is not this post. So, as we are done with Kingston, I’ll move back to Northgate and the room I had there. Remember that? Before I broken in with scary stuff? Yeah…
So, my grandmother thought it would be a special treat once, when I was about fourteen, to let me have the “better” room with the double bed. I slept in there during that trip, but later told her that I just really loved the back bedroom, so I was able to switch back.
Only one time did I not sleep in a bed at all and it was the most fun weekend ever. My grandmother had trouble with her eyes. She’d just had to have surgery on them the day before I came to visit and needed to stay away from her very sunlit room and wear huge dark shades out-of-doors. So, she was sleeping on the pull out sofa in the basement during that visit and decided that we could have a pallet party.
I remember her wearing a pink silky pyjama set; a top with cropped sleeves and pedal pusher pants, sitting sideways on the pull out bed with one hand propping her up. I was probably sitting on my knees, as that’s what I always did. We did play board games as she was really into that, but we also talked a lot. One might think it odd to have a pallet party with their by then 80 something year old grandmother, but we actually had a lot to talk about. Even she was surprised. We talked about all of the film stars that she grew up with and adored. All of whom I knew and had seen movies featuring them.
Clara Bow, Gloria Swanson, Errol Flynn, Mary Pickford, Laurence Olivier, Jimmy Stewart, Lauren Bacall (bonus points for knowing that Bogart referred to her as Baby), Katherine Hepburn, etc. She especially liked Katherine Hepburn because she was a strong, independent woman by the name of Katherine. I suppose that my grandmother could see, or wanted to see a lot of herself in old Kate, with them having the same name and my grandmother option for college and a career before finally marrying in her late 30s… to an older man. Not that Hepburn and Tracey were married, but they were in love and he was older.
Anyways. It was a really fond memory for me, probably because it was so out of the ordinary. There were certain rules at my grandmother’s house that were more understood than laid out. You had your room and she had hers. You never shared a bed and you never entered her room. You just didn’t. Because of this, you really only saw her after she was resplendent. Day clothes on and hair made up into her signature French Twist-esque updo.
Only on very rare occasions would she call you to her room while she was getting ready for the day. She was dressed in day clothes, but she’d be in her bathroom at the vanity with her hair not yet affixed. Obviously she’d have to have long hair to be able to put it up in that manner, but without ever seeing it, you just didn’t think about it. So, there she’d be with very long, flowing white hair that she’d be brushing. She seemed a little scary in these instances, almost like a ghost or a witch.
Then with very quick flicks of her wrists, her hair would be coiffed and it only took mere seconds. I always had to keep my jaw from being agape, as that would have been considered rude. It makes sense that this would be effortless for her as it’s been her hairstyle since 1958, but you didn’t think about it like that in the moment and it just seemed like some sort of magic. The Sister and I were somewhat convinced that she probably was a witch because of her hidden hair and magics.
While my mother said that our grandmother was a deplorable cook, I found her to be pretty adept at it. Sure, she didn’t cook a lot, but it always seemed like she knew what she was doing. Her kitchen was full of fancy cookware like cheesecake pans and a double boiler, her upper cabinets filled with fancy spices. Those things speak volumes to a kid, I tell ya.
She always prepared the turkey on Thanksgiving and as such the smell of turkey roasting or celery or stuffing reminds me of her a lot. It’s rather uncouth, but it’s not unheard of to hear me exclaim, “It smells like grandma in here!” Anyways, she also made the Yankee stuffing that my mother is accustomed to, as well as pies. She always baked chocolate chip cookies from scratch. She could make coffee, as well as lemonade. She knew how to make play dough for us to play with, and we could eat it, but I always found it too salty. Though she did make it flesh coloured once for our brother, because boys like gooey dead things.
She didn’t cook really while we stayed with her, but I just figured it was because she was old. She was spry, but she was very ancient looking. So, we’d go out to eat Chinese food, order from Pizza Hut, or cook a TV dinner she had in her basement freezer. However, she did make Thimble Cookies with us while we were there. Just a simple cookie dough that was sweet, but not overly so, then you just use a thimble instead of an actual cookie cutter to cut them out. Tiny and adorable and so much fun!
