My Grandmother’s House

My Grandmother’s House

A Story by Alex

Written for My creative writing class


On the top of a hill surrounded by woods is a house that calls to me, always there at the edge of my consciousness, its structure is interwoven in the very fabric of my soul. I know every room of this house, every nook and cranny. I could tell you the best spots to hide, where to go to watch wolves and deer and which window to climb out of to look at the millions of stars that come out at night. If I could, I would run the fields with you, barefoot, to the edge of the woods where at the age of 5 I tamed a wolf dog and lived to tell the tale. Or we could walk though my grandfather’s vegetable garden, his pride and joy and the only place he was ever truly at peace.

        He would be waiting, next to the sunflowers at the gate, rake in hand and a knotted handkerchief on his head to protect him from the sun.  We would sample the bell peppers and tomatoes, the sweet strawberries and watermelon; and because it is in his nature he would give us a slice of spicy chilli pepper to test our stamina and taste for adventure. And we would sputter, and we would laugh and squeal all the way to the water pump while he stood there smiling remembering his childhood in Czechoslovakia far different than ours.

        We could go swimming in the pool; with its uneven concrete shell slightly weathered and peeled, the roughness would scratch your skin when climbing out. Would you dive from the board? The one I never had the courage to jump from because its springs made a sound that frightened me. We could creep into the kitchen and see if my grandmother was willing to relinquish some popsicles she stashed in the large freezer on the back porch, or see if she was willing to give us some of the sweets she keeps in the buffet table in the dining room in the right top drawer.

        We could come back at Russian Christmas; the whole family would be there. We would pull into the driveway with its roundel of pines and the dogs would chase the car barking till we came to a halt. Daphne the collie and fritz her grandson, who we bottle fed, when his mother died, along with the myriad of strays that came and went and where always welcome. It was always a miracle to me how they managed to chase the arriving cars and never get hurt. My mother would be terrified but I would laugh with glee and reach out the window in hopes of a lick or the soft feel of fur.

        Winters in New York are cold and the bushes surrounding the entrance would be covered in blankets of snow.  As we walk toward the house you would notice the windows ablaze with Christmas lights and the house itself would seem like something out of a Russian fairytale under its think coat of snow and ice. The house would be warm and the smell of food would greet everyone arriving pulling them into the candle lit dining room where a feast would be waiting. Dance with me in the ballroom with its crystal chandeliers and huge marble fireplace I used to play in as a child. At this time of year it would be decorated with pine branches and long garlands of popcorn and cranberries. I remember helping to make them, we would eat a lot of the popcorn on the way and I can still hear my aunt Bebe saying “first work then eat” as she popped some of the popcorn in her own waiting mouth. Considering that she was only 12 years my senior it was excusable but quite comical in retrospect.

        This house is my home in more than one sense; my first memories are seeded here. My room on the third floor with its yellow snoopy poster, my third birthday; Bebe came up to the baby gate holding up three fingers “you are 3 years old today “ she said laughing. All my presents where in the hall closet, a small doll in a red checker board bed and books. My cousin peter and I driving in a pedal operated blue toy car, and all the mischief we got into like shaving poor Fritz. The cook that was arrested for being a KGB spy and all the people maintaining the place like Mike the handyman who I loved dearly because he always had time for a story or a hug . They could never pronounce my grandmothers name Kropotkin so they would call her Mrs. K. It was funny because the name stuck with the locals and she even started receiving mail as Mrs. Kay.

        As with most Russian immigrant households, my grandmother’s home was always filled with guests. People would come to visit and some of them would just stay, like my grandmothers ex-husband (my grandfather), or father Simeon, a Russian orthodox priest for whom she converted the winter garden into a chapel. When my Grandmother fell on financial difficulties, she converted a floor of the house into an adult home; the residents have become an integral part of my childhood memory landscape

        There was Mrs. Caldwell a sweet, soft spoken lady, who was however an alcoholic and once was rushed to the hospital because she drank rubbing alcohol.  When you sneezed she would say “god bless you.” I remember finding it so fascinating that I would often make myself sneeze just to hear it. She mostly resided on a couch in the library which was converted into a T.V room. The residents, on a wildly mismatched array of sofas and stuffed chairs, and my grandmother on her chaise long would spend hours in there watching daily soaps and movies. “Like sand in an hourglass these are the days of our lives “I think that sentence will echo forever with me. There was a retired police officer named Mr. Cunningham who was in a wheel chair and who I would often visit and watch the mod squad with. I could go on and on about the people in that house their ghosts live on, in its shadow version in my head. They are only a thought, a dream away -quite literally. My most vibrant memories are of that place and to this day I will dream of it although I haven’t been there in over 30 years.

          The last time I was there I was 13. My mother and stepfather had flown in to help prepare it for sale. It was one of the most miserable experiences of my life, it literally broke my heart but there was nothing I could do. For the three weeks we where there I watched pieces of my childhood sold to uncaring strangers at the garage sale. The house empty and sad seemed in need of comfort as did I, but none was given. I remember caressing the walls telling it that I still loved it when none else seemed to anymore. I know it is silly but to me this house had its own character it was more than a place to me. This house, my house was the only real home I had known and I remember driving away from it for the last time, tears silently falling because crying was never encouraged in my family.  I promised to come back for it, I promised to save up and buy it back when I was grown it was one of the few promises I could not keep.

        I know from Bebe that the house is no longer as it was. The new owners tor down the left wing replacing the old kitchen and father Simons suite with g a modern glass-front kitchen. The land has been divided and filled with what she calls “Mc mansions”. New houses stand now where once my grandfather’s miraculous garden had its place, the pool is no more, nor the tree where Peter and I built out tree house. Large parts of the surrounding forest are now gone as well, the thought of it grieves me but I would have to be Bill Gates to make due on my promise and restore the house and property to its former state. As the saying goes “I can never return home,” at least not in the physical realm. In my heart and in my mind the house is still there calling, providing safety and shelter, reminding me of better happier days. 

© 2012 Alex

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Added on October 1, 2012
Last Updated on October 1, 2012
Tags: Home, Grandmother, Loss, Memory



High Point, NC

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