Grandmother’s House

My wife and I were driving through the old neighborhood and we passed my Grandmother’s old house.  It sat empty and abandoned among the bustling community of stores and shops and offices that had sprang up around it.  It was an isolated spot of desolation, a lingering smudge of the past.  The rotted boards were falling off the house and the paint had nearly chipped and peeled off completely.  Even the leaves in the trees were dark and wet with decay, and the yard was a mire of mud and debris.  I was amazed that the place was still standing, that it hadn’t been swept aside by the progress surrounding it.  It was like a piece of death with deep, tenacious roots, something fixed and stubborn that they had been forced to build around.

I pulled up into the dirt driveway and insisted on going inside.  My wife was reluctant to go in.  She leaned forward and stared up through the windshield at the forbidding facade of the house and the cracked boards near the peak of the roof where bats were probably making their home.  I told her that we’d just be a minute or two, and I was already climbing out of the car.  The front door was unlocked.  The knob was rusted and it nearly came off in my hand.  We passed through empty rooms pervaded with dampness and mold.  We could hear voices coming from somewhere in the back.  I heard my grandmother’s voice, saying something about the inevitability of death and despair.  We came into the room and found her sitting around a table with some friends, playing cards, like some afternoon gathering of the dead.  She looked younger, younger than I’d ever seen her, younger than I remembered her being even when I was a child.  There was color in her hair.  Her face was bright and clear, bearing none of the lines of age.  She looked up and smiled warmly as we walked over, and everyone else at the table turned and looked at us.

I felt like I was put on the spot.  For lack of anything else to say, I remarked that even though I’d heard her saying something about death and despair being inevitable, her being so young, her being here at all, would seem to prove otherwise.  All the ladies at the table rolled their eyes and made a bunch of sighs and dismissive gestures, as though I were putting them on, and they all turned back to their cards, waving me away with their hands.  Only my grandmother got up from the table.  She said she had something to show us.  She led us out the back door and off the back porch.  She led us out into the back yard, and we stopped a few paces from the house and turned around.  It appeared that the house had been resurrected, as well.  There was a fresh coat of yellow paint.  All the boards were straight and even.  Everything had been repaired.  The weathervane had been replaced.  It stood like a masthead on the peak of the roof, the rooster and the arrows mounted against the clear blue sky.  I stood gaping at it, baffled.  Were we seeing it all from some new angle?

But we went back inside and found new life there as well, new carpet, new furniture.  My whole family was there, preparing for a party in the dining room, hanging up streamers and lighting candles at the center of the table and laying out plates and silverware on the white table cloth.  They were all younger versions of themselves, years stripped from their faces, ages of disappointments cleared from their minds.  The house was the way that I remembered it now, and I showed my wife around.  I showed her the place where I would always hop the bannister rather than walking all the way to the end.  I showed her the hidden back stairway, the one that we all thought was some kind of secret passage.  I showed her all the best spots upstairs where we would hide whenever we played hide and go seek.  I showed her my favorite spot in the guest bedroom with its slanted roof and gabled window.  I showed her the high view of the town from the window, told her about watching the distant lights out there in the dark.  I showed her how I would hide under the bed, feeling the heat blowing up through the vent.  I could feel it even still.

As we came back down the main stairs, I saw a young blonde-haired boy sitting in a huge plush chair that had been placed in the hallway in front of a small black and white TV.  I knew this boy was me.  He sat there watching cartoons, totally absorbed.  He didn’t even notice us there on the stairs.  I could hear voices coming from the living room across the hall.  My mother and brother were in there, sitting at a table by the window.  They were arguing about something.  I could hear it in their voices.  I could hear the stress and frazzled nerves along the frayed edges of their sentences.  But the boy just sat there watching his cartoons.  I could remember that.  I could remember sitting there on a Saturday morning, catching snatches of adult conversation.  I could remember people at the window just like that, like a snapshot of strangers from another life, never knowing what it was all about.  I remembered this being the shape and shade of my earliest impressions, everything a whisper along the peripheral edges of a world of cartoon honks and rattles and whistles.  I remembered being that boy.

