I’ve been breaking into her house at night, wandering through the rooms, running my fingertips over the surfaces of the furniture. Just to remember. Just to be there. I walk in, and my route is always the same; tossing my jacket or sweater carelessly on the green leather chairs she recovered, stepping lightly onto the plastic walkway that protects the carpet from so many dirty footprints. I glance at the mail on the table in the entranceway, now the table that my TV sits on. Invariably there would be a letter from a charity. She loved supporting those organizations- if she wasn’t able to help someone directly, she’d offer money instead.
From there I walk straight into the kitchen. A couple years ago she painted the cupboards. It brightened up the space so much. The radio plays classical music because the radio always played classical music, that is until after dinner, at which point she’d retire to the den and watch the news before bed. When I was younger, before boyfriends and then husbands entered the picture, the kitchen table was the kid’s table. Our family was too large to sit altogether in one room, so us rowdy, cookie-loving cousins were relegated to the meal prep area. This was the table that I told the story of the gravy boat over. All the cousins went along with it, but only the youngest fell for the yarn- hook, line and sinker.
According to legend, gravy boats got their name because of the unmanned ships that pulled into each port every holiday, empty but for gallons upon gallons of gravy. Aunts, mothers and grandmothers would all arrives at the harbor with pails, buckets or even small bathtubs to be filled with that liquid goodness, the walk back to their houses becoming a waddle from the weight of the gravy. Sitting there as I told the story, each of the cousins pictured her, slowly but determinedly, hauling home the gravy for our holiday meals.
Throughout my teens, there were her classic cowboy chocolate chip oatmeal cookies in the cupboard next to the fridge. Later, when she stopped baking, there were still cookies in the cupboard but they were made by Dare. I remember the familiarity of the yellow cutlery tray; it contrasted the metal cutlery so forcefully, as though THIS cutlery tray would be recognized for its lifetime of service. From there, the view of the yard would be partially obscured by the plants sitting on the windowsill. She loved plants and gardening. Long after the winter, she would nourish her poinsettias; hers would be the last live one on the block.
To the left of the window was one of the kitchen chairs, which sat next to a table, upon which sat her telephone and address book. Past this table was the dining room. The center of so many gatherings. I never picture her here though- she was always a bundle of activity, bustling from one room to the next, one task to the next whenever the lot of us descended upon the house en mass. She is everywhere and nowhere; she’s in the kitchen checking on a dish in the oven, she’s clearing the table in the dining room. She’s sneaking up behind me to unsuspectingly to yank my left hand out from under my body and set me off balance, just to get a glimpse of the ring. She’s standing in the hallway, looking for bags to bundle together leftovers for guests, or in the den cross stitching. Or she might be downstairs, on her treadmill if footing is treacherous outside. God forbid she went outside, there’s no locating her- she’ll start in the backyard, weeding and watering, go to fetch something from the garage only to offer to help a neighbor. Could be someone next door or the woman two streets over who just had twins.
I pad quietly up the back hallway, looking at the pictures of my family; graduation photos, extended family, the picture of the whole family when half the cousins were still wishes for the future. Her bedroom is across from the den. As a little girl, I played here; lounging on the fur rug that I to this day don’t know whether was real or not. My last stop is always the bathroom. During family functions this was a haven of quiet. I’d hang out staring at the small blue tiles on the floor, the dated coloured bathtub that I remember being bathed in.
A year and a half ago, when the house was sold, I wasn’t upset. She declared that she no longer wanted to cook or care for a home. Quickly, her things were packed up and sent to the senior’s residence of her choice. At the time, it seemed to me like her logical next step. I wasn’t concerned or sad- she had told me that she would live to be 104 and I believed her. But now that she’s gone, I find myself returning to her gardens, her kitchen, all the rooms that contained, if only ever for brief minutes in her bustling life, her. Those walks through memory bring me comfort.