A red house sits on a knoll at the bottom of the first big hill between Tyler Hill and Damascus. Passing aging dairy farms on either side, the entire scene comes into view: red wooden outbuilding, average back yard containing
one two rhubarb patches, cast iron kettle housing seasonal plants, white wooden sign with black letters proclaiming “The Eldreds”.
Park against the knoll and pull up; cows cross the road most evenings. Two entries might pose a quandary; general rules dictate family enters through the garage, everyone else through the kitchen.
Pass through the driveway cut into the hill and flanked on either side with stacked field stone. Family stories tell of blizzards that filled in the gap. When my father and uncle cut tunnels without my grandfather’s knowledge, he discovered them the hard way.
Pull open the door to the basement. Like the driveway, the foundation is field stone. The air is cool and damp, but not unpleasant. Even on hot days, especially on hot days, the basement provides welcome relief. Turn left at the workbench. My father and grandfather and his father – and, I suspect, his father – used these tools. I never knew the older men. A photo with Grandpa John; faint, half-imagined memories of sitting on his lap some Sunday afternoon; the familiar scent of pipe tobacco – these are all I have of him. My great-grandfather’s sixteen pound bowling ball collects dust; I haven’t been bowling in years.
Continue walking to the large, white Westinghouse freezer. Inside are frozen meats, vegetables, and Mrs. Smith pies. Odd for a woman who made her living making deserts for the sale yard lunch counter. Turn left. Turn right for the water softener (well water started calcifying) and root cellar, its shelves a veritable cornucopia of canned fruits and vegetables and bags of potatoes. If possible, the room is even colder than the basement. Instead of right, turn left for the stairs.
Climb the stairs, treads covered in worn green carpet and vacuumed biweekly with the handheld DirtDevil. Knock on the door to announce your presence. Trust me, you want to knock.
Enter the kitchen. Wallpaper more blue than white covers the walls, its pattern (kettles? jars? flowers? memory fails me) reminiscent of chinaware. Appliances: refrigerator, stove, toaster oven, washing machine. On the washer, a blue cookie jar stores a choice of chocolate or vanilla. Counters and cupboards appear small yet prove adequate for any meal. They also house secrets like the Flako pie crust Grandma used. My mother and I make ours from scratch. The sink overlooks the font yard/hill/road. Focal point: the kitchen table. Devotions and newspapers read here. Newspaper articles typed on the white and blue Royal typewriter. How hard it was to purchase ribbon and carbon paper in those later years! Games of Scrabble won and lost, played on the deluxe revolving model redeemed (I believe) with Sears and Roebuck stamps. Suppers eaten: Tombstone personal pizzas, Progresso chicken noodle soup, or homemade chef salad – hold the onion if there’s basketball practice – followed by chocolate pudding mixed with the trusty hand mixer. On the wall, a rack displays a teacup for milestones in my grandparent’s marriage. On one, gold leaf indicates fifty years of marriage.
Go into the living room. The bluish-green shag carpet smells comfortingly of must or dust or something. How many times after school did I lay on this carpet, finishing my homework before watching Spongebob SqaurePants, the World News with Peter Jennings, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy!? The furniture is pristine, protected most of the time by plastic or furniture coverings. The recliner is Grandma’s throne. From it, she watches her “programs” all afternoon: The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, Days of our Lives. She brooks no interruption during this time. A shadowbox on the wall displays small trinkets and gives the narrow room more depth. A combination record/tape/8-track/radio disguised as a dresser sits against one wall. Despite my efforts, I never heard it play. A door leads to the outside, but I don’t recall anyone ever using it. A drunk did come pounding on it late one night, though.
Down a narrow hall and past a china cabinet is the bathroom, the porcelain scrubbed clean and smelling faintly of Shaklee products. The hot water will scald you, so be careful. Water pressure has always been off, so the sink takes forever to drain. No worries, though. Grandma’s bedroom is down the hall, too, but I rarely go there. I only remember a bed and late 50s early 60s dresser.
Back to the kitchen and into the spare room – what was once my Grandfather’s bedroom. Two windows, bed, dresser, mirror, radio, and a potted plant make up the room. A plaque on the wall shows a ship and the words “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me.” A door leads to the attic; as a child I feared someone or something coming down the stairs to get me. The settling and creaking of the house did nothing to allay these fears. I didn’t much like the windows, either.
Clamber up the steep steps to the attic, built-in bookshelves on the right-hand side. I come here to retrieve something stored, my father and uncle slept here as boys. I loved it as a secluded retreat.
Back down the stairs, through the side room, and out the kitchen door to the porch. A birdfeeder perched on a metal pole to the left, its back shot out by Grandma protecting her birdseed from a marauding opossum. The clothesline attached to a post terminates at a tree in the yard. A large star is permanently displayed on the porch roof. At Christmastime, blue lights illuminate the decoration.
Descend the steps to the front yard, which terminates shortly in a steep decline. Several large trees dominate the landscape, but two small blue pine shrubs add some color. Head towards the back yard and the woodshed with its dull, red paint beginning to peel. Smelling of must and gasoline, crates, barrels, and an old, cage-style four-crib nursery holds yard sale items brought out every year in the hopes that some passing motorist will stop and buy them. More often than not, they are put back into storage at the end of the summer.
Back outside and into the back yard where two rhubarb patches provide their tart goodness. My father now grows cuttings from these patches. Here also is the cinder block stove and a burn pile, places for burning fallen limbs and the autumn leaves. Ah, the smell of burning, smoldering autumn leaves.
Now we’re back to the front yard with the white sign and cast iron pot. My father has the kettle; I don’t know what happened to the sign.
Grandma’s been gone for nine years now. Thomas Wolfe was right: you can’t go home again.
This post is being published as part of Writing 101. Challenge 2: Describe a place while telling the backstory and organizing the post around the description of the setting. Since this is to be a journey through the mind’s eye, I have not included any photographs.