Sunday, June 20, 2010

Grandma's House

When my grandparents retired they sold their motel in Arkansas and bought a small house in St. Clair, Mo. I guess they wanted to live near their kids in St. Louis.

My brother and I spent a lot of time down there.

One day, as we were playing across the street at our friend Raymond’s house, a fire truck pulled in front of their house. My grandmother came over to ask Raymond’s mother to watch us for a while.

My grandfather had a heart attack. He was 62.

I never got that close to him. He was a very stoic man. He made his displeasure with me clear once when I whined about a toy I didn’t like. I was 4 and that was the only conversation I really remember having with him.

His kids were very respectful of him. In fact my brother and I were the only kids of all my cousins that called my grandparents grandma and grandpa. They called them grandmother and grandfather. I think that was a reflection of my dad’s relationship with them. He was the baby and I think emotions may have been a little closer to the surface.

He was buried at a small plot nearby. A huge image of Leonardo’s Last Supper loomed over the property. The grave makers were all bronze plaques that lay flat. I guess it made it easier to mow the lawn. It was the most uptight cemetery I’ve ever seen. It seemed appropriate for my grandfather.

My grandma was a different story entirely. She wore her heart on her sleeve.

My brother and I must have filled a void in her heart. She took us fishing and bought us ice cream. We went to Meramec Caverns often. I still love Missouri’s caves and of course Jesse James is a big part of our lore. It turns out I’m related on my mother’s side. I think 2/3 of Missourians are.

Our friend Raymond had a really cool tree house that was easy to get to. The tree was at the bottom of a hill and his dad ran a walkway to it. He strung a cable from the tree to the ground and attached something you hung from called a zip sled. What a ride!

All of my best friends were comics and Raymond was no exception. His dad stripped a huge limb and planted it as a flag pole next to the tree house. Raymond called it Baby Twig. I thought that was funny as hell for some reason. I guess it doesn’t take much when you’re happy.

One year there was a forest fire. Raymond decided we were the volunteer fire department. He rigged a large tank of water on a red wagon. It actually had a hose that worked. We grabbed a couple of axes and made our way into the woods. There were charred trees that were still smoking and glowing embers. We must have been nuts as we sprayed burning trees that surrounded us. There were four of us. Our ages ranged from 4 to 6 years old.

My grandma’s house was at the bottom of a hill. I sped down it once on a bike and hit a patch of gravel. I took a tumble that ripped my knee open. I’ll never forget the doctor going way up under my skin with long tweezers to pick pieces of gravel out before he could stitch it up. I spent the summer on a picnic table watching my friends having fun in the public swimming pool.

My grandma’s house was surrounded by walnut trees and we ate a lot of them. As distant as my grandfather seemed, he did things for us. Somehow he scaled an extremely tall walnut tree next to the house and strung up a swing. He promised us a huge jungle jim behind the house but died before he could build it.

Behind the house was a shed. A few hundred feet behind that was a forest. They didn’t have garbage collection. They had a large drum up against the tree line where they burned trash. It was no wonder they had forest fires. I remember seeing a thin, scraggly dog back there. I bet it was a coyote.

Here’s a picture of the house. A picture of the gang—Raymond is on the left and I’m on the right. Next to me is my brother Patrick. He had a lazy eye and had to wear an eye patch. He had a really cool one with a strap that was black. He looked like a pirate. And finally a photo left to right of my dad, grandma and Uncle Bill. The painting above my dad was part of a seasonal series by my grandfather’s dad. This is the way I remember my grandma before she had a stroke and spent the remaining years of her life in homes. The stroke affected half of her face so she couldn’t enunciate well. During one visit she motioned for me to come close. She whispered in my ear, “They’re treating me like an infant here.”

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