I knew my grandparent’s house as well as my own. I spent many hours there, especially in the summer when my Dad would go to help Grandpa with the farming.
Dad would park the truck out back and look for Grandpa in the barn. I headed into the house to see Grandma. Just outside the back door was an old cistern and a tiny unique tricycle. It didn’t have pedals; you pushed with your feet back and forth to make it move. I was so disappointed when I outgrew that trike.
The back steps were typical of old farm houses. To the left were steps to the basement. If you continued up the steps it was a place to pile wood, old paper bags, a broom and dustpan – a catch all. The basement was dark and cool, crocks of sausage covered with lard awaited preparation for a meal. Jars of maple syrup. Canned goods from the garden. A little bit too scary for me; I never stayed too long and was not encouraged to go there. Then up the steps to the kitchen. As you entered the kitchen, a distinct smell filled the entire house. Dad said it was the hickory wood they burned in the wood burner down in the basement. Even now that smell takes me back.
To the right of the back door stood an old blue dresser. I’m not sure what was stored in the drawers, but the top was covered with Grandma’s seasonal floral arrangements and nature collections. There were flowers from her garden (or from her sister Martha’s garden) arranged in old coffee cans or glass jars. Dried weeds and flowers were things of beauty to her and she brought them inside to enjoy. Hanging over the window sash was a collection of wishbones. In bowls and old pie pans were pine cones, hickory nuts, buckeyes, milkweed pods, and more assorted items from the back yard or from the woods. In the fall there were piles of colorful leaves and goldenrod as well as teasel, wheat, oats, and tall spindly, sticky weeds on long stems. She somehow managed to arrange them into beautiful works of art.
Next was Grandpa’s bedroom which was always dark. I’m not sure if there was a window in the room or not, but it was not a place where we were supposed to be. Of course we would sneak in just to take a look but there wasn’t much to see. A bed, a dresser.
The kitchen table was always cluttered with small dishes that held mints or hard candy. A newspaper or magazine was usually lying on the table as well as a sugar bowl and salt and pepper shakers. The actual kitchen area was pretty small and consisted of a sink, stove/oven and cupboards above and below. There were small shelves above the kitchen sink/window facing east, On one of the shelves was a small plastic cow the you could submerge in water. It would fill with water and you would pump its tail up and down and water would come out from under the cow into a small plastic bucket. Milking the cow was always on the agenda when I visited. Also tucked safely away in one of the cupboards near the stove was a piece of dark blue Shirley Temple glassware. My older cousins tell me there was once a window in the north wall that could be opened and you could crawl into the hidden room at the front of the house. It was boarded over eventually.
The living room was next to the kitchen at the front of the house. Here is where Grandpa sat in a wooden chair with leather padding, next to a table that held his radio, a beautiful globed oil light which had been electrified, newspapers, his chewing tobacco and often a bottle of beer. The radio was on most of the time, but the volume was up when he was listening to the Cleveland Indians or the Detroit Tigers play by play. He always wore a pair of dark blue denim bib overalls. In the summer he was shirtless and hairy chested, which always kind of freaked me out. In the winter he wore flannel shirts or work shirts under the bibs. On the floor next to his chair was a coffee can which he used as a spitoon. A couch with wildly patterned upholstery and another easy chair, a couple of lamps rounded out the decor. There was no television set for a long time. I am guessing it was the mid to late 70’s when Grandpa bought their first TV. The TV was seldom on, but he never missed a baseball game.
The next room was Grandma’s bedroom complete with a Jenny Lind bed and chenille bedspread, later replaced by a quilt She had a small dresser next to her bed with a mirror and in the corner was a box of toys for us to play with.Chutes and Ladders, Go Fish, Dominoes, and Tinker Toys rounded out the collection along with some beautiful yarn cats that were made by my Aunt Martha. It was enough to keep a little one busy for awhile and Grandma always found time to play a game of Go Fish or Chutes and Ladders.
My grandparents house was also where my love of music began. Grandma had an old upright piano in her bedroom which she played quite well. She would always allow me to pick out tunes on that piano. It was here that I discovered I could play by ear. As long as there wasn’t a baseball game on the radio in the next room, I was free to experiment on the piano. My mother took note of this and signed me up for piano lessons when I was nine years old. Eventually, Grandma and I played duets as my skills improved… my favorite being “Fairies Dance” which we discovered in an old Etude Magazine. I played the treble melody, while she played the bass ooom pah pah waltz. I can still hear that duet in my head and have searched unsuccessfully for it over the years.
In the hallway that led back to the kitchen, there was an old long buffet where all kinds of treasures were stored. The one thing I remember was the stereoscope that my cousins and I would always ask to see when we visited. Pictures of Niagara Falls and early century bathing beauties turned into 3D images like magic.
Like most farmhouses of that era, there was a substantial front porch and the east wall of the porch formed one wall of the hidden room or as I liked to call it “The Secret Room”. To the front of the house, a window was the only access to this hidden room. I never remember ever being inside of it. There was a scratchy bush in front of the window and it was too high off the ground for me to get a good look inside. My older cousins brag about climbing inside of the room but I was too timid to attempt it. Instead I stayed outside on the porch and made up stories in my head about why the room was no longer being used.
There was a stair door in the kitchen, with a removable step that stored old books and magazines. The stairs were steep, the upstairs was not heated and all in all was pretty primitive. There was a bed or two upstairs in the first room and boxes of vintage valentines and magazines which I loved to sort through. One room was never finished with any type of wall covering. Pelts and skins from my grandpa’s trapping business were hung to stretch and dry and later would be sold to help support the family. Another room had the door always shut but held old furniture and books, papers, drawing, certificates, and old toys. An old secretary with curved glass door was a place for storage in that room and when the furnishings were distributed after my grandparents’ death, I was lucky enough to bring that secretary to my home.
I often drive a few miles out of my way when I travel north just to drive by the house. It doesn’t look quite the same. There have been two owners since it was sold years ago. But the bones of the place are still there and the memories have not faded.