I always had the “hump” for the 8-hour drive because I was the youngest. We played the alphabet game on the way there.
I haven’t been there in 27 years. I was 13 when my grandmother died.
Just my mom and I were home that morning. Dad was at work, my older sister and brother were already at their summer jobs. I woke up to my mom howling my name. I ran into her room, and she said “Granny died!” I hugged her, and said, “Oh no no no.”
My grandmother’s sister, who looked like her twin, was with my grandmother. When she apparently had overslept, her sis went to check on her. She looked like she was sleeping, but with a small smile on her face.
My mom sniffled the whole drive there. I don’t think anyone said much.
The house was a ranch that ran parallel to a gravel road (the white kind, not grey). There was a carport alongside her house (I think it was on the right, but I’m not sure at all). There was a narrow cement path from the road to her front porch. About 60% of the way to the porch, there was a large tree on the left that had green lichen growing on it. I always wanted to pull it off of the tree.
This isn’t to scale, and it’s to the best of my memory. The house is longer and narrower than this, but it’s the best I can do:
I want to start in the basement. Go down the stairs behind the kitchen. At the bottom, to the left is a large, unfinished laundry room with a grey floor. I think the floor isn’t completely flat. It would be a good place to roller skate as a little kid. Turn right, and you’re in a den of sorts. There’s a green sectional with a recliner, and the TV. Turn right again, and walk along the wall that separates the “living” part of the basement from the laundry room. On your right, underneath the staircase, is a water closet with a vinyl, accordion door. Keep walking forward, and there’s a door that goes into what used to be my grandmother’s salon when she did hair. Now, I think there are just picnic benches; we ate our holiday meals in there. Turn around, walk back into the den. At the back of the den is a closet with board games and the table at which we sat to play Battleship.
To the left is a bedroom. It had a vinyl, tile floor, and it tended to be dark. There was a quilt on the bed. My child brain made it out to be creepy. I think my parents slept there when we visited. They definitely did when we went for the viewing/funeral…I remember seeing my mom emerge from there wearing her favorite navy blue, flowered, dropwaist dress for the last time.
I didn’t draw this because I couldn’t conjure up a good enough internal map of the back of the basement.
Back up the stairs to the first floor. Either directly in front or a little to the left at the top of the stairs is a door to the outside. Turn left, walk up two steps and you’re on a large patio that covers the salon below. We cooked out there.
Go back in and you’re in a small kitchen. Cabinets on the left, sink and counter on the right, refrigerator ahead, two-top table with a plastic “toaster” that popped out shiny, cardboard toast with bible verses on them. (I loved that thing so much as a little girl…we brought it home after she died).
Next room is a sort of sitting room. I think it had wood paneling. The main things I remember are a wooden rocking chair and a small desk with an awesome, black, old-fashioned phone. I probably called the “time and temperature” a hundred times on that phone.
There was a wide opening into the living room. I didn’t draw the front door on the picture because I couldn’t remember how far to the left it is in the living room. There may have been a fake fireplace on the right, then a sofa, then in the left corner, a wooden thing that had a record player built in it.
There was a dark, narrow hall. The bathroom was on the left, and probably a closet. At the end was a small table upon which sat the best picture even taken of me. I was two or three, all blonde curls, wearing a blue dress and sandals. I was holding a tiger lily. My eyes didn’t meet the camera because I was too into the flower.
There was a bedroom on either side. On the left was a bedroom with a sort of red damask wallpaper with velvet on it (maybe cameos? Or maybe some sort of fleur de lys print?). Straight across the doorway was a wardrobe. My granny had a couple wigs that she stored in there. There was a “big” bed (could have been double, could have been a king) that sometimes my sis and I would sleep in. I slept on the right side, and the clock radio and window were on that side. One of my random, isolated, happy “snapshots” from my childhood is us in there listening to “Crazy for You” by Madonna on the radio before we went to sleep.
I assume that the red room had been Granny and Papaw’s room, but he died about 7 years before she did. I don’t remember her ever sleeping in there.
I am calling the other bedroom the “blue” room, although I can’t remember if the walls were white or blue. There was a dresser, two twin beds, and a walk-in closet (Granny LOVED to shop).
I don’t know where my Granny’s sister slept while she was there, but, in my mind, they both slept in the “blue” room.
My Granny died in bed 1.
That night, when we were figuring out sleeping arrangements for my grandmother’s sister, my 5-person family and my uncle’s 4-person family (we weren’t rich people, so staying in a hotel wasn’t on the table), I was assigned bed 1.
I’m sure the 13-year old, stiff-haired me presented my objections to sleeping in the bed in which my grandmother had died not 24 hours ago as disgust. Had they even changed the sheets? What I really felt was fear. Would I be haunted by her if I slept there?
The adults were annoyed with me, and my mom immediately volunteered to sleep in bed 1, but the others wanted to protect her from it, so they rearranged things.
I don’t remember where I did end up sleeping. It might have been in bed 2, it might have been in another room.
Yesterday, I went to a children’s theater performance with my (ex)sister-in-law and kids, my daughter, and my mother-in-law. Afterwards, we went to Grandma’s house to hang out while the kids played. Grandma had her basement all fixed up for the kids to play.
They kept coming up for an adult to watch them play or help them investigate a weird noise. Grandma was on the phone most of the time, and my sister in law was tending to an infant, so it ended up being me.
You go down the stairs, turn to the left, and you’re in a small, but pretty yellow, room with a red couch (that opens up into a sofa bed) and a wardrobe. Right at the bottom of the stairs, and directly on the other side of the room, are doors that lead to a large, unfinished basement.
It’s the shiny grey floor like in my Granny’s house, and it goes all the way around behind the carpeted room. Excellent storage space, laundry room, and there is a small 1/2 bath.
I felt uneasy in the yellow room.
Once my ex came out of hiding, this is where he lived for a year and a half. I don’t know how our daughter’s Sophia toddler bed and his stuff fit in there when the couch was a bed (which was probably all the time…I don’t see him closing it up each day).
This is where his fiancee–then mistress, technically–stayed with him when she visited.
I didn’t want to be there. I felt fine upstairs, but I felt like I shouldn’t be downstairs. It felt like an invasion of his privacy and an unnecessary reminder of how quickly and intensely your view of the future can go from a well-lit, sure thing to too dark to even make out large shapes. I kept looking for excuses to stay on the first floor, but I was the one manning the kids.
It was a little bit better in the unfinished part, except that my ex just moved his books from overpriced storage into there. I found myself just kind of frozen, staring at the books and the pastel-colored crates from our old house that he’d used to transport them. It was strange. That was okay, just strange.
I’ve mentally mapped out my Granny’s house a hundred times, but the strange fear I felt in my mother-in-law’s basement is what compelled me to actually sketch it out last night.
I didn’t want to be in the yellow room. My eyes stung on the way home because it brought up feelings I’d rather leave beneath the surface. Not thoughts. Not, “I wish.” No words attached to them. Just pure loss. It’s all the same; it’s all loss.