Mary

Grammy’s house

When I began this blog, so many months ago, I never expected the fresh grief or the healing it would bring. Each memory brought both joy and melancholy as I revisited my childhood days. Of hooligans and shenanigans and Uncles that would sit in their rocking chairs and the sweet sound of my grandmother’s whistle as she did her choirs…

Of all these posts, only one hit me so hard I had to recall, and make it private. I thought to share it with you, as I’m ready to move on. It’s called “Grammy’s house.”

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gramhouse

Dear Rosa,

So I’m writing this while the feelings are fresh and please forgive me if its raw and unfinished. Please forgive me if I don’t edit – it’s a bit difficult to see through the tears.

I  sought Gram’s old house on Summer Street today.

What do you think, Pop, there’s a car in the driveway – can I could drop by for a quick visit? Somehow I hoped he say no. It’d been over 30 years since I last stepped into that house…

It would be best if I came with you, Suss, my dad said with such sad and gentle eyes, the new gal knows who I am – I helped her after Hurricane Irene flooded the place.

We walked down the road, moving at a slow pace, although my breathing came hard. Everything in the neighborhood had changed and yet in a strange way, it remained the same. There at the bottom of the hill was Mrs. Cannon’s house – my other great-grandmother. And there, across the street and right next to Gram’s was the Clough’s place.

Scott’s dead now, Dad said.  Hit a tree trying to avoid a deer.

I thought of Scotty, his soft blonde hair and shy smile – frozen forever in my memory as a young boy. No one would’ve guessed from his adventuresome nature and passion for kickball that he had no future…

We turned the corner onto Summer Street. I watched my father climb the front steps and knock on the door.

This is my daughter, he said as way of introduction, she grew up here, this was her Grammy’s place.

The woman seemed to understand right away. Of course, she smiled and welcomed us in.

Damn. Gram would’ve been pissed.

What was I thinking? That it would all be as she left it? That nothing would’ve changed? That 30 years of floods and countless owners would have kept it intact? And just why was I driven to see it today when I’d hadn’t stepped foot in it since she died?

Her beloved cookstove was gone, the pantry too. They’d even moved the stinkin shed that Marty Dyer, her boarder, used to keep all of his stuff. The floods had taken everything too many times to count. 1927, 1978 and 2011 were bad years for Gram’s house. Even the walls were different.

I felt her though, an echo of her presence.

I merely had to close my eyes to picture the countless scenes… of Gram in her rocker near the woodstove and all of us huddled around watching the tiny black and white tv as Richard Nixon resigned from the White House… Gram whistling the weirdest, saddest song while she cleaned her goldfish tank… Gram hauling her old ringer washer out and ramming her sheets through and me giggling when they came out flat as a pancake.

And I watched my dad as he looked around and wondered:  just how in hell did he do it? How did he not sink into despair when he saw how much had changed? This was his home, not mine – his memories of a childhood gone.

I see my father in a different light now. Courage and strength and by the grace of God he continues on and marks the passage of time. Imagine, to be the last of eight kids, carrying the memories of a lifetime that is no more, walking with courage and dignity into a house cherished by his beloved mother…

I rail against time and it’s cold, cruel nature. I hate that I’ve opened these memories and allowed fresh grief to thrive. I miss these people, Clarence, Lilah, Gram and Hiram. I miss the Sunday afternoons, the conversations, smell of fresh coffee from the bubbling percolator and the taste of her chocolate cake. I miss the life I once had and can never have again.

My daughter brought comfort in the form of a hug. It’s good, she said, that the house is cared for, that the person who lives there has made it their own. Your gram would’ve wanted that.

And damned if she isn’t right.

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Mary · Rosa

Mary’s time of grief…

Dear Rosa,

I hoped this day would come. That I would know where you and Henry rested, where I could go and pay my respects, maybe introduce myself and let you know that you are remembered. I found you yesterday, buried in a little cemetery in Duxbury, Vermont.

There’s only one left who actually met you. My dad, your grandson, Henry. He was just a kid when you died, but he still remembers his Grammy Blaine. And so, I’ll paint a picture of that day and let the words flow…

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October 16, 1944

It would be Mary’s time of grief, of letting go and so Henry would see to the burial. Rosa, his wife of over fifty years, had finally lost to the silent disease that had racked her body, left her bed-ridden and in pain.

