Today I was helping at our church and I needed to grab something from the kitchen. The building our church is in was built back in the 60’s and the kitchen has some of the original cabinets and countertops. The moment I stepped foot in the room, I was in my Grandmother’s home in West Covina, California. That room smelled exactly like the small cozy home I would visit once a year as a child. Suddenly my brain flooded with memories. I love that smells can do that. Smells and songs and outfits and movies and tastes. I love the consequences of sentiment. The memory lanes we walk down. The involuntary smile that comes across your face as you remember.
The air was always crisper and the grass was a lot squishier there at my Grandmother’s house in West Covina, California. California had real grass, not the pokey crab grass we have here in Florida. It was a small house with big pink rose bushes in the front yard and it was just down the street from a small neighborhood playground I called “Barney Park”. My reasoning is not clear, as Barney the dinosaur was not the theme of the playground. Every year when we arrived she would come down the three front steps as quickly as her age allowed and hugged me up. She was my mam-maw (sometimes cute little kid names for things like “grandma” are difficult to spell).
Everything in her home was old – the white kitchen cabinets, the dark brown carpet, the curtains; her home was the epitome of a grandparent’s home. Shelves were filled with trinkets and old mugs (whenever we visited my mother would always use a white mug that said EGBOK in red letters. It stood for “everything’s gonna be o.k” and my grandmother won it from a radio contest. Now it sits in the china cabinet in my parent’s home). I thought her home was a museum full of wonders. In her kitchen she kept a chart of my height; little lines all up the side marking my growth and the passing of sweet time. Every morning she would cook up giant plates of crispy bacon because she thought I loved it. In reality I like bacon right in the middle – a little crisp and a little bendy. But I loved that she found such joy in doing something kind for me, so I never said anything. The sweetness won me over.
The room that my father had spent his childhood in was then filled with shelves and shelves of yarn and bingo stampers and porcelain dolls. From all that yarn she made me the most beautiful multicolored blanket, which I shall keep forever. Blankets made by your grandmother warm you twice.
In the living room she would set up a TV tray and a 1970’s vanity stool that I thought was glamorous (which you can see in the background of this photo) and we’d eat chocolate ice cream cups together. But never on the coffee table. I wasn’t allowed to scratch her lovely coffee table. Her voice was raspy from far too many years of smoking and she called me “doll”. My grandmother was a sassy Italian and I am certain that if she were still alive we would be the best of friends and our sarcasm would be borderline offensive to others. She was so patient with me. While I am sure my parents would give her breaks from me on our visits, I just remember spending time with her. Sitting together and talking. Sometimes even talking a little too much. She did not realize that my parents had told me the story of my birth – that my mother could not have a baby so I was “outsourced”, but the day that I started talking about it, she figured it out. And she was horrified.
“Mam-maw, let’s talk.”
“Okay doll, you first.”
“Okay. Once upon a time, there were two people who wanted to have a baby. And they asked God to put a baby in the mommy’s tummy but he didn’t. So they got a baby from noonie’s tummy. And do you know who that baby was, mam-maw? ME!”
One of my favorite activities with her was playing Bingo. Not real Bingo, we would just sit at the dining room table for hours playing with her colorful bingo stampers. I would stamp pictures of trees and cars and Barney Park and all the while I believed that was how you played Bingo: you just painted things with the stampers. I can remember telling my friends at home about playing bingo with my mam-maw in California and I felt very adult about it.
She kept a bike for me in her garage: my own special bike with pink and purple shimmery ribbons. It was a grand event to pull it out on the first day of our visits. Every year the ribbons were more lovely than I had remembered. I would breath in the crisp air and ride my beautiful bike down the sidewalk to Barney Park and to this day I am certain those were the most peaceful and joyous moments I have ever had. Just being outside in the magical land of California with a pretty bike and a pretty grandmother.
Back home, I had a yellow California state magnet on our fridge and every time I saw it I thought of my mam-maw and my young heart would flutter thinking of the next time we would get to fly on the airplane to see my buddy. Because I would only see her once a year, she was like Christmas to me. Something special that I only got to savor for a short time. I loved my grandmother so very much. I still love my grandmother so very much. I love the son that she raised, I love the photographs of her I have, I love the last name that I share with her, I love every single memory I have of that woman. I shall never allow another person to call me “doll” – that term of endearment is forever hers and hers alone.