It was time to go.  Our minute or two had long since passed.  I went to the window, and I could see that one of the new stores that had grown up around the area had a flea market with stands and shops set up along a thoroughfare paved with red bricks.  One of the stands was selling sunglasses on a revolving rack.  My wife and I went over to check it out, and we stood at the counter, goofing around with the sunglasses, holding them up to see the evening sky through their tinted lenses.  I looked over and the house was still there, still freshly painted and new.  The sun had dipped behind the house now, and the weathervane stood sharply black against the rich medley of clouds and colors.  I felt like we had stepped out someplace else.  I felt like it would all be different now.  It would all connect back to this, leading on to endless fascinations, embarking from some exotic bazaar somewhere on the surface of the Earth in the darkening shadows of the day.

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19 thoughts on “Grandmother’s House

  1. I have always like it best when you write this sort of nostalgia. Your dreams about boyhood days are my favorites.
    There are a couple things that I think are extra-special and made it feel good. Things only a child coming home would know. Like climbing down the wall, because you never knew the normal way to get down into the grotto. And choosing spots to hide where the warm air would blow up on you from the heater vents.
    I like the last paragraph the best I think. It felt calming and hopeful. I always get 'em wrong but to me it seemed you were saying that sometimes it's good to change the way we look at things.

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  2. I should probably point out too that a lot of the details here bear little resemblance to anything from my actual childhood, although maybe that's obvious. I don't know. But yet it does FEEL like my childhood. It reminds me of my childhood in a way. Those little touches you mentioned, like climbing down the wall, they seem LIKE things from my childhood. If that makes any sense.

    Dreams are funny the way they reshuffle all of the details you remember and you don't even realize it when you're dreaming. Where the house was AT in the dream felt strongly connected to the real place, but beyond that it was all very different.

    That's one of the things I really love about dreams — the way they can take even a familiar place and make it seems like somewhere strange and fresh and new. I don't think I've never been anywhere in a dream and felt like I was bored with it, like it was some place where I went every day, like it was some place that had been drained of interest and emotion and just faded into the background the way SO MANY places feel in waking life.

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  3. Now that you mention it, I've never had a humdrum dream either. I seldom remember the whole dream. I don't like that moment I realize it's gone and it's not going to come back to me.
    You have more appreciation and empathy for your dreams than I do for mine.
    The other night I thought maybe I had chanced on a way of remembering my dreams by reading an E. F. Benson ghost story each night. I don't normally like that kind of stuff, but I have the huge collected works and I love the way that man could write.
    The story I fell asleep to was, “And No Bird Sings”. It was silly one, but I was really liking it when I dozed off. It gave me a dream that I remembered every bit of vividly, but the next night I fell asleep to another one of his stories it didn't work.
    I like how eloquently you described the things you really love about dreams. Maybe if I appreciated mine more they would show me some mercy by letting me remember them.

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  4. I've never been able to hit upon a really reliable habit of boosting dream recall (other than just plain habit and routine.) I've tried a few things like you mentioned, reading certain things or watching certain things, or even just thinking about things as I fall asleep. In the end, though, it mostly seems to depend on the quality of sleep, and maybe sometimes how and when you wake up — neither of which I have much control over. I've heard something before about 90 minute cycles, but I have a hard enough time sleeping as it is without trying to time it.

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  5. I saw a video a while back about the “Doorway Effect.” (I think that's what it was called.) They were talking about how you can sometimes leave a room to get something or do something and then you walk through the door and instantly forget what you were going to do. They were saying that our short-term memory kind of networks things within the context of the situation that we're in, and when you walk through the door there's a sudden jarring shift in context and the whole network of associations just falls apart and you loose the thread connecting to the thing you meant to do.