He opened his arms and Mary crawled inside. So tiny, just as his Rosa, he thought and felt her trying to hold back her sorrow so she could continue on with the day ahead. She had five sons still fighting in the Great War. All would need her care and comfort when they returned home.  She would have to be strong for them.

“Where?” She sniffed into his sleeve.

“She’ll rest with Freddie.”

It was Rosa’s final request and one Henry agreed to without hesitation. A mother should be with her child and so he’d purchased a plot in the little cemetery where they’d buried their son, Freddie, over thirty years ago.

“I’ll be there one day, too, Mary,” he pulled back to search her face. “You’ll see to that?”

She nodded.  “As you should, Papa.”

“I’m sorry that she won’t be here with you, in Northfield.”

“She needs to be with Freddie. He shouldn’t be alone.”

Mary wiped her eyes and pulled away. He knew the day she faced, the grief she’d have to hide in order to cook and prepare for family that continued to arrive with the word of Rosa’s death. The Boivans, the Blains, there were too many to count and more would only come throughout the week to pay their final respects.

And the daughter-in-laws, the ones with babies – her grandbabies- they would need her strength to get through the calamity of war. They would need to see her face death with compassion and grace.

There’s just too much weight for those tiny shoulders…

Henry watched Mary leave the room and fought back a flood of grief. Not yet, not till this is over and I can be alone. This pain was for him and no one else to see. Soon, he knew, and not too far in the future, he would take his place beside his wife and son and they would be a family once again.

In death, he could give little Freddie what he could not do in life: he could give him forever.

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Henry and Rosa Blaine are buried in a tiny cemetery next to their beloved child, Freddie Blaine.

Mary

Mary, the romantic…

Dear Rosa,

There are few things you wouldn’t have known about your daughter, Mary. So little that would’ve surprised you. For me, though, she was a complete mystery.

How do you combine such disparate traits in one human being? Mary was fiercely loyal to her children and ambivalent to her grandkids. She was a practical woman with a house full of nick knacks, bric-a-brac and clutter. She loved having her “babies” visit and would silently sit on her stool and observe their conversations.

I was young, perhaps 10 or so, when I discovered that Mary was a romantic.

The gold-framed picture was placed on top of a tall hutch and buried behind mounds of photos and figurines. I caught a hint of red and moved closer to better see. Only a scarf and a bit of a profile peeked out from the clutter, but it was enough to spur my curiosity.

Gram, Gram, I said and pulled her from the dishes. Who is she?

Gram strained her neck to see. Who?

There, I pointed to the painting and asked again. Who is she?

Her response took my breath away.

Without words, she dragged a chair over and began moving her beloved chotchkies away. To the side went the Hummels and small silver framed photos. I let her work in silence, not daring to interrupt. Imagine my surprise when she lifted the picture and handed it down to me.

Up close, the woman was so haunting and surreal. To a ten-year old girl, she was the most wonderful thing you could imagine.

She wiped a bit of dust from the glass as I held her treasure.

She was a looker, Gram whispered. Said to be the most beautiful woman of her time…

I could see she loved this picture.

What happened to her?

A shrug and she continued. Was said the painter asked her to sit for him, begged until she finally did. She died shortly after.

Stunned now, I couldn’t look away. Yes, I could see that – I could see the melancholy, the drama, the mystery surrounding this woman draped in red.

Gram took the painting from me then and carefully put it back in its place. Many, many days, I’d spend in one of her rockers just staring and imagining, creating stories about this magical woman. Stories with villans and warriors and she, saved by a man with long black hair…

When my gram died over 30 years ago, when Mary took her enigmatic charm away, she left me with this one gift.

She gave me her picture.

Many years ago I had the glass replaced and searched the image for the artist’s name. It seemed to be a print, although very old, with no signature. If anyone recognizes this image or knows the artist that created, please, please let me know.

Mary

Grammy’s kitchen

Dear Rosa,

It wasn’t much, Mary’s kitchen, tiny compared to most. Yet I wonder even today, at its charm and simplicity. It truly was the heart of your daughter’s home.

I remember marvelling at how tiny it was. Just how did she raise and feed a pack of eight children in a space smaller than my mudroom? Everything had its place and still she managed to pack it with treasures.