Also, she’d make breakfast in the mornings. The Sister opted out of that later because she’d rather just have cereal, but the woman could put out a spread. It was completely different from my other grandparents with their southern ways, but it was nice. Scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, fruit, and orange juice. Mostly what I had for breakfast at my house was either a bowl of cereal, a bowl of cream of wheat, or a bit of toast. We only had fancy breakfast food when we had breakfast for dinner.
This house on Northgate looked like a small, one story house. Very wide with several windows in front and a portico at that door. Huge front lawn and the house was white with black trim and shutters. However, it was a rather large house, having a finished basement with several rooms.
I’ll give a layout again. Upon entering the front door you were in a foyer with linoleum flooring. The front door had a set of long windows on either side, which I always think would be nice in our home. To the left and the right, the walls were open revealing the formal living room on the left and the dining room on the right. The wall in front of the entrance had her grandfather clock and a door leading to the rest of the house. There was also a door leading off the dining and into the kitchen. She always kept both doors closed, to keep her cats Gorby and Stevie out of the front of the house.
From the foyer door, there was a small open-ish walkway/hallway, which after the coat closet on the right, was bannister railings making an L shape out and to the right to accompany the stairway down to the basement. On the left was the door that led to the bedrooms. In the hall on the right was an entrance into The Sisters bedroom, and at the end was the entrance to mine. In the center was a pull down ladder for the attic.
Back out in the main living area, if you passed that door you’d enter the open den. It actually sat out over nothingness as there was a patio underneath it on the basement level. And the fireplace at the end connected to an outdoor brick fireplace grill on the bottom patio which she never used (though she thought it was neat that Barbie also had the same one!). Right after the hallway door was another door which was sort of in the den. It led to a small bathroom and a door beyond that led into The Sisters room.
From the den there was a wide open pass through into the informal dining/breakfast nook that had bay windows. Back by the railing, at the end of it was the top of the stairs on the right and then on the left an open doorway that led to the breakfast nook and on the right directly after that another open doorway into the kitchen. There was also a small pass through from the kitchen out into the area where all of this met up – the hub for the kitchen/breakfast, stairs, and den area. On the far wall of the breakfast nook was a door that led into a small laundry room and to the right of that in a recess was the door to my grandmothers bedroom. Her kitchen and breakfast nook were papered in a light coloured wallpaper with lemons and limes on them.
The stairs went down into a hallway. If you followed the hallway straight, you hit sliding glass doors and were out on the back patio. If you turned right you got to a door and beyond that was the expansive two car garage. Once you entered there was a door on the right which was a small storage area. Beyond that were the car bays and out through the garage doors to the parking. Make a right past the small storage area and there were two antique cedar wardrobes just hanging out along that back wall that met the house, and then her upright freezer. Then the room went back into the house a bit at this point for extra storage I suppose. She set up school equipment for us. And then there was a door that led into a room in the house.
Back at the bottom of the stairs, if you went left you entered a long hall. On the immediate left was a room without any windows and that’s the one that had the door to the garage. Further down on the right was a bedroom and at the end another. However, my grandmother didn’t use any of these as proper bedrooms. The first one that was dark had souvenir tapestries hanging on the wall from her trips to Europe. There was an antique glass fronted bookcase, what I always took to be a cedar chest, but was in fact a Victrola, and a small workout trampoline. The doors down here were always left open and I hated getting past the dark room to get to the end of the hall.
We’ve come to think that perhaps the Victrola was a problem. It’s original home was in that long creepy hallway at Kingston, and then in this room at Northgate. It was the only thing in that room we didn’t inherit, as we were repelled by it.
