Friday, July 25, 2008

Tiger Lilies, Gramma, and Memories

In an earlier post I mentioned my grandmother Elise Susanne. (Click on her name to read how she and my grandfather first met.) In their declining years they lived in a small house in a small town in eastern Nebraska. In back of the house was a huge garden. Half of it was taken up with a raspberry patch and apple trees. The other half was for vegetables. To the side of the house grew a patch of flowers, including a stand of tiger lilies.

Some time after my grandparents died we made the two-hour trip to their home. The house was to be sold and family members were invited to take any of the belongings inside the house. While there, I dug a small clump of the tiger lilies and transplanted them to our farm home across the Missouri River in Iowa. I was about ten years old.

Over the years as I've moved from one home to another, I've managed to take along a clump of the tigers. I like their sturdy hardiness, their willingness to grow in hard soil. They put up with harsh sun and dry years and still they keep blooming. Gorgeous orange tigers with purple-tipped whiskers.

They remind me of my Gramma (no, she didn't have whiskers!!) and as I type I can see her home in my mind's eye. I can smell the not unpleasant smell of a home where old people dwell. The raspberry patch out back is vivid in my memory as is the large circle of ornamental variegated grass in the front yard. I remember the summer visits when adults sat in the shade and talked and we kids played softball on the school playground across the dirt street and sipped kool-aid as a treat. If we chanced to stay overnight we little ones were placed on the floor with our heads tucked underneath the library table. It seemed a cozy place to sleep and we didn't seem to notice the hard floor beneath us. A blanket and pillows made our bed.

There was no plumbing in that house. An iron pump stood just outside the back door. An outhouse stood at the end of the back sidewalk, out near the alley.

I visited that house on Memorial Day in 2001. The windows were all knocked out and I stepped through an empty window frame to go inside and walk through the house. I was amazed that this tiny home could have contained all the things of my memory.

The living room, now so tiny, had once held Grampa's heavy wood rocker with the black leather seat, an old Stickley type sofa with hard wood arms and which opened into a sofa bed, an oil burner heating stove, an upright piano, a library table, a small oak buffet with plate rack, and Grampa's oak roll-top desk. They must have been crammed in side by side but my child-mind did not see them that way.

The kitchen held Gramma's celery/cream/green wood-burning cookstove. Behind the stove was a wooden box that held the chunks of wood for the stove. A counter in one corner functioned as work space and sink. There was an oil-cloth covered dining table, a cot against the wall behind the table, an upright victrola atop which sat an ancient television with a screen only about six inches across. Off one corner of the kitchen was a tiny pantry and on one shelf sat a blue depression glass cream pitcher with a picture of Shirley Temple. At the time I didn't even know who Shirley Temple was. The front porch was barely large enough to hold an old trunk and the short path to the outside door. In back was another porch where Grampa had a small cot and where he shaved. A mirror hung above an enamel wash basin on a stand in the corner.

As children we were not allowed to run willy-nilly through the house. The one time that I entered the bedroom as a child was the week my grandfather lay dying. He must have been close to death for we were brought in and we stood around his bed and were then ushered out again.

That visit to the long-empty house five years ago made me recognize that some memories can be false. I had always remembered there being a doorway near the sofa that led to an upstairs bedroom. That afternoon that I climbed through the broken window I was surprised that there was no such doorway and never had been. Somehow my mind had tricked me into 'remembering' a room upstairs. But, no, this was a single story house and had always been so. There was never an upstairs room. The memory must have belonged to a different house or perhaps my mind invented it.

I like where we live now. But if we ever move again to a place that has any kind of a yard, I will take along some of Gramma's tiger lilies. I think she would like that.

No comments: