I have written before about visiting my grandmother’s house; but that was just one grandma. I was lucky enough to have two. I was able to visit and spend the night at both of my grandmother’s houses quite often when I was young. To say that my grandmothers were nothing alike is such an understatement that it really does not paint an adequate picture of the ladies. My point today is not to describe their differences, so I will let it suffice to say that my experiences at each of their homes were quite different. Although each would gladly have had me say that I had a preference, I can’t say that I did. My experiences with both have added to my life in many ways. I lost both before I was able to really understand what I had in them. There are still things that happen on a daily basis that bring back memories of each of them.
My dad’s mom lived very close to me, within walking distance. Her house had some of the most unique features that I had ever seen when I was very young. When my sister and I spent the night with her, the number one thing we most looked forward to was getting to take a bubble bath in the “green bathroom.” Now, this was in the late 1970s. She had a bathroom that had a green bathtub, a green sink, and a green toilet. I think there might also have been some green tile. For real. Green like Kermit the Frog. I thought it was like Cinderella’s Castle- it was so fancy! Across the bathtub, she had a golden tray filled with powders, gels, and bubble baths. When we came over, she let Tyra and I each squirt in bubble bath and fill the tub with bubbles until they were flowing OVER THE TOP! Can you imagine the decadence??? Then, when we got out, she took this gigantic powder poof and poofed us all over with perfumed powder. We must have smelled like Saturday night hookers at school the next day, but we were just delighted with ourselves that night, let me tell you.
Her house contained other delights. She had about 200 bottles of nail polish in every shade imaginable. This seems like no big deal now, but this was the 1970s. Back then, you had pink, red, and peach. My grandma had every color in the rainbow! Honestly, I don’t know how she obtained these nail polishes. I really don’t want to know. I’m better off not knowing. (If you know, just don’t tell me.) She had black and gray, glitter and gold, white and purple. She would let us paint our nails any color we wanted. But really, we usually just looked at the colors. It just seemed too crazy to have green fingernails. Only my grandma could get away with that.
She had a massage bed. It was right next to the fingernail polish. It was a light teal blue color. This was not the massage bed that you laid upon to receive a massage from a masseuse. This was a bed that gave you a massage. It was gigantic; a size down from the iron lung machines polio patients once had to use. I don’t remember ever using it. I can remember laying on it, so I’m not sure if I was too afraid to turn it on, or if it just didn’t work. Either is equally likely.
In the same room as the massage bed was a player piano. You inserted these scroll looking things into the top part and it played songs by itself. The keys and foot pedals moved and everything. It was really fascinating. I have seen them since then, but this was one that we were allowed to actually play with. The whole top was covered with boxes and boxes of scrolls containing all kinds of songs. That piano was a big hit with all of the cousins. I don’t know if anyone in the family could actually play the piano, but we sure could watch it play.
Grandma’s living room had super shiny hardwood floors. By one of the big windows, she had a plant that had long vines that stretched way out over the floor. She liked to keep the leaves of that plant very shiny. When I say “she,” I mean she liked her housekeeper to keep the leaves very shiny. She went through a number of housekeepers. I wouldn’t have lasted very long either. I would have dusted that plant with weed killer. One Christmas, the housekeeper dusted both the plant and the hardwood floor with a new cleaner. I am not sure if she did it accidentally or accidentally on purpose, but the cleaner left the floor slicker than snot. I mean slick. SO slick. People could not even use the entrance to that room without falling right down. Everyone was stuck in just the kitchen. The cousins were able to use the entire living room as a giant skating rink with just our socks. It was great fun for us. I do think we got into considerable trouble for breaking off many, many vines though.
