Home is the place where you feel happy
Salman Rushdie wrote that. I’ve been thinking a lot about it as I try to settle into life back here in the States. But this post isn’t about post-travel blues. And I’ve had them this week, believe me. It’s about my grandmother who passed away on Monday. Because for me, that happy place was always at Grandma’s house.
My mom and aunts came of age in the late sixties and embraced its revolutionary air with equal abandon. As a result (and this isn’t a judgment), none of us cousins had very traditional or settled childhoods. The one tradition we did have was to gather each summer at Grandma’s house.
On arriving at Grandma’s house, the first feeling was of comfort. Especially coming from The Farm. There were soft plush stairs to slide down, a flushable toilet, hot bubble baths at night and bright, warm lights. The beds came stacked with down pillows and Nancy Drew books begging to be cracked open.
On Saturday mornings we’d gather on the living room floor to watch cartoons and drink coca cola and eat chips and cookies and American cheese. Things we weren’t allowed in our normal lives.
Of course we didn’t lounge in front of the television ALL day. Eventually Grandma would get tired of us screaming and climbing and fighting and sliding through her house and send us outside, occasionally with the threat of taking out Great-Grandma’s shillelagh if we didn’t behave. We never did find out what that mysterious shillelagh might be, although we begged and pleaded to see it.
Mostly we listened to Grandma and would race out to her lush green lawn scattered with towering maple trees hundreds of years too tall to climb and a weeping willow perfectly shaped as a pirate fort. When my great-grandparents were alive there was always a large garden, fresh grapes or green beans to pick, four-leaf clovers to discover.
This all sounds lovely and idyllic, I know, but it isn’t really enough to explain why I was so happy at Grandma’s house and why that feeling has lasted my whole life. Why all the cousins feel the same way about Grandma.
The answer is much deeper and simpler than a location. In fact, when I see her old house now, which she hasn’t lived in for many years, I can barely connect my vision to the reality. But that’s because my memories aren’t about a house or even really a time in my life. They’re about Grandma herself.
It’s that Grandma knew how to love. To love simply, completely, and unconditionally.
The nice thing about being a granddaughter is that I don’t have to worry or think about any faults Grandma might have had. No doubt she had some, but to me all I saw, and continue to see, was her rare ability to accept, love, and welcome one and all into her family. It didn’t matter if you were illegitimate, black, white, or divorced. Whether you were unmarried and knocked-up at 17 or a pot-smoking, long-haired hippie. It didn’t matter what you did for a living or whether you went to college or what religion you practiced or what your politics were. She didn’t question or berate or judge. She simply gave you a hug, settled you on the couch and opened the refrigerator door.
Grandma used to tell me the happiest time in her life was when we, the cousins, were all young and racing and screaming and tumbling through her house. Visiting every summer.
It’s nice to know I have that much in common with her. The rest I’m still working on.
For my Grandma Doris, who passed away on February 28, 2011 at the age of 91. You are loved.