It left deep impressions on anyone who spend any time there. Just ask someone in my family and they’ll tell you…

About the fish tank on the kitchen table, a treasure chest bubbling softly, allowing air to circulate for her beloved goldfish. And the statue of Mary praying over the tank. We didn’t dare ask about that, had to accept she knew what she was doing.

Of the bird-cage tucked into a corner wall lined with the Stations of the Cross and the mirror just above her farmhouse sink. Never understood that mirror until recently. Now I know, being mostly deaf, Mary could see who was coming and going behind her. She’d never miss a thing while doing the dishes and whistling the weirdest, saddest song imaginable.

I remember yellow and white and a large black cookstove. Chocolate cake and coffee. Heat in the winter and the tic of the cat clock on the wall. Her crocheting with the black and white tv blasting so loud you couldn’t hear yourself scream.

A while back, my mom paid tribute to Mary’s kitchen by creating it in miniature. She gave it to me and I proudly display it in my living room. I’ll share it with you now, if you don’t mind indulging in my nostalgia a bit longer…

There’s Clarence’s red velvet rocker and Paul’s chair next to the door…
and the table, minus the fish tank…
her beloved cookstove and Hoosier in the background…

I miss you Gram and your chocolate cake.

Mary

Mary

Dear Rosa,

Your daughter, Mary, was a tough woman with hard edges and god, I loved her. Forget the sun, the universe revolved around Gram.

She lived there all her life, her house on Summer street. Raised her babies in that tiny place and watched them grow to adult. Buried far too many way before their time. She was loyal to them, but not to their spouses. Us grand-kids… well, she was sparse with her display of affection, like it cost money or some damn thing just to give a hug or say words of encouragement. Still, she was my world.

Sunday mornings were for Church. Dad and mom would pack us off to St. John’s for mass and then we’d head to Gram’s. It was an event and who needed fellowship after? She provided everything.

The local uncles would arrive, Earle, Clarence and Everett and take over the kitchen for the visit. Us kids would head directly for the side table to sneak up the biggest piece of chocolate cake we could then head to the dining room to eat. Place smelled of fresh coffee and cake and sometimes, goulash. Gram made good goulash. Some would call it spaghetti, we called it, well, goulash. It was the only form dad would eat spaghetti sauce. Mom could never replicate the recipe. It just wasn’t Gram’s.

And the cake… the cake would last until Thursday or so.

Gram, can I have some cake?

We knew she’d get mad if we disturbed her soaps, but it seemed weird to walk into her house without asking.

You know where it’s kept, she waved at the pantry, go, she muttered, get it yourself. Just don’t leave a mess…

She raised eight babies alone. Watched her husband leave from her stoop as he headed off to Arizona for his health. She never talked of him, never divorced, never gave up being “Mrs. Ferry.” I only met him a few times, after he came back to die. He smelled salty, I remember and used an Indian blanket he’d brought back to fight off the Vermont chill. All I have of him is the rattlers from the rattlesnakes he killed and a few grainy photos. He never meant anything to me. Might as well as been the planet Pluto orbiting the far reaches of our universe…

Mary had no hearing. The Mills took it when she was still young. She’d sit by her cookstove on a tall stool and just watch the conversation and it only seemed to make her mad if you tried to engage her – she preferred to let others do the talking.

Tough love, I suppose but there was nothing gray about Mary. You loved her and you hated her.

I would give anything to see her again.

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I’d like to send a heartfelt thank you to Teresa Cleveland Wendell for nominating this site. You can find her lovely blog at: http://bellybuttonblues.wordpress.com  Be prepared to laugh at life’s joys and cry at its sorrows. She is a wonderful writer and a masterful story-teller.

I’d also like to pass this honor along and nominate the following three bloggers for this award.

http://stregajewellry.wordpress.com – a blog where an artist looks for inspiration from nature and all things celtic – she’s just the coolest woman ever!

http://stephaniegregg.wordpress.com – an aspiring writer that has self-published and is just looking for a break…

and http://mouthfulofwords.wordpress.com – another writer who’s just looking for some love…

To accept this award, copy the sunflower and post it on your blog, nominate 3 other bloggers, and tell us 7 things about yourself. 

Now, onto the 7 things about Susan:

I’m small, but tough.

I love to write. I hate Vermont winters.

I’m an artist and am currently illustrating a picture book for a dear friend.

I’m fascinated with all things Irish.

I am not Irish.

My husband is.