The bedroom where my sister and I slept had been my dad and his brother’s room. The room had been converted to a playroom. Looking back, that room had several unique features. My dad told me that the two big, rectangular nooks in the wall had been where the murphy beds were when he was a kid. They had desks in them now. As a kid, I really wondered who Murphy was and why he needed two beds. I also wondered how he slept in a vertical position. Perhaps he was a vampire or something. I was glad he was no longer around. There was a sofa bed in the playroom for Tyra and me. This was also a novelty for us. It was a couch, and then it was a bed! The wonders never ceased. The side of the room opposite the former murphy beds housed a bank tellers’ counter from a real bank. We played bank all the time. There was a big old fashioned adding machine there. I can recall that we also played bank robbers, Charlie’s Angels style.
My grandma’s bedroom was probably my favorite room of all. She had VELVET wallpaper. Can you believe it? The wallpaper had red velvet vines. The luxury was just astounding. I had never experienced anything like it. Looking back, I kind of question why my grandmother had red velvet wallpaper in her bedroom. I find it better to just go with it and not question. As a child, I thought it was the height of luxury. She also had a dresser covered in jewelry that she let me play with. I could put five rings on every finger and thirty necklaces around my neck. She even had tiaras! Her closet was filled with shoes that she let me wear to accompany my jewelry. To top it all off, I put on her mink coat and sashayed my way around the house while she told me how pretty I was. Damn. I really miss that. My life might have peaked when I was five and I just didn’t know it.
Before you go thinking that life at Grandma’s house was so good that I am possibly making this all up, there was a downside. It was a fairly considerable downside. It was the food. Grandma and I did not share the same culinary appetites. First of all, I have always hated milk. If you know me, you have never seen me drink milk. I don’t. Ever. I never have. I equate it to just licking out the inside of a cow’s mouth. I know that makes no logical sense, but I cannot get past it. My grandma was convinced that I had to drink milk or something horrible was going to happen to me. She made me drink a juice glass of milk with every meal at her house. She wouldn’t even let me put chocolate syrup in it to drown the taste. I had to drink it straight up! I still do not drink milk to this day and I never, ever, ever will. But I do take a calcium pill.
For dinner, Grandma made her own TV dinners. In her freezer, she had dozens of aluminum trays covered with aluminum foil. Each one had three sections; one for meat, one for a potato of some kind, and one for a vegetable. She would take three trays out of the freezer and pop them into the oven when it was close to dinner time. If she had some sort of marking system for what was inside the trays, I was never able to unlock the code. She seemed as surprised as we were when she peeled back that foil. The only vegetable I can ever remember her having was lima beans. And here’s a clue- that was my favorite part of the whole tray! When lima beans are your favorite, you know you’re not in for a taste treat. The potato dish might be mashed potatoes with brown swimmy gravy, German potato salad (always a kid-pleaser), or scalloped potatoes. Then came the meat. I am not really a fan of meat to this day and it could possibly be traced back to those home-made TV dinners. I can recall meatloaf, turkey slices, and pork chops. I can actually still see them in my head. It’s like a flashback. It’s a TV dinner flashback.
In the morning, Grandma slightly redeemed herself by making cinnamon toast. (Even though I had to wash it down with the dreaded cow slobber milk.) She even had colored sugar to sprinkle on top, which I thought was just delightful, even though I was slightly afraid it would kill me. It was just decorating sugar that you use for cookies and cakes, but my mom was not a baker. I had never seen such voodoo before. It seemed a little suspicious to me, but I was deliriously hungry by morning. She could have sprinkled paprika on my toast and I would have eaten it.
I was not the only one who thought Grandma’s cooking was a little off the beaten path. One Christmas, she made candy out of orange juice and tomato juice. It looked like little squares of jello. It tasted like death. My uncle chased all of the cousins around the house with pieces of that candy in his hand, holding it out in front of him as if it were a dead bird or something. The leftovers probably ended up in the TV dinners.
I wish I could chat with my grandma now. I wish she could meet my children. I think she would love them so much. She would be so proud of them. She’d be disgusted that I have gone so many years without drinking milk- that I know for sure. I am sad that now that I am old enough to really know what to ask my grandparents, they are no longer here for me to ask. We’ll be together again one day and I will get my chance. Until then, I will treasure these memories.