TBT: Memories of Great-Grandma

This week’s “Throwback Thursday” post was inspired by a conversation I had with Marissa Bergen, Rock and Roll Super Mom, who writes some fun and clever poetry on her blog, Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth. The conversation was on her spooky poem, The Picture. I encourage you to go check it out.  This recollection of mine seems appropriate to run the day before Halloween.

Marissa’s poem was about a (I assume) young child fearful of a painting on her grandmother’s wall and what happened when she decided to take matters in her own hands.  I don’t recall ever spending the night at my grandmother’s house.  Hers was walking distance from ours so I suppose a sleepover never made sense.  I do, however, remember spending the night at my great grandmother’s house.

The memory that I related to Marissa was of spending the night with my younger brother.  It was a very small farm house with one bathroom, a tiny kitchen, three bedrooms, two connected living rooms, and a basement.  Despite the house’s diminutive stature, the hallway going to the last bedroom was at least a mile long.  And not lit.  And I think there were cobwebs in the corners.  And rats watching us with beady little red, evil eyes.  And a witch cackling somewhere just out of sight.

Ok, so maybe the last few points are exaggerations.  Exaggerations on reality, not on how we felt.  I can remember the intense fear of being led down that (actually very short) hallway.  I hated it when my brother stayed with me because if it was just me, I got to sleep in grandma’s bed with her.  Until I got older and she claimed that I kicked her too much in my sleep.  Even then, I got to sleep in the second bedroom.  I never got banished to the end bedroom on my own.

There’s a reason for that.  I think Great Grandma knew that a child alone had no hope of survival in that bedroom.  We never wanted her to close the door.  We never wanted her to leave.  But she always did.

My brother and I would lie flat on our backs, huddled as close to each other in the dead center of the bed as possible.  We’d hold the blanket up tight under our chins.  Our fingers would begin to ache from clinching the sheets so tightly.  And we’d stare intently at the picture on the wall.

I don’t remember what the picture was.  I just remember truly thinking the person in the picture was watching us.  We’d whisper furtively to each other, wanting the reassurance of each other’s voice but fearful that the sound would draw out the demons watching us from that picture.

We were never as united as we were fighting for our lives in that dark room at the end of that long hallway.  “I want to roll over,” one of us would say.

“Ok,” the other would respond.  “I’ll keep watch.  You go ahead and turn over.”

We’d keep watch until we eventually dropped from fatigue.  The paralyzing fear I felt then is still palpable now.  I don’t know why.  It’s not like great grandma was a scary woman.  Well, barring the fact that she only had two fingers on her right hand and she was quite adept at pinching that fleshy underside of your arm with them if you were doing something wrong.  And she had false teeth that she liked to pop out of her mouth at us in a ghoulish expression that would cause us to shriek in mostly-fun fear.

Oh, and then there was the fact that she actually had those three fingers missing from her right hand in a jar in her basement.  I’m not making that up.  The fingers, and a chunk of the hand, were severed when she was two years old and was pretending to play the organ on a piece of sharp farm equipment.  She slipped and sliced her hand.

A very talented German doctor stitched up her hand.  And stored her fingers in a jar of formaldehyde that he kept on a shelf in his office.  And when she got a job working for him as a teenager, he handed the fingers back to their rightful owner.  Nothing spooky about that, right?

No, the truly terrifying thing about Great Grandma’s house was the time I realized just how old she really was.  When it dawned on me that none of my friends went to visit their great grandmas… because they didn’t have living great grandmas.  Or if they did, they were waiting out the end in nursing homes.

My great grandma lived by herself on a large farm out in the middle of nowhere.  When all of this came crashing down on me one day, I called my mom in a panic.  Had to stand at the rotary phone at the end of the kitchen.  And whisper – just in case Great Grandma was listening.

“But mom!” I pleaded.  “What if she… dies?!”

“Well,” she replied calmly and practically, “you’ll call me and I’ll come pick you up.”

“But what if I can’t reach you?!”

“Then you’ll call grandma.  One of us will come get you.”

“But what am I supposed to do until you get here?!”

“What do you mean?  Just wait for us.”

“But what about her?!”

“What do you mean, ‘what about her’?”

“I’d be in a house with a… dead body…”

“Well, it’s not like she’s going to jump up and grab you.  She’d be dead.”

Obviously, my mother had never taken the long walk to that end bedroom or she wouldn’t be so sanguine.  I resolved to sit out on the porch and wait for them there if, indeed, my great grandmother were to expire during one of my visits.  She didn’t, of course.  Like most childhood fears, that one was unfounded.

I had many wonderful experiences at Great Grandma’s house.  And I count the spooky, terrifying ones among them.  Happy Halloween, everyone.

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Why Do They Call Them SLEEP Overs Anyway?

Daryl had his first sleepover party Friday night, with four of his closest friends.  The last sleepover party (being distinguished from just having a friend or two over) was 3 or 4 years ago for Jane.

Let me just say that boys are waaaaaaaayyyyyy different from girls.  The biggest mishap with the girls was when someone dropped their nail polish bottle and some of the polish splattered out all over the we-don’t-care-about-it-30-year-old-linoleum floor in a room marked for remodeling.  And it was easily cleaned up.

