We often hear the phrase “a house is more than a collection of bricks”. I don’t know what that might mean to you, but I can tell you what it means to me. I’m going to talk about my Gramma’s home. For me it’s a symbol for home and family.
When I was a kid we would visit my mom’s mom in Watseka, Illinois. Watseka was sleepy little eastern Illinois town in the middle of corn fields as far as the eye could see. It was a 2-story, shingled house with a front porch that went the width of the front. I don’t remember what color it was. Maybe some kind of neutral gray green with white trim. There were two big Christmas tree-like pines that sat on either side of the walkway entrance to the porch. On the ground, next to the porch, there was a wide swath of lily of the valley. That was on the north side of the house and the lilies did well there.
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On the far end of the porch was the swing. It was close to the edge, so when my brother and sister and I got on it and swung back and forth, to the limit, it would almost go off the end of the porch. We never had a sensible thought if the porch chains were anchored securely in the ceiling. We just knew that we had our own private playground in the shade. When we swung we could see what was going on inside the house. Mom or Grandma never came out and scolded us, which in hindsight was kind of an anomaly because they scolded us right and left for everything else. Maybe they were just happy to have us out of their hair, but still be near enough to keep an eye out.
We spent our vacations on that porch. The backyard was an open expanse of weeds and short grass. No trees. Nothing. Entirely uninviting, unappealing, and hot in the southern exposure. Gramma worked at the local TRW plant making radio parts. She said she liked it because she could spend the time chatting with her friends. She said it was repetitive drudgery, but that the friendliness made up for it. When she came home all heck would break loose. Grandma was an energetic person. Mom said when Gramma was young she was the “life of the party”. She had a mischievous giggle and she would put her hand to her face when she thought of something that amused her that was on the edge of naughtiness, then she would giggle. Sometimes she would stick her tongue out a little bit between her teeth to put emphasis on it.
The interior of her house was immaculate and full of the most intriguing treasures that I could think of. I loved rifling through her drawers of buttons and knick-knacks, cheap jewelry and mysterious objects. Gramma let me. She didn't mind. The upright piano sat in one corner of the living room and Gramma would sit down and plunk away some kind of spontaneous combination of honkey tonk and German oompa. Sometimes my dad and mom stood nearby and sang along. We kids sat on her dark red, plush sofa and listened raptly. My parents could sing well. My dad had a smooth baritone and my mom had a fine alto. She could also harmonize and, later on, I picked up this talent and I don’t know to this day how to tell you how to do it. You just listen and you do it.
Gramma’s kitchen was small but efficient. She made her delicious angel food cakes and sold them to everybody in town. We toasted bread in her strange toaster that only had two sides. You opened a side by flipping down the tray, inserted the bread and turned it on. It only toasted one side at a time. Gramma baked everything in her old stove. She had a temperature gauge but, by habit from the old days when she learned on a wood stove, she opened the door and reached her hand in there to tell what the temperature was. Everything always came out scrumptious. It was never under- or over-cooked.
Up the banister stairs we climbed to the bedrooms when it was bedtime. The wood floors were polished and slick. The beds piled high with tie quilts Gramma made. Before bed she would bathe us in her claw foot tub. The water came out smelling sulfur, I guess, or iron. What does iron smell like? Gramma had pretty lavender tub salts that she put in the water. It covered up the water’s odor so it didn’t bother us. Then we’d clambered in with our little heads barely peering over the edge and up to our chests in warm water.
All dried off and in our jammies, we jumped in bed, pulled the covers up and called out to be tucked in and read to. The quilts seemed like mountains and even to this day I am partial to luxurious bedding and slippery cool sheets. Gramma or Mom read us fairytales from The Quiz Kid’s Book about Toads and Diamonds and Wild Swans.
Every time I go into a home as a realtor I think about the families that have lived there and what the walls could tell us about their joys and sorrows, successes and failures, and above all the love that lived between those walls and under that roof. That’s what the legacy of Gramma’s porch swing means to me.