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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Family

Today, I had spaghetti for lunch. Immediately, I was back in my Grandma Ann's kitchen. I'm sitting at a glass table with all my cousins and siblings crammed into a kitchen nook probably meant for four. Except now, the kitchen nook also contains the little cafe shutters that have gotten stuck over the years and won't close all the way. And the Christmas cactus is in its wicker basket plant stand. The adults got to eat in the dining room, which wasn't less cramped at all. First there's the buffet table that was never used for food but stored china and silver and displayed glass decorations. In one corner that would have been comfortable way to get around the table, there is a glass tea trolley with cut glass bowls of gum drops and peppermints. On the walls there is a purple, abstract painting that my Papa Larry purchased years ago. No one has any idea what it is. It looks like a bunch of tiny purple rectangles, maybe (?) in the shape of the continental US. I don't know. On the other wall is a oil painting of an Italian village, with a friendly-looking villager leading his loaded donkey up the street. Grandma always sat at the head of the table by the big picture window looking into the backyard. My great-grandfather, Poppy, sits at the other head. Because the table is extended to full capacity, his chair sticks out into the parlor. Back in the kitchen, eleven grandchildren vie for more leg room. As Grandma hurries back into the kitchen to get something out of the oven, she reminds us not to scratch the table. We laugh, tell stories, make faces. When dinner is over, Grandma insists on doing the dishes by herself. She won't even let my mom or Auntie Deb do them. She's afraid we'd chip the plates. And her plates are now worth $13 a plate and she doesn't want to have to replace them. In the midst of the chaos as the doors from the kitchen to the dining room swing back and forth, knocking children in the head and nearly toppling precarious stacks of $13 plates, my Grandma's Soft Coated Wheaten terrier, Meggie, manages to get underfoot all the time.

When dishes are done and the dishwasher is making its racket, the adults pour the drinks in the dining room. Pop wants to play cribbage and so my mom and Grandma play with him. I can hear him yelling when he's loosing and laughing intimidatingly “I skunked you! I skunked you!” whenever he wins. Unfortunately, he's not a very good loser. In the kitchen, the grandchildren play Rummy, Uno, or Mexican Train. The domino tiles for Mexican train make Grandma worried we'll chip the table. As the evening wears on and the adults have drifted into quieter conversation, we play Uno with Pop. I lay down a green 7. He lays down a blue 5. We try to explain to him that he can't do that, but he's deaf and mostly colorblind (he's in his nineties), so he keeps swearing he's right and we're trying to trick him. And my grandma shouts “Not in front of the children, Pop!” We love every minute of it.

The next morning, Pop comes over with his caregiver, Miss Dolly, and a box full of donuts. Our mothers make us eat some decent breakfast (sausage and eggs) before allowing us the donuts. My favorite is a Bavarian cream filled donut. Pop always eats a peanut covered donut. He breaks it in half and feeds the other, rather conspicuously, to Meggie, who has quite a sweet tooth. We've called Pop the Donut Man for years. He never failed to bring the donuts, until he was too old to get them himself. Then Grandma would buy them, the exact same order every time, so we could still have donuts. I only ever ate donuts at my grandma's house. I don't think they could taste as good anywhere else. Besides, everything tasted better when I was an enchanted seven-year-old and my mother pretended not to want me to have donuts.

That night, everyone would drive over to Pop's house and then go en masse to his club for dinner. It took an hour to get to the club in DC traffic. All the grandkids would drink Shirley Temples. Normally we wouldn't fit at one table, so again, the grandchildren got their own table. I have one brother, two sisters, and seven cousins. We definitely filled our own table and the nine adults (my two uncles, two aunts, my Grandma, Pop, Miss Dolly, and my parents). We were quite a crowd. My dad always looked stressed because of driving through traffic and having to get four kids to wear nice clothes to dinner. But after dinner got started, everything went better. My cousin would tell jokes. I'd laugh whenever my older cousins did, not really sure if it was something appropriate to laugh at. Afterward, we'd do family photos in the club's gardens.

Sometimes I would ride home with Pop and my brother. It was a little difficult getting set up. Pop would need a fresh oxygen tank by the time dinner was over. After that was replaced, it need to be put in its little trolley. The oxygen tank and trolley would be on the passenger side where Miss Dolly sat. And Pop would drive. My brother and I would sit in the back, of course. The first time I ever had any second thoughts about Pop driving us around was when, in Fairfax County, VA (extremely busy), Pop would say “Kids! Look left. Look right. Any cars coming?” Based on our answer, he would go. He was probably 92 the last time he drove us. He was just plain too stiff to turn his neck far enough to look. Miss Dolly didn't drive, so that meant my Grandma had to drive him around, or he drove.

In the parlor, there is a white sofa with matching white chairs. It is definitely a grandmother's house: not exactly child-proof. On the abstract coffee table, that is precariously balanced on a diagonal plane, there are about twenty-five pots of African violets: all different colors. The piano sits in the corner, only played when the grandchildren come. It was the piano my mom and Auntie Deb played as children. My cousin and I play each other songs; she plays the songs from Pirates of the Caribbean and I play Amazing Grace.

When it's time for bed, Uncle Craig and Aunt Patty take their three kids home. They live only an hour away. Upstairs, I sleep with Grandma in the master bedroom. My siblings sleep in the little bedroom with the two single beds that used to be my mom's. My two little sisters share one bed and my brother gets the other. Momma said that one year she wanted it painted pea soup green, and it was. She was in fourth grade and after a year she was so tired of it! Anyway, my Aunt Deb and Uncle Tim sleep in her old bedroom (which is much larger). Some of their kids sleep on air mattresses on the floor. My mom and dad sleep in the blue room with its blue curtains and bed spread. The room is a little crowded with the treadmill and the spinning bike. During the day, we (the grandchildren) play on the bike to make it spin the fan really quickly. Our mothers always end our fun; they think we're going to get our fingers cut off in the fan. I don't blame them; we were pretty dangerous. There'd be someone on the bike, a couple people sitting on the treadmill (that didn't work), and all the others would be playing close to the bike with the game from the closet. We're eventually banished to the basement. We can ride the tricycle in the basement, play school (there's a huge chalkboard), and do art at the large craft table my grandma has set up for us. My sisters especially like playing with the large dolls in the blue room.
Even though my grandmother and great-grandfather both died two years ago, the wonderful memories of family time spent living, laughing, and loving together will never be forgotten. Their focus on family and caring for one another has influenced me greatly. Every moment was precious. I hope to be as loving and caring as my grandmother was. She made each birthday special, spending time planning out the perfect gift to bless the person. I definitely learned how to give gifts from my grandmother. She would drive down for almost every single birthday we ever had. When she would arrive in our driveway in her Toyota Camry, everyone would be hugging and laughing, shouting for attention. We'd help her unload her car stuffed full of suitcases, birthday balloons, Meggie in her dog crate, and boxes of brightly wrapped presents. Although she was only packing for one person, she stuffed that car full! I am also like my grandmother in how I pack. When the two of us would go on trips, or I would stay with her for a week, we really struggled to fit everything in her car because both of us were bringing two houses-full of everything but the kitchen sink.

This photo is of my grandmother and I at Goodberry's in Cary. My grandmother always called it Gooseberry's. :) I have this photo hanging on my wall above my white board. Having this photo helps me remember when I get discouraged about school because I know she would be telling me to do my best, work hard, love hard, and honor God with my work.She was a wonderful cheerleader through every moment, even when I didn't do well, or simply wasn't good at something.

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