Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sundays

I'll go on record as saying that Sunday is my least favorite day of the week. It's not so much the day itself, but what it represents, though it's true that the days we drag the grumpy and unwilling to church (but not before I must switch on my Uterine Tracking Device to locate pants for everyone) creates a friction that has pretty much rubbed the lustre from any hope for a day of quiet meditation and thanks.

Now it's just the day before the great sinkhole of the work week/ school week/volunteer-a-palooza starts afresh and we're sucked into the giant vortex of big, chunky obligations and tiny, ephemeral promises we made to someone while walking backwards trying to answer the cellphone and motion the youngest kid to hurry up because it's time to go someplace else. Because, like the character of Brooks says in the movie, 'Shawshank Redemption', "The world suddenly went and got itself in a big, damn hurry".

Many moons ago Sunday frequently meant lunch at the home of my paternal grandparents, and even though Sunday has morphed into many things throughout the years, the childhood memories that remain the strongest for me right now center around afternoons at the house on Oak Knoll Drive. Settle down, though, the picture I'm using isn't from one of those dinners. This was a picture taken long before there were any grandchildren, but I'm including it because I've always liked it. My grandfather, a German immigrant, was a naturalized U.S. citizen in this picture and an officer in the army. My grandmother was still wearing her hair up.

Either way, Sunday at the home of these particular people meant Granny adding the extra "leaf" to the big dining room table and the best linen cloth spread over it with a special pad underneath to keep water rings off of the table. Heavy silver and the U.S. Zone china they brought from Germany. Cunning cut-glass salt & pepper shakers.

Steak and baked potatoes, though sometimes she served homemade french fries and my sister and I were allowed to help drop the slices into a brown paper sack with salt and "shake" them until they were de-greased and seasoned perfectly. Steamed artichokes with your own personal bowl of melted butter for dipping the leaves. A salad with a briny dressing which incorporated anchovies that no one had the presence of mind to ask Granny while she was living how it was made and that no one in our family has been able to replicate since her death.

Often our cousins were there and if we stayed late enough until the sun shone in amber bars through the windows there was always ABC's Wide World of Sports ("the agony of defeat") on the television, though we kids were often too busy playing croquet outside or learning card games at the table after the dishes had been cleared. Sometimes we played in the paneled room that had been my father's in high school or we slipped into the cool and dim spare room where Papa had his oil paints set up. Adults talked and the air was punctated with the smell of my grandfather's pipe and my grandmother's occasional laughter, which was a rare and wonderfully powerful thing...explosive in its force.

At the time I was unaware of the familial stresses creating an electrical undercurrent amongst the adults. Emotional injuries and hurt feelings, regrets and resentments would caused a rift that resulted in us not setting foot in that house for about three years. By the time Sunday dinner had been reinstituted with us as a part of it, Papa was dead and though his pipestand was still on the table next to his chair in the living room, my grandmother had assumed his place at the head of the table. The spare room now held her canvases and oil paints and art magazines while her own bedroom was dark because of the aluminum foil she placed over the window panes to keep the room chilly year round.

We never played another game of badminton in the backyard after that and the metal sleeves that Papa had sunk into the ground where the net could be set up were grown over...as was the lovely rose garden he tended. The green birdhouse with the painted windows and doors fell apart and when the tree lights didn't work anymore, no one fixed them. The tree that held the swing had been cut down.The wooden sandbox Papa had fashioned for the grandchildren was gone and no one used the brick barbeque pit he had built with its sandstone patio. Eventually Granny replaced it with an ugly metal shed where she kept the mower.

I learned then that when one person makes his exit from a group of people to which he belonged, the chemistry of the gathering changes. Sometimes it's a good thing. In this case, it was not.

Years later, after all of the grandchildren had graduated college, married, had our kids and moved away, Granny and Papa's house had to be sold. Strokes and old age had turned my grandmother into a person who could not speak and she had been moved to an assisted living facility. Some items and furnishings had gone with my grandmother and others had gone home with my father and his sister. The rugs from the Paris fleamarket rolled up and distributed. The grandkids came and those who lived in town took what talismans they could haul away with them. Mr. Half and I came away with the phone table and some military trunks, a rocking chair and her spaghetti pot. Her cookie tin.

The last day we had to be in the house I took a video camera and walked around the inside and outside filming everything. The knotty pine kitchen with the green and yellow counters and corner sink. The place behind the door where she kept the six-pack of Frostie root beer in glass bottles. The hiding nook in a lower cabinet where a tiny brass bell had been kept which--coincidentally--was where the liquor was also. The nail where the crucifix had hung over the dining room table. The musty garage littered with old bowling shoes and even older ice skates. The backyard sandstone patio where I extricated a loose stone and brought it home to my own garden. My father had helped Papa set all of those stones into the ground long before I was born. I clicked the switches for the tree lights one last time even though nothing came on. Everywhere you looked was a place where something else used to be, though my grandfather's name was still above the doorbell. I found the place on the back walkway where my grandfather had taken a nail and drawn into the wet cement many years ago. K+E=S was still very visible.

