Sandy DicksonView all articles by Sandy Dickson
Gramma’s and Grampa’s House
The house where my maternal grandmother and grandfather lived, better known in my family as Mom and Pop, now stands across town like an empty gymnasium. There’s something very lonely about an empty gymnasium because one knows that it once held exciting events in bright lights with cheering crowds that made happy and excited noises. Yet, there it stands vacant now: all the people went on, the lights are off, the floor under one’s feet have a hollow echo with each footstep. The warmth of people is gone, the life once there is no more until the next event, which, when standing in it as an empty arena, is somehow even hard to envision.
Mom and Pop’s house was such a house. It was where the families of my mother and her five sisters gathered for every holiday and special event. It was warm in the winter, not only from the crackling fire, but the people laughing and loving.
The generous kitchen bustled with the aunts milling around doing holiday meal preparations. Mom was always in the kitchen with a house dress covered with a bibbed apron. Someone always got the velvet-lined dark wooden box of good silverware out while another fetched the good, infrequently used
The shiny dark wooden dining room table, usually uncovered, was spread with a nice table cloth for the special occasions of family dinners and held many a wonderful meal that we all gathered around on Christmas Eve for the traditional family meal.
Our Christmas Eve dinner always included the typical Swedish fare: lutefisk, (smelly and yucky fish which I never ate) white sauce sprinkled with a little of some brown powder like cloves or nutmeg (maybe cinnamon) in a gravy boat and luscious lingon berries, which to me, more than compensated for the smelly fish I never ate. Also present was my highly anticipated potato sausage. There were other things too, of course, but those were the Swedish things that were especially pleasing to the Scandinavian pallets of Mom and Pop, who immigrated from
My chair around the dining table was on the side of the room closest to the Christmas tree and when I occupied it, the tree was right behind me in front of the window by the driveway. It was always highly decorated with Swedish ornaments, glass balls and some old-fashioned Christmas lights that looked like tall, tubular glass candles with little colored bubbles going upward to the top when they got heated.
After the evening was over and everyone not living there went home, the separate families had their own Christmas morning, then returned the next day for more being together for the holiday. The fireplace was always crackling with replenished logs, while its mantle was annually adorned with a soft layer of cotton upon which rested Christmas village décor, though always placed around the old black chiming Ingraham clock, high in the middle, sloping down gently on each side that always remained there.
As an accomplished musician, Pop often sat in the middle of the living room on a folding chair and lovingly played his cello for hours on quiet Saturday or Sunday afternoon and he taught private lessons in that living room too.
The house saw Easters, birthday gatherings and happy times spent in the three largest of the four yards surrounding the property in the summers. After Mom died and then Pop about 10 years later, one unmarried aunt continued to live there as the last surviving offspring of the family until she died at age 95.
Something had to be done with the house and all the accumulation of years of living there since Pop built the house probably in the early 1900s. The last surviving aunt never discarded anything that had been Mom’s or Pop’s. Their clothes were still in the closets and drawers and throughout the six-bedroom house, were found possessions, toys, old childhood clothes and even school assignments of my mom and each of the aunts as they were growing up.
Little by little, we got rid of it in various and appropriate ways: salvaging, giving, selling, keeping, throwing away what we needed to. The chiming clock now sits in the center of my mantle. I especially wanted that, not so much because of its familiar, comforting sound as because the eyes of everyone who ever came to that house for any length of time looked upon its round, silvery face, but mostly those of Mom and Pop and all the aunts who had all once lived there. Knowing that and looking upon it now, is a kind of connection somehow.
Gradually the house became emptier until it was like a gymnasium, not in size, but in lack of life, love, joyful occasions, warmth and lights. No fire in the fireplace, no favorite chair where Pop sat, no dining room table where the family once gathered and there’s just an empty window where a fresh annual Christmas pine tree always stood in its Swedish and American regalia. Now the house has the hollow echoing of footsteps that ring into the empty space when one walks where so much warm and love had once lived and been enjoyed. I couldn’t help but think the last time it was empty like this was when the excited family moved in--that of my grandparents-- about 100 years before when it was on the other side of the bright future and all the things it was to host. It had been the end of a long journey for them after their former wooden edifice on the same spot, having burned about 2:00 a.m. as the helpless family stood watching and shivering in the cold February darkness, glad to have gotten out safely, but horrified to watch their lives go up in flames. Pop had the same house plan rebuilt on the same spot, but this time in heavy clay, fireproof block. It had to be exciting for them to watch the progress and finally move jubilantly in with a long future in their wonderful, secure, new house.
By now, the emptied ediface has since been purchased and renovated, though poorly, by a contractor who took the cheap route and is anxious to resell. Despite that, hopefully, it will be filled with love and laughter again by another family, who can make their own happy memories and legacies at the dawn of their own history. Our family has ours and now it’s someone else’s turn. The house has served its purpose for my grandparents and their descendants and served it well, but now the people of that house’s first generation have gone on and it stands like an empty and lonely gymnasium waiting to host another family’s generations of happy events.