My father's father died when I was 5, and I don't remember him physically at all. I have his eyes, though; my genes remember. He was a doctor and he and my grandmother lived in a beautiful ranch-style home in Northfield, one of Chicago's aristocratic north side suburbs. This meant nothing to me as a child, since snobbiness wasn't my own family's style. My grandmother lived on in the house for years after her husband's death, and that house formed several of the impressions of what I still seem to have in my head as "dream house."
The house was back in a quiet, private, wooded area, and white-painted stones lined the edges of the road. There was a wide circular drive and in the circle were 3 or 4 towering trees. Pachysandra filled the edged and perfectly manicured gardens. There were always popsicles in the big old freezer out in the garage. The garden behind the house, which was only reachable through an ivy-covered wooden door on either end of the house, was long and skinny and groomed, twined with ivy and ground cover, willows, hidden fountains and flowers showing to best advantage. Pussywillows seemed to be always in season. The patio had luxurious sun-lounging furniture with overstuffed cushions and curlique ironwork tables, some with mosaic tile tops. Cardinals and blue jays sang and swung in the treetops. Squirrels scampered up and scolded us from the safety of the higher branches.
There was a trap door on the ceiling inside the kitchen entrance that led up to a treasure-attic. The kitchen was low-ceilinged and had a long counter with stools. Ahead, the family room was brick and stone and giant copper plates engraved with arabian arabesques hung above the mantels. Here was a comfy couch, the TV, my grandmother's desk, bookshelves and a huge rug for playing on. Oil paintings of pine trees, twisted oaks, my great-grandfather and my father as a red-headed freckled boy in thick gold-peeling frames hung from the walls. A vase of tall pussywillows towered in one corner.
The rooms marched down the length of the house, a long hallway connecting them. Next to the family room was the formal dining room, next to that the formal living room, lined with windows overlooking the garden, and full of shiny, slippery satin furniture that we weren't allowed to sit on and beautiful objects that we could admire only with our hands behinds our backs. There was a main entrance opposite, which we never used, being muddy and boisterous grandchildren.
Then came the bedrooms. First, the room my sister and I always shared: an impression of yellow and small flowers, an old-fashioned low rocking chair in dark wood and daffodil upholstery, shelves lined with the gold-embossed spines of Reader's Digest Collections, two high twin beds with butter-yellow bedspreads. My grandmother's bedroom was off-limits and I only remember there were cardinals everywhere. She collected tiny fragile porcelain birds and they perched throughout the house on tiny tables and shelves. My grandfather's study, where my brother usually slept, was at the very back, dark wood, dark furniture, medical books and a ship captain's barometer and compass hanging on the wall. All the rooms were dim, light filtering through the bushes and trees which protected the house. The bathroom had gold filigree accessories and a little gold swan held the soap. Of all the beautiful things that my grandmother owned, I horrified her once by letting her know it was the swan I coveted most.
It's funny, now, remembering. We spent summers and vacations for years in that house and so little of it remains in my memory. Scenes float and things in the house, but I can't be sure if I'm remembering them correctly. I can remember the warmth and kindness of Theotus and his wife, housekeeper and handyman, a couple that took care of things for my grandmother but I can't remember their faces. My grandmother always seems to be sitting at her desk, writing. Where my parents were, I have no idea. They have little presence in my memories of that house. We ran and played and dreamed in the sun, and gorged on the cold, fruity ice of the endless popsicles.
Green, heavy, dappled with sunshine and buzzing quietly, sharpened by our shouts and laughter, it was always summer there.
She-Dork's Rockin' Fortune Cookie Fortune: Life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards