01. January 2024 · Comments Off on My Grandmother’s House · Categories: Uncategorized

I dreamed of going to my maternal grandmother’s house rather vividly the other night, of walking through familiar yet near empty rooms, waiting for Dad to come and pick me up. Weirdly, I was also taking care of Wee Jamie, who was reluctant to go down for a nap, and Benji the unruly dog, as I was clearing out the last contents of the house, and regretfully preparing the place for sale. I have no idea of why I dream so often of one grandparent’s house and not the other, save that the paternal grandparents moved several times. First from a small cottage in Altadena when I was barely school-age, to a tract house in Camarillo, and from there to a series of double-wide trailers in various senior citizen parks in Camarillo and Oxnard – of which no very firm memories remain save of the tract house, the star pine in the front yard and the St. Augustine grass around it which eventually formed a thick, spongy and mattress-like turf.

Granny Jessie and Grandpa Jim stayed put for fifty years, in a little white cottage on South Lotus Avenue, in Pasadena, about a block or so south of Colorado Boulevard, and a bit east of Rosemead. Even after Grandpa Jim died when I was eleven, Granny Jessie remained there for more than another decade, util she moved to the Gold Star Mother Home in Long Beach. I think that I remember that house so vividly because I spent so much more time there, comparatively. It was the place where Mom and I lived when I was born, and for another year until Dad was doing his Army time in Korea. Mom and her older brother Jimmy Junior had grown up in that house – the house that Grandpa Jim and Granny Jessie had bought when they married in the early 1920s. A long straight driveway ran across the left side of the lot, all the way to a single-car garage at the very back. Mom told us that she learned very well how to back a car, all the way out from that garage to the street.

Mom, in front of the house – showing the oak tree which towered over the house, and the garage behind it.

I can mentally walk through the house, front to back, and visualize just about all of the furniture in place, although some of it more clearly than others. The living room was carpeted in flecked white, black and gray low-pile, the walls were nondescript – only a few framed prints of dreary sepia-colored landscapes – and Granny Jessie’s windows were curtained in filmy white chiffon. Only the back bedroom had wallpaper, I recall. The living room carpet was lightly flecked with little burn marks from Grandpa Jim’s ever-present cigarettes. After he died, Granny Jessie replaced the carpet with the same pattern.

The house itself was and still is a small, square frame cottage, set rather far back on a long, narrow lot – so far back that the back porches of the neighbors on either side looked square at their front porch. Or what would have been the front porch until it was walled-in to create another room across the front – a narrow room, with the original front windows looking into it, and what would have been the front door opening into the middle of the living room. There were three bedrooms along the right-hand or western side; one which had a door to the old front porch. The other two bedrooms opened directly into the living room, through side-by-side doors at the rear of the room. The last bedroom had a window looking into the back yard, and the nectarine tree that grew there. The morning sun lit up this room, which had two single beds in it, a built-in bookshelf, and white wallpaper with festoons of pink roses and green leaves – I think this was Mom’s childhood bedroom, but when I was growing up, it was Granny Jessie’s. The bedroom in front, opening off the old porch was Grandpa Jims’ – always dark and redolent of tobacco, for he was a four-pack-a-day smoker. (Their marriage, although it endured, was not a happy one; Granny Jessie and Granny Jim lived separate lives in the same house, separate interests and orbits which only intersected at mealtimes.) The middle bedroom was fitted out with an antique cherry four-post bed which had come from Granny Jessie’s family in Pennsylvania. There was framed picture on the wall, of a watercolor of a scene in a market in Algeria. A double window looked out into the neighbor’s back yard. This was the room that I slept in when I visited. At night, when the windows were open, I could hear the distant sound of a train whistle. (The antique bed eventually came to me and is in pieces in the garage. It will go to my daughter, eventually – when she has her own place.)

The bathroom was a long narrow corridor, also opening from the living room, adjacent to and at a right angle from the bedroom doors. There was a window at the far end, and a large bathtub, which Mom said was originally a classic claw-footed old fashioned iron job, but now walled in with a generous Formica ledge all the way around. The bathroom likely was situated to group the plumbing together with the kitchen and the enclosed back porch with the utility sink and the washing machine, all of which took up the rest of the back of the house. The window over a deep, old-fashioned farm sink looked out at the nectarine tree and a small patch of lawn – the double windows in the dining nook in the east wall offered a view of the San Gabriel Mountain range. The kitchen table, padded and covered in utility oilcloth was set straight against the wall under the windows, wedged in next to small kitchen dresser – I think my sister might have it now, and the old-fashioned manual coffee grinder that sat on the top shelf. Or the dresser might have gone to my parents and burned in the 2003 fire, with a lot of other heirloom family stuff. Granny Jessie sat at one end of the table, Grandpa Jim at the other – and there were two places along the side opposite the windows; first for Mom and her brother, Jimmy Junior, and then later for KP and I, when we visited.

Behind Grandpa Jim’s chair was the back door, a door and a step or two down to the half-walled and screened back porch, where the old-fashioned washing machine lived. This was drum-shaped and of a good age, the kind which emptied into the utility sink and had a mechanical wringer perched on one edge. We were not allowed to touch it, ever, as the wringer squeezed out water in the washed clothes between two rollers – yes, it could easily have crushed small fingers.

A door in the screened back porch opened onto the driveway, across the driveway from the old incinerator, from the days when citizens were allowed to burn household garbage; Thursdays, if memory serves. Many older homes in the area had such incinerators, until they were banned sometime in the late 1960s, as the practice contributed to the horrible smog problem. There was a small pocket-handkerchief lawn behind the house, wedged in next to the garage, and a derelict enclosure for the chickens that my grandparents had kept during the Depression. Many of the neighbors also kept chickens, ducks and geese, and someone nearby kept a donkey when I was a child, although Granny Jessie’s chickens were long gone by then. Mom hated chickens, through having to care for them, so we never kept them as part of our own growing up.

I was always so very fond of that house; I guess that it shouldn’t be a surprise that I dream of visiting it so often – especially at this time of year. As children, my brother JP and I spent the week after Christmas there. This was a week culminated by walking down to the parade route of the Rose Parade and seeing it all. Granny Jessie knew exactly where to go, and what time to take our folding chairs and set out. Once the parade had straggled by and we walked back to the little white house on South Lotus, then we knew the holiday season was well and truly over.

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