With NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) approaching quickly (April 1st), I’ve been reading some new books about writing and getting in the mood to get back to my writing. Why not start with a story about Grandmother Margaret’s house in California, so reminiscent of my new house here in Florida.
Lying awake at night in this new house in a new town, reclining on the red hot living room sofa with two cats on my lap, I stare up at the ceiling and the Craftsman detail dividing the living room from the kitchen reminds of my grandmother’s house in a small rural town in Southern California where “there are more horses than cars,” my grandmother said.
What struck me about the ruralness of the area were the vertical street signs or posts really. My beach town was far more citified with regular street signs and an individual, impersonal attitude.
We pulled into the yard of my grandmother’s house where she lived with her second husband and dear, dear man, Jim, who we called “Papa” and parked our car behind hers, approaching the front porch where she met us.
The living room was now the full width of the house after it had been opened up and the master bedroom relocated to the garage off the kitchen with a small connecting passageway. Like my current house, the kitchen separated the living room from the dining area, covering a good portion of the width of the house, flanked by the only other bedroom. In our case, it’s our master bedroom.
So lying on the couch looking up at the ceiling, noting the Craftsman detail where the ceiling and walls connect, I’m taken back to my grandmother’s house in Mira Loma.
I would awaken hearing her “Kingdom” music playing. Her sing song voice would greet me with a warm, “Good morning, Kathy” as if I was somebody special. She often had guests staying over. One particular couple was sleeping on the grass in the backyard and when I asked her about them, she said, “They’re outdoors people.”
I also remembered meeting a couple without kids and I was quite fascinated by that. To me, families with kids were poor, drove old cars, and didn’t seem that happy. I wanted my freedom, to travel often with clothes hanging neatly in the back seat like I saw in other couples’ cars on the freeways in L.A. I wanted a nice car and a nice house.
Various cousins were also often staying over at “Nany’s” as she was called, coined by the first grandchild, a boy named Ted. I’m not sure I liked the idea of calling my grandmother by the name some other kid had given her but I suppose that’s normal in families.
I think about her stepping in and taking care of various grandchildren, with daughters who seemed overwhelmed by the reality of motherhood but I suppose this stepping in was natural to someone who had grown up in a large family in Colorado, although many had also made their way to California. I wonder if I would have had a different opinion of all of this chaos if I had known her family better. They were strangers to me that we saw on rare family reunions.
One of my cousins and I would practice playing “door-to-door,” gray leather book bag in hand with various pieces of literature placed inside. My cousin said I could never pretend that I wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness. Although calling myself a Jehovah’s Witness seemed foreign to me because my mother, other than pretending to attend meetings and hiding any signs of Christmas and flags, didn’t seem very interested in her mother’s religion.
One of the funniest, well, funny to me and perhaps others, was the time we were visiting my grandmother and when we piled into the car to return home, my grandmother came out to the car carrying a bundle and said, “Didn’t you forget something?” My newly-born sister, that’s who my mother forgot.
A couple of years before my sister was born is when I learned that my dad was not my dad. That same cousin, Ted, told me this news in my grandmother’ living room, and not believing him, I ran to see my grandmother lying down on her bed in the converted garage. She invited me to rest with her and I asked her if what Ted had said was true. She denied it, although after she took me back to my house, my mother, ironing in the dining room, confirmed that it was true. I wrote about this in Myths of the Fatherless. Not another word was said about it then or ever. Nothing. It was quite a shock to me, but nobody followed up to see how I was dealing with it.
Some time later on another stay at my grandmother’s house, my grandmother gave me a letter from my father and a couple of photos of him. When we returned to my house and I showed my mother my new treasures, she insisted I give them back. According to her my “dad” would not like that. The truth is, I suspect, she didn’t like it.