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.