It was probably just a coincidence that the last day I was in that house was a Sunday afternoon. Our truck was loaded and I kept going back to every room once more...wanting to burn all of the memories into my brain as much as possible. I remember trying to turn on the dining room light one last time and had I been able to go back in time exactly 25 years, we probably would have just been finishing up lunch. Pushing our mahogany chairs back from the table and laying down our cloth napkins. Someone would have squeezed a little more lemon into his tea and asked about dessert. Instead, my husband and I locked the front door one last time and drove away under a cloudy sky.

21 Comments:

Blogger Annie, The Evil Queen said...

We also ate a lot of Sunday dinners with the extended family at my paternal grandparents house. I still dream about being in that house. A beautiful post.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Nilbo said...

Oh, how lovely ... I'm going to turn my computer off now and go to bed ... I won't read anything better tonight and any lesser words would spoil the gorgeous, bittersweet taste I have ...

Thank you, sweetie ...

... and I love the new, improved look ... not having to squint meant you had to earn my tears the old-fashioned way ...

8:40 PM  
Blogger SUEB0B said...

What a beautiful post. Thanks for commenting on my blog and thus leading me to yours.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

That was so beautiful and reminded me so much of my own time and reflections of my grandparents.

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Irene said...

what a beautiful post.

11:59 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

I have similar memories of the last time I was at my great grandparents' house. Excellent post.

4:38 AM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

Wonderful! I wish Sundays were still lazy like that and to be enjoyed with family. We do the church thing and our boys don't mind, we don't do a dinner at home but we always go out after church and thats kind of "our treat." We don't have family around besides our immediate but I would love to be able to go to someone's house and have a nice dinner. Maybe I'd better start it, then my kids will have my house to come to.

7:05 AM  
Blogger reading said...

Just beautiful. Brings back amazing memories of similar meals at Grandma's and Grandpa's. One of my favorites - my oldest cousin telling us that the grown-up table was boring, and coming back to sit with us at the kids' table.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

This was beautiful. Really. Just beautiful. Speechless.

Wordgirl, indeed.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Tink said...

You write so beautifully. Every word has it's emotion... And most of these words made me want to cry. I go back and trace my last moments in familiar places all the time. It's all you have when you know it'll never be the same.

8:53 AM  
Anonymous V-Grrrl said...

I only knew one of my grandparents. By the time I was born, she was living with an uncle and when she developed health problems and became an invalid she came to live with us. Six kids and a bedridden mother--I don't know how my mom did it.

What I remember about my Italian grandmother was her unrelenting cheerfulness. Her life was confined by four walls in a small house and yet she seemed happy, that's what I remember about her--her toothless smile, the twinkle in her eye.

9:27 AM  
Anonymous letterb said...

This left me really melancholy about the family we've lost. Really lovely post.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Gina said...

I echo everyone else by saying, lovely post!

I agree with you that when I was working, Sunday was my least favorite day as well.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Mignon said...

This is beautiful, S. It may be my favorite post of yours. So descriptive in an understated, but meaningful way. Really wonderful. (You must be out of your mini-slump?)

10:04 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

This is beautiful. And I love that you went around with a camera. What a wonderful idea.

10:06 AM  
Blogger movin'mom said...

great blog! I will definitely be back! Always looking for other mom's of teens. Now I have to go and get them all from school.

12:27 PM  
Blogger Arabella said...

This is probably my favorite post of yours, ever. Just beautifully-written and extraordinarily evocative. It reminds me a little bit of your post about the items offered for sale at yard sales and flea markets, and the lives of the people they had once belonged to, which was the post that got me hooked on your blog in the first place.

3:01 PM  
Blogger daysgoby said...

Uterine Tracking Device.....falling off my seat at this one....must use it next time I hear 'Honey? Where are my.....?'

4:30 PM  
Blogger Nap Queen said...

That sounds a lot like my Sundays growing up. Big, southern lunches (with every starch imaginable) at my paternal grandmother's house. Funny, the street next to mine growing up was Oak Knoll Drive in Austin....

10:51 AM  
Blogger a witt said...

You've heard it already, but what a wonderful post. It makes me think you had a loss before this one -- only because you were wise enough to know that you needed that last chance to "burn everything in." That footage may only mean something to those that were there, but to those people, it will mean a lot.

Thanks for the post.

Gina

3:51 PM  
Blogger lildb said...

gosh. wordgirl, you used all the good ones up. so I only get to say something trite to tell you how much I enjoyed your Sunday afternoon tale. it's okay, though, because I still mean them just as much.

3:24 PM  

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