I was thinking about my grandparents today. I think about them a lot; my parents, my grandparents. My uncles and aunts. The formative people in my life. I miss so many of them, it seems unfair, but that’s growing up I guess.
By the time I knew them, they were semi retired on the Cape. The tiny apartment in Quincy, near the church, was where I spent sick days or holy days with my grandmother. It smelled of the orange juice my grandfather had before work, the table covered with a vinyl tablecloth, felt back. The pens he used (still my favorite – fine point pilots, sparkly barrel with a yellow ring on the top), the newspaper. The tiny tv, UHF, manual channel changes.
But the cape is what I think about the most. My grandfather would work outside all day whenever he could, steady work. He was the steadiest person I’ve ever known. He wouldn’t hurry. You could watch him, raking the seaweed at the shore into the wheelbarrow, or gathering the fallen twigs and sticks. Watch him clearing a path to the hidden beach that I loved so much, just a little further down the shore. Painting a dock. Even when the weather was awful, he’d work in the workshop in the basement, smelling of turpentine and paint, wood shavings. Everything ordered, neat as a pin. I think he had a radio down there; I don’t remember noise though. We made ornaments together once, it was our big project. One hangs on my wall now. He cut the tiny shapes that I traced from paper, and I helped paint them red, and spread the glitter. Mice and elephants and horses.
My grandmother kept the house pristine, even full of guests. Bed linens washed, floors vacuumed of sand and salt. She’d make sandwiches for lunch, fig newtons for desert. She’d do the crossword, and read, and hem our clothes for us. Laundry got hung out on the line. She tended her flower garden, arranged the wild flowers. You had to shake the clothes down for ticks and spiders, but it was worth it for the sun baked into them. Towels off the line were stiff and felt so good. There’s no cleaner smell.
I was thinking about them as I washed my sheets today. The sheets in their house, kept neatly in the linen closet, were the same for all my years. 20 year old sheets, worn so thin over the years, so soft. The patterns were distinctly of their age — flowers and browns and mustard yellows. Pillows were nearly flat from use. They kept things and they cared for them. There wasn’t a lot of waste in that house. They were children of the great depression, and adults of WWII. They worked so very hard — my grandmother as much as my grandfather, raising 5 kids, being a hostess, tending my grandfather. They kept what they had because they valued it, and cared for it. Everything felt well tended and loved in that house. They weren’t sentimental about THINGS, but they…
Well. They gave me something to strive to. I want to be like that, that thoughtful. I want to be someone they would be proud of.