Anyways, the next room, she’d set up my grandfathers furniture, because she never sold anything and had it so why not. It shared a Jack and Jill bathroom with the last bedroom. In that bathroom was a chest of drawers, also my grandfathers, with all of his things shoved into it. There were built-in cabinets in this bathroom and my grandmother had put all the old clothes my aunt and mother used to wear and old costume jewelry and hats for us to play with.
The final room we all referred to as The Barbie Room. Technically when she first moved in, it was just the sleeper sofa (the one we had a pyjama party on), two bookshelves, her antique manual sewing machine (that she taught us to use!), and a small cabinet. The closet in this room was pretty big. She had a filing cabinet in there and the Barbie penthouse with all the Barbie’s and accessories. I adored playing in this closet. Later though, she found the 1970s Barbie A-Frame Mansion at a yard sale for us and put it in the room, as it was too big for the closet.
Most of the time when my family was up for a day, this is where you’d find me. In this closet escaping the adults. By this time The Sister was too old and didn’t play with Barbie’s too much. She did play school with me. My grandmother had been a school teacher in the early 1930s back in Ohio, so she adored that we wanted to play school. There was a desk, and a small upright chalkboard, lots of chalk and erasers and paper for us.
Most of it really was my grandfathers old things from his business. It was his desk we’d be sitting at. His old rotary dial telephone we’d play pretend with. His old typewriter. His old, unused ledger books or reams of paper. His pens. Staplers, adding machines, paper weights. Really I suppose we played Office/School more than just school.
There were always board games to play with. My grandmother was just as into the importance of board games as she was with books. Every year for our birthdays and for Christmas we’d get a new book. Every year for Christmas, I received a new board game. She found really cool one’s too. A replica and how people assume you’d play the game that was found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Another one where you were a 1920s archaeologist digging up Ancient Egypt.
In her home, however, she had board games from my mothers childhood as well as more recent yard sale finds. You could find us on the floor playing the Great Train Game or The Donald Duck Game. Both had been my mothers. The first, you had to get your passenger/cargo train from one coast to the other, amidst obstacles to win. The second was a party game kind of like Cranium, the charades or singing parts of it. It was all Donald Duck themed and if you landed up something, you’d pick up a token and do what it said; sing the alphabet, hop on one foot, things like that.
Or you could find us at the kitchen table playing other games. Hook, which was a fishing game or Cootie. Both had been my mothers as well. Hook was made of tin and magnets. The fish and the hooks were tin, the poles were wooden and there was cotton string for the line. Or we’d play Don’t Wake The Dragon, or I would play Magic Mary Lou. Both were yard sale finds, and Magic Mary Lou was from the early 70’s. She was a paper doll and had the grooviest outfits, but to kick it up a notch, she was magnetic and there were magnets taped the back of her paper clothes.
My grandmother also adored playing Flinch. We were forever playing it at her kitchen table when my entire family was up for a visit, as you need more than three people really. She’s the only person that I have ever met who’s even heard of it, much less has played it.
There were, of course, always outings when we stayed with her. Besides the park and downtown, there was always a trip to Sawmill Square Mall mainly because it was good exercise with all of the walking. She’d buy us clothes if we needed them, perhaps a book from the book store as she was very into books and that is something she saw that one absolutely needed in their lives. She also had no problem with me venturing into the music store, unlike my own mother, so that was always fun. The Sister and I were even present on the trip to McRae’s Department Store when she purchased her Christmas dinner set and that was a lot of fun. We got to help her choose which one to get.
Sometimes we’d even go to “the picture show”, as she liked to call it. Otherwise known as the movie theatre, which was also located in the mall. She liked the oddest things that one wouldn’t think she would like, examples are Bird on a Wire and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. She would say they were cute or neat. Lots of things were neat! She’d also say, “We dood it!” after we had accomplished something, no matter how large or small the achievement was.