    Well, I was thinking, if walking through a door is a jarring shift of context, then waking up from a dream is a RADICAL shift of context. In a snap, you've left some strange dream world and you're instantly back into the context of your normal waking life. And your mind seems to naturally gravitate towards falling back into the flow of your normal trains of thought. Sometimes too it seems like the more pressing the things are that come rushing back to your mind when you wake up, the more things that you might be stressed about or just need to take care of or even maybe just things you're looking forward to that day, the more they tend to blow the dream away when you wake up. I don't know if that's a hard and fast rule, though.

    The only thing that really seems to help is just making a habit of trying to remember them. Even then is pretty hard most of the time. It's like fishing in your imagination. You get this little vibration on the line sometimes, but more often than not you just pull back an empty hook. But you just keep going down to the pond day after day.

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  6. By the way, I would have responded to the comment you deleted when I had the chance. Please don't feel that you need to delete your comments or that I'm bothered by a comment, if I don't respond right away. I very much appreciate the comments you leave, and I enjoy our conversations. I always find your input extremely helpful and enlightening.

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  7. Thanks. I thought your comment was helpful and wanted to give you a reply in return worthy of your generosity.
    I think I am an undiagnosed dyslexic or I have some other learning difficulty that makes it hard for me to form words. I don't notice how stupid something I've said sounds, until I read it back to myself much later.
    Actually, I hesitate at commenting on your posts because even on the rare chance my comment doesn't suck, I still don't want you to feel obligated to reply.
    I'm glad you've brought this up, so I can tell you that I already know you appreciate my comments and I wish you wouldn't reply to them. Unless, you're just bored and have nothing better to do. And I hardly think with your full schedule that is ever the case.
    Anyhow, thanks for writing this dream. It's always so great when you post a new one!
    🙂

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  8. This reminds me of that dumb, cheesy quote: “Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.”

    Going off of what Cindy said, I like the idea that the past isn't just the past, like some kind of lost piece of history. It's all connected. It all led up to right now. Sure, there were great moments in the past that are worth reminiscing, but that already happened. Instead of fawning over them, it's our job to make sure right now is pretty damn good, too. To make that connection count for something.

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  9. Just read this for the first time, the dream and all the comments. This is the kind of stuff that makes the www worthwhile, so affirming of imagination and life, thank you. Presented with great artistry

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  10. Actually, I'm thinking about pulling this one, or maybe even rewriting it entirely (something I've never attempted on here before.) As it stands, it just feels like a mess. There are details here and there that I like, but the sum total just doesn't pull together the way I like these things to, and even weeks later it still bugs me. I'm going to strongly think about how I can redo this one and salvage it. If not … *slit*

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  11. Note: All of the above comments (at least those with a time stamp earlier than this one) refer to a previous incarnation of this post. It had since be rewritten, refurbished, remodeled, and renovated. Enjoy!

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  12. WOW! This is phenomenal, Bryan! You did so damn good!
    There was a few moments when I almost ran away, because it reminded an out of body experience I had one time when I was sick. I was wandering around in some dismal realm asking deceased relatives if they knew where I my mom was. None of them acted to glad to see me and greeted me with disapproving glares like I was either disturbing them or had done something wrong. Finally, I found one uncle who did smile at me and he showed me where she was. She had her back to me and when I said, “mom?” she spun around and said really hateful, “Oh crap, what are you doing here?”.
    I’ll never forget that. It marked a turning point in my life of sorts. The day I realized that I don’t want to be around people for all eternity who don’t even like me. I don’t want to be anywhere near them. Ever. And that is why I’m going to fly away as a bird when I die. And God had better not try to stop me or I’ll claw his eyes out.
    End of rant. A another stupid comment unworthy of you and this remarkable rewrite. Wow! What a victory! I love this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nah, it’s fine. At some point I may go back through all the posts and tidy up the comments some (mostly my own. I don’t like to mess with other people’s comments any more than I have to.)

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