If you’ve been reading my last few posts, you’ll know that I’ve been working through writing exercises from Alice LaPlante’s The Making of a Story. Go back to Part 1 for a more thorough explanation of the exercise. In keeping with my attempt to not procrastinate, I wrote about two memories. Ms. LaPlante suggests several.
I don’t know why I remember my grandmother Irene’s house so well, almost more than my childhood home. Grandma lived in rusty red fourplex of government subsidized housing in Poteet. The porch was concrete, grey and slick, and the screen door spring was tight, so tight that it squeaked upon opening and shut with a huge BANG, followed by two more bounces. Most of the time Grandma kept the screen door open, but she was sure to keep the hook-and-eye latched. She liked hearing the comings and goings of her neighbor, an older woman like herself that she didn’t care for that much. “That old woman, across the way, she knows er’erbody’s business.” The front door opened straight into a small living room that had one couch, still covered in plastic “to protect it,” a braided polyester rug with small navy and orange stitching, a radio (“turn it up, that’s Freddy Fender!”), a black and white t.v., and a bookshelf with school pictures of every grandchild in every stage of development. On the wall, she had a picture of herself when she was in her late twenties or early thirties. Aside from her nose, I would have hardly recognized her. She was young, with a fashionable 40’s hairstyle. Though black and white, I could tell she was wearing red lipstick on her thin lips. She smiled with her lips closed, to conceal her teeth, or lack thereof.
Whenever I spent the night, I would awaken to a wedge of light from my favorite room, the kitchen. Grandma woke up when it was still dark. I’d lie in bed listening the sounds of the morning. The click of the gas stove, the drip of the coffeemaker, the fridge opening and shut. The stove was a burnt brown enamel and a cast iron skillet always sat ready on the back burner. The fridge had a small, manual defrost freezer. I would often open the freezer and eat the ice crystals that formed along the sides. A set of ceramic fruit decorated the wall, and bowl of plastic fruit and eggs sat on the gold-flecked formica kitchen table. She’d sit me down at that table and serve me eggs fried in bacon grease and sometimes Special K with reconstituted milk. The milk smelled like vitamins. The washer also sat in the kitchen, and there was a screen back door to the clothesline just a few steps away. I’d often play in the rich dirt in the garden right outside that door. I remember one time thinking the black dirt looked just like Folger’s crystals, so I got a spoon from the kitchen drawer, squatted down in the dirt, and eagerly scooped a full spoonful in my mouth. It was just as hearty and earthy and delicious as I imagined it to be. I was confused when she ripped the spoon away and rammed a garden hose in my mouth, yelling at me to spit it all out.
Her bedroom smelled like the Dove soap that spilled from the bathroom attached. Her shower was dark with blue tile and had a corner seat built into it. I would sit on it just because there was a seat in the shower. I didn’t have a seat in my shower at home. There was no door between the bathroom and the bedroom, but Grandma had hung a curtain up in the doorway. The bedroom was really only big enough to hold the bed, one small chest of drawers, and an old, foot-powered black sewing machine with a big wheel. She would let me sit at the machine and pump it with my foot, pretending to sew. Grandma kept her necklaces on a miniature Greek statue whose arms were missing. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that the arms hadn’t broken off. The bedroom’s window was really a sliding glass door that opened onto a back porch that was only a few steps away from the kitchen door. All the ways out of the house made it seem a lot larger than it really was. Grandma told me that an old man named Mr. Ed would sometimes come and sit on her back porch at night and sing “Goodnight Irene.” When Grandma died years later, we included that song in her funeral program.