by Nancy McDaniel
I don’t get out to the suburbs very much. Physically, and attitudinally, they are far removed from my current life. I really just go out when it’s time to visit my step-mom every now and then. But I was invited to a bridal shower, at a golf club “out there.” (Turnabout is fair play, I guess. I used to make fun of suburban friends who thought the city was just “too far to drive.” Have I become a reverse version of them now?)
On the day of the shower, I was running really early, so I took a small detour to drive by my grandma and grandpa’s house, which was sort of on the way. In this era of “teardowns,” I almost knew what I would find. Or not find, as the case turned out to be. Not only was the house gone, replaced by an impossibly big new brick house, but even their address was gone too, replaced by a bigger number. It got me to thinking about my grandparents and some of the happiest times of my childhood.
Right Again, Thomas Wolfe!
I think it’s true that you can’t go home again. Or if you do, that it seldom will be the same. But what’s sad and sort of scary is when home isn’t even there at all any more. Now, 248 Maple wasn’t really “home;” it belonged to my paternal grandparents, Roy and Corinne McDaniel. I remember it being a little two-story dark green frame house. I don’t really remember that much about it except a couple of overstuffed chairs with antimacassars on them (fancy word for a doily-like thing. What does it mean anyway? It’s such an old-fashioned word that spell check has no clue about it. Antipasto? Not exactly). Grandpa moved out of that house probably 35 years ago, maybe longer. Grandma died in the 60s (so long ago that Alzheimer’s didn’t have a name yet. Sadly, we just knew that she had no clue who Daddy and I were.) Grandpa died in 1971. There’s no loner any reason for me to go back now. But I was in the neighborhood.
Saturday Night Memories
When I was little, my mother and father and I lived about eight blocks from Grandma and Grandpa, a wonderful thing for a child, particularly an “only.” It was nice for the parents, too, as Grandma and Grandpa were like built-in babysitters, almost a predecessor to a nanny. Saturday night was “dance club” for my parents, in a more naïve world full of martinis and cigarettes and organdy skirts that would fluff when the lady was twirled by her partner. I used to love to see my mom all dressed up on Saturday nights; she looked like a princess to me and smelled like a flower. Anyway, Mommy and Daddy would drop me off at 248 to spend the night so they could go out to party and not have to worry about what time they got home. And for me, it was always fun, grandparents being as indulgent as they are.
We had this routine, Grandma, Grandpa and I. Every week it was always the same. And it was always fun. Something you should know about me is that between the ages of about 7 and 11, I was quite chubby, “horizontally challenged,” well… fat! (When I was grown, my dad used to look at old photos of me and say, “Y’know, sweetheart, your mother and I used to say you were just a little chubby but you were really pretty fat.” And I was. In the days before political correctness, the label of the clothes we used to buy for me at Lane Bryant was actually called “Chubbette.” (“She can have a tummy….and still look yummy!” Honestly.) Anyway, because of my girth, my parents’ weekly parting words to my grandparents were “now, remember, don’t let her have any snacks.” Head nods all around. Goodbye kisses. The front door closed. Enter Grandma’s homemade cake! No wonder I loved being at their house.
Maybe even better than the cake was Your Hit Parade. If anyone is old enough to remember it, Snooky Lanson, Gisele MacKenzie, Dorothy Collins and all the rest of the gang were all the rage in the 50’s. I don’t remember what time the show came on television, but it was when I was supposed to already be in bed, fast asleep. So my Grandpa and I had this little trick we played. I would take a piece of paper and number a list “1” through “10,” for the top 10 songs of the week. Then, next to the numbers, my grandpa would write down the week’s Top Ten songs. So it looked like he did it to show me when I woke up in the morning. But of course I was sitting next to him and Grandma the whole time, singing along to “Shrimp Boats are a’comin’, their sails are in sight, shrimp boats are a’comin’, there’s dancing tonight…” or “How MUCH is that doggie in the window, the one with the waggaly tail…?”
I never asked my parents if they were on to our shenanigans. To this day, I still don’t know. I guess that, in the grand schemes of “childhood pranks,” this was pretty mild. An innocuous way to fool the parents and a part of kinder, gentler childhood that I will always treasure.
Laugh, Laugh, I thought I ‘d Cry
My grandparents both had great senses of humor. My problem, like Grandpa’s, was never knowing when to quit. Grandma was quite a round woman and had those old lady saggy baggy arms (sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder if I am getting them too. I suppose it’s just loss of muscle tone, but hers were bigger and baggier). I guess I was sort of a brat because I’d tease her by patting the pendulous skin under her arms and making it swing. For some unknown reason, I thought this was really hysterical. She pretended that it was amusing for a while and then she yelled at me to stop when she had finally had enough of my foolishness.
Grandpa didn’t know when to stop either. One of my favorite stories was about turnips (who knew turnips could be funny?) and to this day, anytime I see a recipe for turnips or see them in the grocery store, I think of this. One night, Grandma was in the kitchen making dinner. She was mashing turnips, by hand of course, and Grandpa was teasing her about something, as he frequently did. She kept threatening him, “Roy, stop it,” she’d say. He wouldn’t listen and kept on razzing her. Finally she had enough and said, “Stop it now or I’ll dump these turnips on your head.” He didn’t. She did!
The First Writer in the Family
As I started thinking about my grandparents, I found a tribute I had written to my Grandpa after he died in 1971. It reminded me of something I had completely forgotten; Grandpa started me writing. As I said in my memories of him,
“He got me started writing letters to the editor (when I was in high school). My grandfather was an inveterate writer of these letters and I became one too. We used to share in the delight of seeing our letters in print. Like him, I was a bit of ‘a ham’ too. There is still a lot of my grandfather in me. And I hope it will remain, because he was a good person to be like.”
So the little green house at 248 Maple is gone. They tore it down along with 250 and the new big house took both of the lots and became 250. I wonder if the people who live there ever eat turnips and laugh and if the kids ever trick their parents. Though I will never know, I hope that house is as filled with love and laughter as 248 always was.