Grandma’s House

The cherried curtains tickled her back, blown in by the breeze through the open kitchen window. She sat at the Formica table, her thighs stuck to the vinyl chair cushion, eating bologna, which she didn’t like, on bread covered with Miracle Whip, a tang that bit her tongue. The kitchen smelled like gas because of the range, unlike the electric range at her own house. (She will forever associate the smell of stove gas with Miracle Whip.) She picked off the bologna, deciding it was better alone than paired with something else she disliked. Made do.

Out the window, Grandpa sat in a metal folding chair, smoking under the cranberry tree. He ashed into an old soup can fixed to a rod, which was stuck into the ground. Grandma hung laundry on the umbrella clothesline. Upstairs, her brother read a hardcover found on a dusty shelf under the eave. When he could hold it no longer, he closed the book and slid off the bed, ran down the hallway past the dark empty room, plumbed for a toilet but housing none, and down the stairs to the bathroom. Made do.

The two skipped across the backyard in bare feet, careful to avoid the cranberries on the ground, to the corner where an old fence met a bramble of buckthorn. They stood on the fence and watched the railroad tracks, waiting, looking east toward the freight yards. Her brother hopped over and placed a nickel on the rail. Still nothing. When they tired of waiting, they jumped off the fence and ran around the house, past towering lilac bushes, to sit on the cement front steps and see what they could see.

They saw a garter snake slither between a crack in the steps. Saw a boy they didn’t know ride by on his bicycle, and didn’t wave. They saw a teenager’s legs sticking out from under his Datsun in the driveway across the street. Grandma called so they leaped up and ran through the front door. She twirled the mermaid ashtray on the glass living room table as she went by, he punched the number 7 on the rotary phone in the hall. In the TV room, they sprawled on the itchy carpet and colored in the books Grandma laid out. She colored her tree purple because there was no green. Made do.

Grandma's backyard, 1981
Grandma’s backyard, 1981

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