The Beaten Path
When I was four, we moved from our house at 1704 Paseo de Vaca, the house my parents had built before they married and in which their wedding took place, and moved in with my paternal grandparents at 3 North Madison while our house was being built next door at 5. I remember being awakened early one morning and taken to look out the window as ground was broken for the new house.
I managed to get myself into trouble more than once by calling my grandmother's phone from ours--a boxy black instrument affixed to a piece of board so that we could keep our number. When the house was ready, I remember a man bringing two mules to break up the yard for planting grass.
A literal beaten path where grass never grew stretched between the back doors at 3 and 5. Behind 3 was a garage, once a barn, with the "little room"--a room and unuseable bathroom that had once been a servants' quarters. Now it was my playroom where dress-up clothes and all kinds of interesting artifacts were stored. A trellis covered the top, side, and back of the entrance to the little room. In summer, one had to watch out for wasps on approach.
When I was five, my grandmother Moore, whom I called "Amin" (no one ever knew why) was 58, ten years younger than I am now. She and my grandfather spent most of their time on the "back porch" which was actually a room with a tile floor, two doors, and windows along one side. At one time, it must have been unenclosed, because another larger window looked into their bedroom. Someone had built shelves across that window, and she kept a variety of interesting bric-a-brac on them.
My grandfather was totally deaf, having been born with some hearing loss and losing the rest by the time he was 30. He was also in poor health, aided and abetted by his tendency to depression and hypochondria. I learned early to annunciate clearly, because he read lips. We also wrote to him. He spent most of his time in a big green recliner. My grandmother had a boxy-looking wooden rocking chair, and my place was the daybed. In the early 50s, they got one of the first televisions available and had a huge outdoor antenna on a steel pole. I loved to be allowed to watch Sagebrush Theater--but even the test pattern fascinated me!
I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. I remember having to get a smallpox vaccination before starting to school, and it made me so sick. Amin rocked my feverish little body in that rocking chair and made me think I felt better. She liked to embroider, so of course, I wanted to. She ironed transfers onto cuptowels which she made from old flour sacks and showed me how to use the wooden hoops and a needle. I'd sit on a stool at her feet and work that needle just like she worked hers.
The house was old--had been put together from several old houses moved in on the lot. The basement had a concrete floor and stone walls. Amin kept shelves full of preserves down there. For awhile there was a pool table. How it got down those narrow wooden steps--or back up them--I'll never know. The entrance to the attic was a ladder suspended over the stairs. I saw my father go up once and wanted desperately to follow if only to look out the dormer windows on the front of the house.
Almost every Sunday after church, we ate chicken and dumplings in the dining room. Amin's dumplings, for which there is no written recipe and which I've never been able to duplicate, simmered in a heavy iron pot and melted in one's mouth. Afterwards, I was sent home, because only my mother was allowed to help wash the china. That china now resides with me and will go to a daughter-in-law and thence to my oldest granddaughter Hanna. It came from a barrel in the general store run by my grandfather's father. He told my grandmother, "Anything in the store is yours," and she chose the china.
I loved spending the night with Amin. We slept in the twin beds in the middle bedroom, and she put chairs on either side of my bed until I was a big girl. I put chairs on either side of one now when my granddaughter spends the night--but I don't sleep in the other one!
Some of the happiest memories of my childhood are of the time I spent with Amin. I would like to think I'm making happy memories for my granddaughter(s) today.