Friday, March 10, 2017

"To Grandma's House We Go"

Slowly, slowly I am moving things out of the way to make a "normal" house for Caroline when she gets here next week.  But like what happens with ALL of these "straightening up" sorts of things, I get sidestepped by just about everything I find, things I forgot I had.

Today I found a book I bought years ago called "For Our Children's Children."  I don't know if we even had grandchildren when I bought it, but I was looking ahead to having them and thinking about the things our grandkids might be interested in knowing some day.  There is so much about my grandparents' history that I don't know and that, in my adulthood, I'm sorry I never asked them.  I have mentioned before, for example, how angry I am that I never asked my father's parents about being in vaudeville.  Now it's too late.

But I was thinking about the comparison between the two families.  They were really city folk vs. country folk.  My father's parents lived in an apartment building in San Francisco.

They lived in apartment #5 and I THINK it's that first set of windows on the right side.  They moved in when my father was a young child and my grandmother moved out after my grandfather died, more than 60 years later, so this is the only house that I ever knew.

It was a no-bedroom apartment.  There was a living room, a dining room, a kitchen and a bathroom and Murphy beds in each room.  My grandparents slept separately.  My grandfather used to sit in the window you see there, looking out on the newsstand at the corner.  In those days, the New=Call Bulletin published three times a day and my grandfather liked to read the latest print addition, so as soon as he could see it being delivered to the newsstand, he would send me down to pick up a copy for him.  I remember my grandmother (whom we always called "Nannie" because "Grandma" made her sound too old) being so angry with me because I ran down the hill and then ran back up the hill and up the stairs to their apartment.  I can't remember the number of times she told me "Don't's bad for your heart!"

She scrubbed her bathroom every day, and once a week she soaked her hairbrush in Listerine (isn't it funny the thing you remember?)  She also had a walk-in closet in which hung her prized fox fur stole, the kind where the mouth of the fox grabs its tail and that's what holds it on you.  We didn't think, in those days, about cruelty to animals.  They also had a candlestick telephone for a very long time, which I always thought was kind of cool.  I wonder if Brianna and Lacie could even figure out what this odd looking thing was used for -- or how to use it!

The furniture was very formal and we kids were always scolded for doing...anything...that might ruin the furniture (Nannie should see her chair, which we have had for many years, and which a dog tore once, so it is now covered by a rug.  She's be appalled.)  I don't remember ever seeing a book in the apartment.

When we ate at her house, it was always a formal dining situation, with good silverware and good china on the dining room table, and fancy dishes served.  (To this day I can't stomach celery root because I hated it when she served it).  The best thing about the kitchen was the bottle of ice water and glass that was always kept in what was first an ice box and later a refrigerator.  It's where I got my love of ice water.

In comparison, my mother's parents moved into a small farmhouse in Inverness, California shortly after my parents married.

Behind the house was my grandmother's (who was always "Grandma") large strawberry patch, to the left of the house was the little building where my grandfather had the baby chickens in incubators and beyond that was a wall of blackberries my cousins and I used to pick when ever we were there.  There was also a chicken coop where I got to collect eggs and feed the hens when I visited.

The house could best be described as "comfortable."  In my memory I see everything as mismatched and overstuffed, but very comfortable and nobody gave us rules for how we had to sit on the furniture.  And if I'm correct, my grandparents also had "flat surface syndrome."

There was a small kitchen with a big black wrought iron stove and a table that took up most of the room, but we gathered around to eat, or to play cards if it wasn't meal time.  I remember once I had tongue for dinner and thought it the most delicious thing I'd ever had, but never had it again, and eventually developed a distaste for organ meats.

My grandparents' bedroom was dominated by an old, sagging bed covered by a big flurry quilt.  Off one side of it was a bathroom where my grandfather's teeth always remained in a glass (he never wore them--and could even eat corn on the cob without his teeth).  It had a claw-foot bathtub, and an odd antiseptic smell to the room.  Grandma was a big reader and there were always books around.  She belonged to the Book of the Month club and one Christmas each of her 32 grandchildren got to pick a book from her bookcase as a gift.

We rarely saw my mother's parents.  It was about a 50 mile drive in days before freeways.  A large portion of the road was winding and I almost always threw up before we finished our journey.  My father hated to make that drive, mostly because he looked down on my mother's family as "hicks from the sticks."  It was one of my mother's big disappointments that she got to see her parents so seldom (though eventually, after my grandfather died Grandma moved in with my aunt, who lived next door to us in San Francisco, so my mother was able to see her every day.)

My father's mother was a fashion plate whose biggest disappointment was that she had not been born into wealth.  She always wore high heels, gloves and a hat when out in public, her nails were always carefully manicured, and she had her hair done every week.  She belonged to a "sewing club" (which, to the best of my knowledge never sewed a thing, but was just a social group), where every woman in the group lived in wealthy homes.  Yet Nannie thwarted every opportunity my grandfather got to improve his financial situation, while at the same time reminding him what a loser he was.

My Grandma, on the other hand, bought her dresses from catalogues and was always soft and huggy.  I hated hugging Nannie, and loved having Grandma take me in her arms and whisper "precious child" in my ear.  I'm she did that to each of her grandchildren, but she always made you feel like you were the favored one.

So those were my grandparents.  I was lucky that I had grandparents, but they definitely showed me two different sides of life!

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