When my grandparents died, I inherited a lovely little settee, a two-seater. In true Victorian style, knobby carvings adorned the arched back of rich walnut. My Gram upholstered the piece in a beautiful timeless floral print with a green as pale as ocean glass, deep red, and sky blue.
Deep in the heart of the 70s, Gram’s fondue pot exploded. A chocolate explosion would’ve been a mere inconvenience as it takes time and ladders to lick the walls and ceiling clean. The fondue catastrophe in question resulted from water meeting up with a vat of bubbling oil. Not good.
The human toll amounted to scattered superficial burns. The property toll was pricier: a paint job on the entire first floor and upholstery for the dining room chairs and settee. The chairs are the main reason I wound up married to my husband but that is another tale entirely.
I hated the new fabric, a chunky red, white, and gray plaid. Our labrador retriever, Iris, didn’t much care for it either. During a particularly violent storm she ripped the cushions to shreds. I shed a tiny tear and stuffed the skeleton of the setee in the attic.
As it turns out, Gram hated the settee, too. My mother recently informed me that the only reason the settee wound up at 13th Avenue South was because of its petite size. So I guess I should let go the nostalgia and turn over the frame to our friend who sells antiques.
Why is it hard to detach my affection for Gram from inanimate objects? My brain is jam packed with memories – sewing elaborate custom outfits for my stuffed animals, spending hours perusing Grams’ jewelry, gazing upside down at the minute cracks in her headboard when I crawled in to snuggle. We listened to classical music, poured ketchup on our mac and cheese, and played endless games of Kings in the Corner.
Once as Gram settled herself into the passenger seat of my parents’ car, I accidentally slammed her fingers in the door. She cried out and I panicked, frozen in the knowledge that I had caused her pain. It would take many years of medical training before I learned to breathe through such moments and take necessary level-headed action.
My grandparents’ melodeon sits in our front hall. The spellchecker barely recognizes this reed instrument, shaped like a spinet piano, with foot pedals to pump air across the pipes. Gram had the thing electrified at one point. I’d grasp the plastic plug, nervously anticipating the inevitable blue spark from the outlet. And a shock, too. Awesome. I don’t remember the last time I played the melodeon. Ace fantasizes about the myriad delectable uses for a chunk of rosewood THAT BIG.
I remain inordinately attached to two items from Gram’s house – the room-sized braided rugs that she designed and created during the Great Depression. She used all available materials: old coats, blankets, even my grandpa’s WWI khaki green wool uniform. My grandparents moved to an assisted living facility while I was at Oberlin. They sold the rugs at their estate sale. I still feel a zing of physical pain at the thought.
The rugs represent all of Gram’s finest traits. She was utilitarian, pragmatic, durable, timeless, elegant, creative, and beautiful.
Happy Birthday Gram. You turned 115 on April 8*. I love you and miss you. I’m sure you’re happy that I took your advice to heart and dated a lot of men until I finally found the right one. Don’t worry – I won’t let him saw up the melodeon.
And please let me know if you see your rugs anywhere. I want them back.
Musical Moment (listen through till the very end – or just skip to 6:00 for a giggle)
*Gram was born exactly 95 years before Kurt Cobain’s dead body turned up at his Seattle home. Strange but true.