The old house was nothing at all like what she had described to me through the years. From her vivid recollections, I saw in my mind a lovely, well-kept home with spacious rooms and beautiful furnishings. According to her, it was a glorious place that remained alive with the laughter of children and happy conversation around the kitchen table. Now I stood in the doorway of this dilapidated structure, and found it all but difficult to disguise my shock. She walked slowly into the rundown keeper of her childhood memories, and raised her head as if to draw in the yesteryear aroma of homemade bread cooling on the kitchen counter. She smiled with utter delight, her hands clasped tightly to her chest. It was in this moment I realized she had described precisely what she would always remember. ~ Deborah L. Norris
I took a walk through my neighborhood this afternoon and by my childhood home for what I thought would be a lighthearted trip down memory lane. I was heartbroken to see that a construction team was busy tearing it down and clearing the lot. My look of dismay didn’t go unnoticed and one of the workers asked if I was alright. Alright? Are you serious? You’re dismantling a part of my childhood. How can I be alright? I know that he couldn’t possibly understand what this house meant to me with all the precious memories still deep within its crumbling walls. I stood for a long while, watching and remembering.
I was nine-years-old when we moved to Boise, Idaho from Vallejo, California in the spring of 1960. The trailer we pulled was loaded to the hilt with furniture and other belongings. It was truly a sight to behold. The car was packed tightly with just enough room for me, Mom, Dad, a golden Labrador puppy and a yellow parakeet in a blue cage. The trek was long, and I wondered if we would ever make it to Boise. But, when we finally arrived I immediately fell in love with the quaint little house in the east end of town. It was only 650 square feet, but it seemed like a mansion to me. I had never seen so many trees in my life. Squirrels were everywhere.
After one week of getting settled in our new environment, I resumed the third grade at Roosevelt Elementary which was a mere two blocks from my house. Several days a week, I visited the Roosevelt Market that was situated directly across the street from the school grounds, leaning on the front counter and selecting my favorite penny candy.
Standing there gazing at the rubble, I couldn’t help but remember the many “pictures” of my mother in my mind: how anxious she was to hear about my day at school; her smile, her laugh; how enthusiastic she was to help me plan backyard carnivals for the neighborhood children; how willing she was to make pink-frosted cupcakes so that I could sell them and make extra spending money; how comforting it was to have her come into my room in the night when I was scared or sick. And then there were the strong and soothing memories of my Dad. I loved coming home from school and finding him in his upholstery shop – the old brown Zenith radio playing in the background, the steady hum of a sewing machine, the smell of wood varnish and paint thinner, and the delightful discovery of leftover scraps of fabric on the shop floor that were destined to become articles of clothing for my dolls. At the close of each evening, my last recollection before drifting off to sleep was hearing my Dad wind the old cuckoo clock and recheck the front door lock. My, how safe and secure I had felt in that little house.
There was so much happiness in this house; visits from family and friends, celebrations of birthdays and holidays, sleepovers with friends, and backyard picnics. It was also where I first experienced the death of someone dear to me. I loved my Grandpa Gunderson and my memories of him are rich; the way he wore his cap, his steady, fast-paced gait, his love of candy, the way he prayed before he ate, his dislike of cooked onions, and the long walk he would take to bring me a small brown paper sack filled with sweet treats. The real sweet treat was when he walked to the front steps of our little house and knocked on the door. I loved opening the door and seeing him standing there with a smile. I remember the morning that my bedroom door opened quietly, and Mom told me that Grandpa had passed away during the night. He was eighty-one. I was thirteen. I would miss him deeply.
Ah, memories. Sweet, precious memories. I guess I really haven’t given it much thought as to what it will be like to never see the little old house again. But, I do know that my memories are vivid, and I’m grateful to have had such a delightful place to make so many.
We sat in our comfy chairs and enjoyed a second cup of coffee together, my 86-year-old Mama and I. Without much notice, she looked over the rim of her cup, and stated with purpose, “Let’s take a little trip upstairs.” Her soft blue eyes twinkled at the thought of a trek to the second floor. I offered to bring a few photographs and select family keepsakes downstairs, hoping to ease what I knew would be a difficult climb for her to the upper level of my home. But, the attempt, albeit honorable on my part, failed to dissuade her this time. She insisted on making the laborious journey, taking her time with each step, fifteen in all. Finally reaching the upper story landing, we walked along the hallway where an impressive display of framed ancestry lines the walls. Unfortunately, most of these behind glass family members had passed away long before I was born. She talked as though she had visited with each of them the week before. Suddenly, strangers with stoic faces and vague histories came to life with her many vivid recollections. She spoke tenderly of her beloved Grandpa Winkle who had a very strict ritual that he adhered to each evening at bedtime. First, he would wind the old clock. Then, he went to bed – even if company was visiting – wearing long underwear, a shirt, and a tie. He grew cotton for many years and sold home grown vegetables from a horse drawn cart. A favorite past time of Grandpa Winkle was a hearty – if not sometimes rather heated – discussion of religion with his son-in-law. In later years, he traded his strong opinions for long rests on his front porch swing as he lovingly watched his grandchildren play underneath the persimmon trees.
An old photograph of her Grandma Winkle brought another flood of memories, as she fondly remembered her as a very giving person that always found great satisfaction in doing for others. She was a midwife and assisted with the delivery of many babies. Where there was a sick child, you would find her – comforting and attempting to make well the young ones in her care. Unfortunately, she was all but helpless when it came to aiding her own ill child – and at the age of six months, one of her twins passed away suddenly. She desperately grieved the loss of her baby, and was often times inconsolable. One night, the story is told of her waking to see the baby playing happily on her bed. She watched for quite some time, totally enamored by this child she recognized as her own. She would never be convinced otherwise – that God was keeping her baby safe and had graciously allowed her to see for herself that he was in good hands. Though she would be forever mindful of the death of her sweet baby boy, this heaven-sent experience would reside deep within her very soul and comfort her for the rest of her days. Grandchildren always knew that their Grandma Winkle would have something good to eat at her house – whether it was leftover bacon and eggs in the oven, or her specialty; white cake topped with applesauce and red heart candies. She raised her own turkeys, geese and chickens – and churned her own butter. It goes without saying that holiday dinners were a most joyous occasion. She could not read or write – although this did not prove to be a significant handicap. Grandma Winkle owned and operated a market for many years, and due to her inability to read, she devised a rather ingenious system for identifying items and their prices through drawings that she created.
We made our way into one of the guest bedrooms and I removed several handmade items from an old chest of drawers. Again, there was a heartwarming story from the past that accompanied each treasured keepsake. I watched as she ran her fingers along the delicate edges of a crocheted doily that was nearly 75- years-old. The sight of an old, well-worn table cloth that had once graced the little kitchen table in her and Dad’s first apartment brought a tear to her eye.
She journeyed bygone years with ease, like a familiar well-traveled path – and with a strange clarity that often eludes her when she tries to recall what she did earlier in the day. The places in her mind where she chose to stop and sit for awhile became vibrant stories that she articulated like a gifted orator. Suddenly, I saw her as an 86-year-old beautifully written novel, pages worn, but rich with prose. I felt so humbled to “read” with her.
At the end of it all, her expression was one of pure joy. “Well, that was delightful, now wasn’t it?” She clasped her hands together and smiled sweetly. “I feel like I’ve been on a nice trip.” Indeed she had. I had been privileged to accompany her. A long, beautiful trip through a colorful field of memories.