Also stopping at Hudson’s was a must, because my grandmother rather enjoyed it. Mainly she liked the fact that she could stock up on certain things and it wasn’t a lot of money. I can understand this. Having lived through two World Wars AND the depression, she was used to rationing and shortages in a huge way that I have yet to understand (and hopefully never will). So, if there was a sale on coffee, she’d buy the lot, because “You can’t get coffee. You never know when coffee will be available again.” She never purchased more than she could get through, none of it ever went to waste, but she certainly did stock pile, a tiny bit, on certain items. Which is adorable and also sad all at the same time.
And absolutely there was always a trip to The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art. She was a docent there, so it was fun having a grandmother “in charge” of the museum and you got your own personal tours. When we’d enter the main hall, the women at the desk would look up and say, “Oh hi there Mrs. Summers! Lovely day, yes?” and we could just go on through. At the end of the short hall before the main exhibits there is a door to the right after a bank of windows. This is where the museum staff worked or did something. She had an all access pass to pop in there to say hello. Awesome!
She’d tell us all about every single exhibit. Though we’d heard it all a million times before, it still never got old. Her very favourite in the entire museum was the small collection of Native American baskets, but two in particular. One is a kind of volcano shape with woven basket baubles on top; the Potlach hat of the Tlingit people in the Pacific Northwest. They are High Crowned Hats and the number of baubles or rings atop signify how many Potlaches that person has given.
The second basket was so tiny it could only be seen under a magnifying glass which they had affixed in the case with lighting. I can see why she marveled at both. While all the baskets are lovely, the tiny one is so intricate in detail it’s amazing anyone could produce that. It’s so perfect and wonderful. And the hat is just spectacular! But, then I suppose it would be a fine example since only the wealthiest members of that community could host Potlaches or have that hat.
By the time I was born, my grandmother owned a navy blue Buick Regal. It was super plush and super nice with fake, glossy, wood details inside, and velour seating. I adored traveling in this. Then by the late 1980’s my grandmother came into possession of a black Toyota MR2. Yes, the two-seater sports car. Trips were awkward to say the least. If The Sister and I were both visiting, I’d have to sit on my grandmothers lap in the passenger’s seat. Really it should’ve been the other way round, as she seemed so fragile, but she insisted. Once she even closed the door on my hands and didn’t know what had happened.
While driving, she always kept her hands at 2 and 10 o’clock. And there was always a rarely used, but always wadded Kleenex in her right hand. Always. If she was sitting around the house, she’d have a Kleenex in her hand. I suppose it was partly for if she might need it, but I think it also helped in the ways tension balls of hand-held stress relievers help. You’d always see this Kleenex peeking out of her hand on the steering wheel, and if she became nervous, she’d move that hand on the wheel in a sort of tight back and forth motion.
In my early childhood she always wore dresses. Always. They were all the same style, just different fabrics. They were long-sleeved, with a small bit of flounce to them near the simple cuff. Knee-length. Belted at the waist by chord, sash or small belt. Two pockets on the front. One was mainly yellow with some white. One was mainly red with some white. This is all I remember her wearing. Most of our photo’s have her wearing these two over and over again through the years, though one photo has her in a tan knee-length skirt and cropped sweater type shirt in tan and white. She always wore hosiery and a small watch.
By the late 80s, she’d switched the pants. Dress pants in navy or red. Polyester with a sharp crease down the front. Blouses for outings. I barely remember these tops though. I remember her, more, pairing T-shirts with her dress pants. Navy and white stripes, red, solid navy, one was white with grey kittens bedecked with pink bows and a bit of glitter. They were always the thicker, nicer style T-shirts for women; never actual T-shirts that kids wear. They were always just a tad too big and she still looked rather elegant. She still wore hosiery even with her pants. Sometimes she’d wear simple white sneakers, sometimes dressier shoes.
I’ll wrap this up as quickly as possible, because no one likes these details, even me, but one thing was important. So, in 2001 she was too old to take care of herself, much less that entire house alone. She had to go to hospital for something… a cold? A fall? I can’t remember now. My aunt made the decision to have her put in a home here in Hattiesburg. It was for older people who didn’t need a lot of taking care of. Ended up that she needed a lot of taking care of. So was moved to a different one.
