Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day One.
I remember when my grandma’s house smelled like Downey, and there was a tiny glass bowl of licorice candies on the end table next to the rough black and white tweed couch. Soft golden light would filter through the west-facing windows each afternoon, filtered further by the heavy gold drapes and filmy sheers of her formal window portieres. There was a gold crushed velvet chair in the corner. I always wanted that chair, and I still wonder what happened to it when Grandma’s house was shuttered, packed and sold.
There were always frozen grapes in the freezer, and the kitchen was accented in the same rich golds as the rest of the house- I guess grandma liked yellow, but she always wore blue. Even the push-button desk phone was harvest gold. I think that was the color. It was the 1970s. I think everything was gold. Try freezing your grapes sometime- or Bing cherries- they become divine little frozen juice-sicles and for me, bring back grandma.
We would sit at her round dining room table, covered in a bright yellow-tassled table-cloth (always) and play games. When I was little, it was Uncle Wiggly or Monopoly. It took me years to realize she let me win, and I wasn’t just an outrageous Monopoly star. (It wasn’t actually until playing games with my own kids that it dawned on me, as I threw yet another game to just get the interminable thing over with… Ohhh, there’s the ah-ha moment.) As I got older, the games became rummy, two-way solitaire, and canasta. The games were always accompanied by tall, cold Coke poured over crushed ice. Always crushed ice- you would stand at the sink with the metal ice-cube tray (the kind with the pull-up handle that would break the ice loose) and whap each ice cube with the back of a spoon.) Coke has never tasted as good in my whole life as it did sitting around my grandma’s dining room table playing canasta.
In her cupboards were a perfect set of Franciscan-ware apple-pattern dishes, no chips, no broken pieces, and like the gold mohair chair, I wonder what happened to them, too. There was whistling tea-kettle, and today I keep a whistling tea-kettle in my kitchen, not for any particular reason except the whistle reminds me of my childhood, of being safe, of being loved, and of golden light.
The smell of Oil of Olay and White Rain hairspray can bring me to tears. On the windowsill was a magnifying mirror, where grandma would pat her face with powder and carefully apply her poppy-pink lipstick. “Little old ladies always want to wear red lips, but that just runs in all your lines. Pink is better.” And she’d smile at me, while I sat on the floor in the bathroom and dug through the vanity drawers, even though I knew the organized, neat contents of every nook and cranny in her house.
Today, her jewelry box sits on top of my dresser. In the bottom drawer of the black leather, red-lined case is a tube of brand-new, unopened poppy-pink lipstick. It was in there when she died. You never knew when a company would change their formula and your poppy-pink might go orange on you, and finding the right lipstick was work. When I open the jewelry box— which I do use and keep my own things stored, mixed with grandmas—it smells like Downey, Oil of Olay and White Rain. Sometimes, I lean down close and close my eyes, breathe in gently, and I miss her so much it hurts.