Walking Through One of My Childhood Homes

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.


Recognizing That This Is The Last Time

When you’re little, there are birthdays and anniversaries and holidays, but then people grow up, drift, and move away. Suddenly, it’s been ten years since you’ve clapped eyes on them. That’s where the big celebrations like marriages and funerals come in.

I understood the concept of funerals getting everyone near and dear together to help the family grieve, but what I didn’t understand, prior to my grandmother’s death was that this is the last party that is just for her. It’s the last party where you can talk all about her without seeming like a crazy person or stuck in the past. It’s the last time that you can demand of everyone you know to share a memory.

My sister and I always joke that our Dad, Aunt and Uncles always give hour long speeches at every family function. But instead of preparing to grin and bear my way through pages upon pages of dry retold family stories and hokey Dad-jokes, on the day of, I found myself wishing for more. Because this was the last time; there would be no more birthday celebrations with Grandma holding court in a funny birthday hat while her children reminisced behind a podium, and her grandchildren not so patiently listened. This was the last of the protracted speeches about my grandmother’s thriftiness. As my oldest Uncle stepped down and finished his speech, I longed to hear more.

Luckily, my cousin had challenged her Dad to share some untold stories about our beloved matriarch. My Aunt did the same- I learned that my grandmother had been a secretary when she was younger. I grabbed hold of these small new pearls of information about my grandma and held them close, turning them over in my mind as they revealed previously unknown facets of the woman I loved and admired so much. My own story was deemed inappropriate for the funeral, so I sang instead.

It was a feat for me to perform- I’ve lived several lives since the time when I pretended to be a musician and aquamarine pleather pants were a staple of my wardrobe. It took all of my focus to stand up and follow along with the music. The song ended and I was swept away in a deluge of grief.

I was crying in earnest when I returned to my seat. My cousin Candy reached over and held me in a hug, from behind I felt another cousin squeeze my shoulder. In that moment, I was transported to all of the times that my little cousins and I crouched underneath my grandmother’s pool table, hiding during a family game of sardines. I thought about how magical it was that we had all those memories together, that Grandma was the linchpin of it all. In that brief group embrace was the love of decades.

My entire life, I have lived in a big family. And for my entire life, my Grandma loved and gathered all of us together, she accepted us for who we were and that in turn fostered a culture of tolerance and support in my family. As a weirdo who has always marched to the beat of my own drum, I have depended on this unconditional love for the confidence to be myself.

Through my sadness, I marveled at what an incredible achievement it is to have a person’s life be a legacy of love and acceptance. That no matter what, our family had this one last time together to appreciate what an incredible woman my grandmother was. Then I sat and listened to who my Grandma was to each of my cousins; sports fan, role model, drill sergeant. All the while, I wished for one more story, one more prayer, one more song to remember and celebrate her life, because this was the last time.

The Post Where I Talk SMACK About My Dad

My Dad is the reigning Great Unwashed Super Fan. He’s the first to read most posts and he laughs the loudest when I read drafts to him. However it has been brought to my attention that I regularly write nice things about my Dad but have yet to do so about my Mom.

So Mom this post is for you.

The last week of June was a hard one for me. It was extremely busy but more importantly I had to shower FOUR TIMES. I’m going to repeat that last statement so the extent of my hardship can be fully comprehended – I showered FOUR TIMES.

It was awful, I was constantly clean, which made the clothing sniff test much harder because while normal people sniff a shirt and think “Does this smell clean?” I inhale the scent of my worn clothing and think “Does this smell cleaner than me?”

And last week the answer was nearly always “No”.

So I set about regressing to my mean of 2.5 showers a week by not bathing for five days. I arrived at my parent’s house on the fourth day of not showering; pungent but not quite grimy. My curly hair formed tight corkscrews that leapt off my head in all directions and my skin had the glow of a well rested hippie. Please note that although hippies would have you believe their excellent constitution and radiant skin comes from their locally grown, organic only diet, it’s actually from not bathing.

However my Grandmother’s eighty-ninth birthday was the following evening so I had planned to shower then. Before my father was set to return home I jumped in the tub and washed my dirt coated self including my corkscrew curls.

I jumped back out and my hair set about drying immediately, because that’s what short curly hair does- whatever the heck it feels like. And at that moment it felt like drying into perfect tight curls.

Fast forward half an hour, I’ve celebrated my newly washed state by running through my parents’ garden and am now sitting on my mother’s bed with clean, dry, curly hair and freshly dirt-coated feet. My father arrives home from work and sits down on the bed.

Dad- “I was figuring we’d leave in half an hour?”

Mom and The Great Unwashed – “We’re ready.”

Dad looks at The Great Unwashed- “When was the last time you washed your hair?”

The Great Unwashed in an indignant tone that conveys that if this is how she will be treated after showering she may never do so again- “Today!”

Dad – “Oh”

It’s called dirty blonde for a reason.

So that’s my talking smack about Dad post. Only then I turned to my mother and asked “Do I look unkempt?”

To which she replied, “No you look like you.”

Mom, for the record it would be a lot easier if you didn’t write the material for me.


Anyway so fast forward to the end of the night when I realize that even after being shoved into white socks and running through wet grass that my feet are still dirty. My father is generally complimentary; he’s the first one to tell me I look pretty or that a dress matches my eyes. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, and do some further questioning before writing smack about him.

The Great Unwashed perches at the top of the stairs while Dad assembles a midnight snack- “Dad, did you look at my feet before you asked about my hair earlier?”

Dad- “No, why?”

The Great Unwashed now contemplating stewing in her own bodily fluids for eternity again says in a huffy manner “No reason.”



Apparently I look unwashed even when I’m partially clean. I will never bathe again. Or at least I may not shower until Roscoe threatens grab the garden hose and spray me with it prison style if I don’t grab some soap myself.