I didn’t go see her much during these times. Twice, I think. Sometimes now I think that perhaps I should have, but then I also think that it was OK that I didn’t. She didn’t really know who you were when you’d visit, because my aunt, mother, and brother would go see her. Anyways, she wasn’t allowed to have things, but still had this fancy necklace that she always wore. The place kept calling my aunt about it, because someone needed to come get it, which ended up being my mom and I.
My grandmother looked the same. Big round glasses, french twist though it was a tad messy. T-shirt and dress pants. Wadded Kleenex in her right hand. But she looked small and frail, more than she ever had. She also had no idea who we were and she had absolutely no idea what was going on. I stood there as they tried to take that necklace from her. The last thing she had in the entire world. Her agitation and confusion and I tried to leave, but the doors were locked (so the patients don’t escape) and I remember thinking that it was taking forever for the woman at the desk to realize that I wasn’t old and that I needed to leave.
Then they told us her body was riddled with cancer and there wasn’t really anything they could do as she was entirely too old to go through much surgery and the cancer was to vast and too… everywhere to be helped. She was 95 at this time. All they could do was basically take some important organs out and have her relieve herself into a bag on the outside of her body that needed to be changed every hour or so. Later my mom would tell me that my aunt allowed Hospice to OD my grandmother on Morphine. My mother was angry about it. I was honestly, so very happy and relieved about it. If you’re unsure as to why, go back and read this paragraph and the one before it, but especially this one.
In case you’re having trouble… 95-year-old woman. Riddled with cancer. No home. No possessions. No mental faculties. No freaking bowels! All waste exiting her body into a bag. Tell me that wasn’t your vivacious and lively grandmother or mother… wouldn’t you want all of that to end? She was dying regardless. Riddled with cancer means it’s everywhere inside of her and she’s in pain and nothing can be done to get rid of it. Nothing.
The night she was dying my mother got the call and went to sit with her. She called me later telling me that I should come there now to say goodbye. I said goodbye on the phone. My mother put the phone up to my grandmothers ear. She was not really conscious and in a lot of pain. I said all of my words to her and my mother told me that my grandmother smiled, which she hadn’t done the entire evening and never would again.
By the time I arrived, only fifteen minutes, later she had died. They cleaned her up and then we could go in a see her. My grandmother was not really religious. She’d grown up Pennsylvania Dutch, and was Presbyterian here in the south, only sometimes going to church. By my mothers Catholic priest came to say some words over her.
It was fascinating though. In a society where death is taboo, I’ve never really seen a real dead body. Sure I’ve seen embalmed bodies at funerals, but that is not the same thing as seeing someone die or seeing them right after they have died. She was at a slightly odd angle, but really she could have been sleeping. She was in a white-ish satin nightgown that was knee-length and her white hair was streaming all about her.
I had been upset, but in this moment, well, it was a beautiful scene. Getting to see her like that actually made me feel better. She wasn’t in pain and she wasn’t this bloated, odd coloured almost wax-like fake figure that you see at funerals. She was real. This was her real shell, just as she had died. She was certainly there in that room, but she was no longer occupying that vessel. I mentally kept apologizing to her for looking, but when I said it was fascinating like science, but never like a sideshow, she thought that was OK.
This woman was not related to me by blood, but we shared more than the same name, we shared a great bond; of grandmother and granddaughter. She always accepted me, even when other family members didn’t. She was always kind and understanding. She was kooky and odd in all the right ways and she taught me so many wonderful things. She taught me to believe in myself and to never stop questioning or learning, though others may try to stop me from it. She never minded that I was a bit loud or a bit clumsy. She listened to me. She believed me and believed in me.
While still being a classy, educated, and well-traveled adult, she still always had time for quirky childish board games and never thought twice about being herself or even what others might think of her should she order a Happy Meal at McDonald’s. She’s someone who I strive to be like. Never growing too old in all of the right ways, always being fun and curious about life, never giving two flying flips what someone else’s opinion of you might be.