The boys…  well… the boys had a lot of energy.  And they were loud.  They opened presents while my husband and I were back in our bedroom trying to get a little quiet time while we ate our pizza.

They went outside before it got dark.  I stepped out to check on them just in time to see a boy throw something that made a clunk as it stuck into a piece of plywood on the ground.  The other two exclaimed in delight and I began to suspect that… surely not…

“What are you guys doing?”

“Oh, just throwing a sharp piece of wood to see if it’ll stick.”

“Are you sure it’s not a sharp piece of metal?”

Yep.  They were throwing a knife.  A long, former kitchen knife whose handle had seen better days that they found… somewhere…  After that, they moved to pushing a large tub of water down the slide to see what would happen.  Eventually, they returned to the house.

Where a boy promptly got himself trapped in the bathroom.  A mechanism in the doorknob had broken.  We tried to disassemble the knob from the hallway but weren’t successful.  My husband then went outside and instructed the boy to open the window.  He then fed tools in to the kid, who followed his instructions to finish disassembling the knob from the inside.  The door still wouldn’t release, until we saw what part was broken and compensated for it.

Freed from the bathroom, he rejoined the others, who were having yet another epic battle in that slated-for-remodel room that suffered a nail polish spill a few years earlier.  There was a rubber Minecraft sword, a rubber Minecraft pick ax, a couple of thin plastic swords, a wooden sword, and a “whip” that was actually the long plastic tube for some toy.  There were also projectiles: a football and my two exercise weight balls.  I quickly reminded them that there was pottery and glassware all over that room and I’d appreciate them not throwing heavy objects at each other.

The office chair that sits at our computer was used as a tank of sorts, with kids using it to glide quickly across the battlefield.  Until it broke.  When someone jumped on it.  We hated that chair but we weren’t necessarily ready to replace it.

During the night, they decided to add ice cubes to the bowl of Hershey almond nuggets.  So much for using the leftover candy for party favors for Hal’s party.  They also spilled stuff – just water, I think – on the rug and scattered candy all over the place.

And made a lot of noise.  I mean, a lot.

We told them at midnight that we were going to bed and they needed to try to keep it down.  I went in and reminded them again at 1:30.  And 2:00.  And 2:20.  And 2:55.  And 3:10.

By 3:30, I was fed up and desperate.  I stomped back into the living room and said, “Look.  I’m sorry.  But it’s time to turn off the TV, turn off the lights, and be quiet.  I mean, quiet.  No sound.  I’m done.  I have another birthday party to run today and I need my sleep!”

Of course, they were dead to the world the next morning.  I was dead to the world for the entire day.  Shoot, maybe the entire weekend.  Somehow, though, I managed to pull off Hal’s party that afternoon with only a few minor mishaps.  Like buying cups when I was serving Caprisuns.  And forgetting candles and a lighter.  And not bringing bowls for the grapes and cheese crackers.  Yet bringing forks even though they were eating cupcakes.

By the end of the day Saturday, I had also managed to confirm that none of the boys from Daryl’s party had accidentally ended up with one of the other boy’s Xbox controller.  And it was definitely not in my living room.  So it looks like the cost of the party will be increased by the cost of replacing the controller.  And the office chair.  And the bathroom doorknob.

Oh, well.  At least he had a good time.  And I truly wish him the best of luck in convincing me to ever do it again.

Sleeping Alone

Daryl spent the night at a friend’s house last night. He’s done this before but it’s been awhile. Hal doesn’t like it. Not one bit. He’s very accustomed to having his brother in the room with him. He said he was scared when we put him to bed and we told him he’d be fine.

Sometime after my husband left to pick up Jane from her outing with a friend, I thought I heard Hal’s door open. I gazed down the hall but saw nothing. I turned back to the computer. Time passed. Then my chair moved ever so slightly. Hal was hiding behind my chair.

“I’m scared Mommy. I don’t like Bubba being gone.”

I had him lay on the guest bed nearby until I finished the night’s blog post. Then I carried him back to his room.

“You know,” I said, as I tucked him back in, “when Bubba was about your age…” I was about to tell him that his Bubba had slept in a room by himself, but then it dawned on me that five years ago, I was about to give birth to Hal. We had already moved Jane into Daryl’s room so we could turn her room into Hal’s nursery. But, wait! That means…

“You know what, Hal?”

“What?”

“Did you know you slept in a room by yourself when you were a little baby?”

“No.”

“Yep. You slept in a room by yourself until you were about 2 or 3 years old. Sissy’s room used to be yours.”

He got a big smile on his face. “I did?”

“Yep. So, see? You’ve done it before. You are just scared now because you aren’t used to it. But it’ll be ok. I wouldn’t put a baby in a room by himself if it wasn’t safe, would I? And I wouldn’t do it to you now. You’ll be fine. I promise. Just remember when you get scared that you’ve done it before, even if you don’t remember. Ok?”

He snuggled into his blanket like he was willing to give it a shot, but then, speaking very slowly as if working it out in his head, he said, “Well, Mommy, maybe when I was two I was really brave and now that I’m four, I’m not very brave at all.”

