Goodbye, 3541 Duke St.

nostalgia

I was talking to a friend about something I wrote about my old home in Kalamazoo and realized that I never did post it here. So, today’s the day. I wrote this almost five years ago before my parents moved to Colorado and I moved to St. Joseph. It still brings back good memories. Enjoy!

I’m sitting in my little attic room with its happy yellow paint and the chimney in the middle. I’ve spent hours upon hours up here, practicing my violin, frantically typing medical reports dictated by doctors who do not know how to enunciate, sewing clothes and writing a novel. I’ve lain awake at night listening to the rain drops falling on the roof above or feeling Dad shake the rafters with his snoring in the room below. I love this little room, and I will miss it. The house is sold. My things are packed. On Saturday, I’ll be moving to St. Jo. In June, Mom and Dad will head to Colorado. We’re leaving this house Grandpa built. Who knows if I’ll ever come back to it again?

Downstairs, Mom is practicing the variations on a Rococo Theme by Tchaikovsky in the piano room and Dad is sleeping off the pain of a pulled tooth in a rocking chair in the living room. I expect the rafters to commence shaking at any moment. Who knows if I’ll ever hear those things in this house again?

If I went downstairs right now, I’d find all three of the dogs sprawled out on the floor sleeping. If I sat down next to Annie, she’d get all warm and fuzzy inside while her tail thumped on the floor contentedly. Sally would trot over to get her share, complaining loudly of my inattention, while Lily would hang around in the back until such time as I noticed her. They’re all going to Colorado while I stay here. In the rest of their goofy, short, affectionate little lives, who knows how many times I’ll get to sit on the floor and pet them?

When I’m waiting for sleep tonight, listening to the clanking and banging of the hot water heater in the basement, I’ll be thinking of Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma was the most perfect, little curly-headed grandma a person could have. Whenever we came to visit, no matter what time of day or night, Grandma was waiting at the back door prepared to shower us with love and tell us about all the treats she’d bought for us. Grandpa never waited at the door. He could be found sitting on his throne in the living room, watching old black and white movies or reading the obituaries in the newspaper. He was so deaf, actually, that he never knew anyone was there until we were upon him. Then he’d look up and give us hugs and kisses rumbling out, “Hi, kids! Have a seat. This is a pretty good show.” Thanks to Grandpa and his “pretty good shows,” I learned to love Jimmy Stewart, Margaret O’Brien, Gregory Peck, Ginger Rogers, Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart…I still like old movies the best.

Now that we’re leaving, memories of this old house come flooding in. I can picture Grandma sitting in the kitchen, one leg swinging back and forth, an elbow resting on the table and twirling a curl around her finger as she talked. And Grandma could talk for long periods of time without coming up for air. Living with a stone-deaf husband, she must have been making up for lost time when we were around. I can hear Grandpa saying the blessing over the food, which was quite probably spaghetti, as we all crowded around the table in the tiny kitchen. This is what he said at every meal, “Dear Lord, our gracious, we pray that Your blessing would be on us and on this food. In Your blessed name we pray, AMEN! Charge!” With the attack on the food came a battery of conversation, very animated conversation, befitting a household of Italian descent. (Now that I think about it, maybe that’s how I turned out so quiet—with all that talking, somebody had to listen.)

In 2000, Grandma had two strokes, so we moved in to the old house to take care of her. Grandma was different—more cantankerous. Grandpa was different—even more cantankerous. But Grandpa still watched his “pretty good shows” and sang “Old Black Joe” around the house off-key. Grandma still fussed over little children and animals whom she had always loved. Then Grandma died.

Seven more years…of me and Justin growing up the rest of the way, Mom and Dad teaching piano, and me getting a job. Grandpa still bumped around the house in shoes nearly two sizes larger than his feet. (Grandpa never liked feeling cramped.) He’d bump around singing, “Ho, ho, ho! Johnny and-a Joe went down the Kokamo!” off-key as usual. He’d often stop at the door to my attic and yell up in the most aggravating tone of voice known to man, “Amanda! Are you up there?”

I’d sigh.

“Yes, Grandpa!” I’d yell.

Long pause.

“Amanda! You up there?”

“Yeeeesssssss!” I’d shout again, straining my voice to the cracking point.

Another long pause.

“Well, Sally,” he’d say, addressing his dog, “She’s not up there.”

Bump, bump, bump all the way to the living room.

With another sigh, I’d run down the stairs to see what he wanted.

“Oh, there you are,” he’d say. “Where ya been?”

“Upstairs,” I’d yell.

He’d squint and cup his ear in my direction.

“Upstairs,” I’d repeat, even louder.

“Oh,” he’d nod, understandingly, “you were outside.”

“No, I was upstairs!” I’d shout, setting off his hearing aid with a loud wine. He’d wince and try to adjust it, invariably fixing it so he could hear nothing at all. This crisis averted, he’d motion me closer conspiratorially and say, “Hey, you got a good show to watch?” So, we’d watch a good show.

About the same time Justin began nursing school, Grandpa had a stroke. Immediately, the singing and shouting were gone, replaced with silence and blank stares interspersed with coughing fits. A year or so later, some of the singing and funny little mannerisms made a rebound, but it was never quite the same. Then he fell and broke his hip. The grandpa I knew became a body in a hospital bed. His mental capacity slowly left along with his strength. As his body wore out, he rasped with every breath while fluid filled his lungs. One day Justin, who had just graduated from nursing school, was checking his heart rate and other vital signs. Rubbing Grandpa’s arm, he asked, “How you doing Grandpa?” Rather cheerfully, considering the circumstances, Grandpa replied, “Pretty good.” He was gone that morning.

So, it’s time to leave. When I was little, it seemed like Grandma and Grandpa’s house, Grandma and Grandpa themselves, were so permanent. But they were not. As people get older, they begin to look more and more like Humpty Dumpty who had a great fall, as my dad says. All the king’s horses and men cannot put them together again, much less prevent them from falling. People leave and places go on without them until they break down and disintegrate. Everything is changing, and not always for the worse. I welcome the change coming to me. Still, there will be times when a sound or a feeling will remind me. There will be a faint whiff of something, spaghetti sauce in a hot kitchen most likely, that will bring back distant memories of how we all lived at 3541 Duke St.

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