I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for all of March. You should do it too! Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!
I keep thinking about the way my grandma’s staircase turned and how her house felt. I wonder how great writers articulate their grandma’s house.
Do they describe the carpet? Do they remember the TV cart with a few VHS tapes piled? Are the white pillars leading from the living room to the dining room as important as the toys that are under the sideboard? Would a great writer pause to describe the glass containers on the kitchen counter – one always with saltines, another with cookies if you were lucky? Are great writers bothered when their memory fails, and they aren’t sure if they are making up the creak of the basement steps? Do their memories of their grandma from 30 years ago, when she seemed so old get mixed up with their memories from now, when she is in her 90s?
If every memory is a slice – a small painted picture – a part of a history. . . how is it fair to just write one?
If I tell you about one visit to my grandma’s when I was 5 or 6 (or 7 or 8…?), what picture will you have? I remember standing at the fridge looking for the ketchup. My grandma kept her ketchup in a crystal lidded vase-like container. (Google is not helping me find an image here – you will have to use your imagination.) Many of my aunts and uncles were around – cousins too, I’m sure. My dad is one of 10, so family gatherings were often big, crowded, noisy but not loud. No, you didn’t yell and carry on at grandma’s. I picked up the crystal ketchup, and it dropped to the floor. Ketchup went everywhere. I have no idea if the crystal broke. I only know that I felt so guilty, so ashamed for dropping the ketchup. I’m sure I was reprimanded by 5 or 10 adults. I had lived down to their expectations of what a 5 or 6 (or 7 or 8…?) year old could (not) do.
But if I close my eyes and think of time at my grandma’s house, I don’t think about the ketchup. I think about walking in, and feeling the softness: The carpet under my feet, the soft hug from grandma, her soft hands. The way she immediately wanted to feed every guest. I think about the kitchen table, and hot milk cake. I try to eat vegan now, but it would be hard to pass up a piece of my grandma’s hot milk cake; not too sweet, the perfect texture, and topped with the most delicious chocolate icing. If I close my eyes I can hear her ask me how school was going, and if I wanted some pretzels with my ice cream. The dishes were blue and white, and everyone helped to wash them after a family dinner. With my eyes closed, I can hear the chatter of my dad and his brothers and sisters. Jokes and stories while they washed, rinsed, and dried. I might have helped a few times, but I was most likely hanging with my cousins. We might be on the third floor, in a giant bedroom with remnants of our parents’, aunts’, and uncles’ childhoods. Or, we might be outside taking a walk around the block. We would come back to someone opening a large bag of hand me downs to pass around. I remember leaving grandma’s house in the dark, always with a hug, an I love you, and my grandma’s voice calling “God bless” as we left. Often we were handed a ziploc bag of burned chocolate chip cookies. Grandma always said that you can give the burned cookies to family.
A great writer could tell you about the smell of the house, and you would be able to see the porch, where the whole family could gather. They would find the truth in the stories stuck in their brain. Like, did my uncles really carry me and my cousin all the way around the block to pretend to throw us in the dumpster? Was the shed haunted? What about the basement? What exactly did my cousins and I play? What did we talk about? What were those toys under the sideboard?
I wish I had a better memory, and a more articulate mind. But, if I close my eyes I can feel the soft slices of being at my grandma’s. Maybe that’s enough.