“Oh, sweetheart. You are just as brave now as you were then. You just didn’t know anything different then. I bet if we grew another bedroom on this house and moved you into your own room, you’d stop being scared in no time. You just aren’t used to it, that’s all.”

With that, I gave him a hug and left him to face the monstrous silence of an empty room. Alone.

Did You Forget Anything?

Jane, who has been away from home this entire summer (save about ten days), commented today how much she misses her two best friends. Since they both live within walking distance of our church, I suggested that she invite them to our talent show tonight. So she did and one came.

When it was over, the normal post-event chaos ensued. Everyone milled around to congratulate the performers on a job well-done. Children ran to and fro at break-neck speeds, gushing hyper post-performance energy. As I left a conversation with the music director and her husband, I was approached with The Question.

The Question comes up anytime Jane is in the company of a friend and is often cleverly crafted in a way to make the request seem un-burdensome and even wise.

“Can Allison spend the night with us tonight? She’s going to the volleyball camp tomorrow, so it’d be real easy to drop her off too.”

“No. I have to drop you off at Madison’s house in the morning before work. Her mom is taking you to camp because Daddy has to take the boys to swim lessons.”

With that, she walked away and I thought the conversation was done. How foolish I was. The girls regrouped and approached Madison’s mom. When I was revisited, the plan had changed and had already been approved by at least one parent from each household. Jane had weighed her odds and approached her dad.

The new plan was that Jane and Allison were both going to spend the night at Madison’s house. Since Madison’s mom was already taking Jane to camp, after all, it’d be no problem. Of course, neither girl had brought her volleyball clothes to church that night. So all I had to do was run Jane home to get her clothes. Oh, and stop by Allison’s house to pick them up because they could walk down there to get Allison’s clothes. No big deal, so far as the girls saw it.

Various logistical problems ensued, including sending Daryl home with Madison’s mom so Allison could fit in our car. This solved the “it’s not fair” problem Daryl had with the whole arrangement by giving him some time with Madison’s brother Trenton. I also had to clarify to Allison’s mom that “spending the night with Jane” did not mean staying at Jane’s house, which then meant introducing her to Madison’s mom, whom she had never met, and assuring her that I was not sending our children home with an axe murderer. Eventually, though, we had the two girls in our car and drove home to get Jane’s stuff.

Before we left our house, I asked, “Did you get everything?”

“Yes.”

“Knee pads?”

“Oh, wait. No. Be right back.” She ran back to her room and when she returned, I resumed my checklist of items she usually forgets.

“Sports bra?”

“Oh, yeah. Better get that too.” As she returned, she suddenly remembered her tennis shoes. In the car, I ran down the remaining items. Shorts? Shirt? Socks? Hairbands? Deodorant? Toothbrush? Toothpaste? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. YES, Mom.

“Oh, by the way. We need to stop by Allison’s house. She forgot her kneepads.” On the way to Allison’s house, she remembered a couple more things that she had forgotten, including her shoes. Allison ran into her house to get the forgotten items while her mom stood at the door and shook her head in dismay. Then Jane yelped the tell-tale “Oh! Shoot!” and started rummaging through her bag. She hopped out just as Allison returned to the car. “Can I borrow an UnderArmour headband?” she asked.

“Sure,” said Allison, “What color?” Jane pondered the question while Allison ran down the possibilities and I thought What color?! Seriously? Does that even matter? Beggars can’t be choosers. Come on girls… Jane eventually settled on “anything with black on it” and we were soon on the road to Madison’s house.

When I finally made it home, I realized I had (ironically) forgotten my phone in the car. Opening the door to retrieve it, I saw a pair of tennis shoes in the front floorboard.

Do you need these tennis shoes in the floorboard? I texted.

Ohh crap yeah was the response.

Hmmm.

I don’t suppose you could bring them to me??

It’s a wonder these girls can even remember to get out of bed. I wonder what they’ll forget at Madison’s house when they leave for camp in the morning.

Addendum: The next morning, we transferred the shoes from my husband’s car to my truck. As I began to back out of the drive, I received a text from Jane: I think I left my Gatorade in the car too.

I hopped out and hustled over to the car, retrieved the Gatorade, and then resumed my trip. At Madison’s house, I carried in the two pairs of shoes (Jane’s father and I had disagreed with her shoe selection, believing the shoes with tiny welding burn holes were still a better choice than those falling apart at the toes), but missed the Gatorade, which had rolled off the seat during the drive.

I stated our case for the shoes. She stuck with her selection. I said I hoped she didn’t hurt herself diving for the ball. She asked for her Gatorade.

When I said I had left it in the car, she had the gall to tease me for forgetting an object that I care nothing about and which had been forgotten by the person for whom it is important. Then, on the way out the door, Allison called out from the couch, “Hey, Jane. Grab mine too please.”

“Wait, she forgot hers too? I didn’t bring the car, honey. If you needed me to search the backseat for her Gatorade, you should have said so.”

I’m at work (finally). Those girls are on their own now. God help them.