A month ago my neighbor called. “Do you have a big canning pot?”
“Of course,” I say.
“Can we borrow it?”
He came right over to get it. “The electricity was off for days at my cousin’s and all the berries thawed out in the freezer. Mom is going to make jam. Do you like jam?”
“Heck yeah!” I say.
The canner is way up on a high shelf. It has a tool to pick up jars too. “Do you need the lids?” I ask.
“No, we are good.”
I got the canner back a few days later with a beautiful jar of jam. Yum.
I am going against the fashion tide. My house is not spare and elegantly decorated. I joke that it is decorated in “Pack rat Cat lady”. I have two cats. My daughter wants me to not get ten or twelve. I don’t want ten or twelve either. Two is fine.
I have stuff. I have a house like my grandparents. Though really, I have less stuff than they did or than my parents did.
I loved my maternal grandparents house. It was an old farmhouse near Trumansburg, New York. My grandfather was a psychiatrist and professor at Cornell. The old farmhouse had a “newer” house built on, colonial style, in the 1860s. Fourteen foot ceilings and a fireplace in every room. There was a grand entrance with Corinthian columns that was almost never used. The hallway had a grand staircase and a spectacularly uncomfortable horsehair couch. My cousin always said she wanted it: I hope she got it. There was a back stairway as well, in the old house. The door from the newer house to the older one upstairs went into the attic, which was full of all sorts of mysterious old things. My sister and I were three years apart and had three other cousins between us and we all played for hours. We dressed up in my mother’s 1950s prom dresses and made fun of all of it. There was another attic, with a pull down ladder. I only got to go there a few times. I loved it. The back stairs were very narrow and twisty. The kitchen had huge cupboards made from old barn boards and with hand forged hardware. All the cupboards along one wall had doors in the kitchen and on the other side, in the dining room. That fascinated me too. There were two cellars as well. One larger one which once had a copperhead snake
that my grandfather killed with a hoe, and a smaller one with a door flush in the floor. My grandparents had a wine cellar there and we were strictly not to go in there without an adult. There was a huge flagstone screen porch off the kitchen and dining room, with a table and chairs and a daybed. We practically lived there in the summers.
That house would be a nightmare to heat now. I love old houses, though. My house is from 1930 and really quite big. It is full of books and stuff, but my parents had a smaller house, a full two car garage with no cars, and two barns. I cleared that after my father died in 2013. Every time my daughter says I have too much stuff, I point out that I have gotten rid of a house full and two barns full. I am resting on my laurels for now.
My daughter gives me grief about the stuff, but she borrows too. She borrowed two sleeping bags for a trip when her brother helped drive her car because she had an injury. She borrowed “ugly mom shorts” for a summer job where the shorts had to be long. She tells me that she will get rid of it all when I die, but she has her eye on some things.
I am going against the tide. What is the idea behind having an empty looking house, a living room with a couch, two chairs, a rug and side table with a vase and possibly one book? Ugh. Not me. My living room must have at least 100 books on shelves along one wall. My mother was an artist and I am still trying to get her art out into the world. She was prolific. Watercolors, etchings, drawings, oil paintings and pottery too. My word.
I have a grandparent house. I have stuff and I know how to use it. I have books. I do look things up on the computer, but old books are amazing for understanding what people were thinking, what was acceptable, what discrimination would horrify us now, old recipes and photographs and children’s books. I am not an expert canner but I can make jam. I am a great knitter. I play guitar and flute.
I took care of a two year old neighbor about ten years ago, on and off. The first time he came to my house, I showed him the stick dragon, that would roar with flashing eyes, in one closet. He wanted the door closed right away. But the next time he came, he went straight to that closet and pointed. “Do you want to see the stick dragon?” I asked. He nodded, very serious. I opened the door and we got the dragon to roar again. The grandparent house if full of mysterious things and old games and toys and grandparents who could possibly be witches or magical or grumpy some times.
My sister would get mad at my mother and say, “I’m going to run away and live with grandmother!” We stayed with my grandparents for a week while my parents were gone. By the end of the week, my sister threatened my grandmother, “I am going to run away to mom!”
My house is ready. Now I need a grandchild. For now, I borrow them, while I loan out the odd things that people no longer have in their spare and elegant houses.
I don’t have a picture of my grandparent’s house with me today. However, this is a picture with me on the left and my sister and the maternal cousins. I do not know who took it. This was in the late 1960s.