Yes, there are the all those houses that I lived in. From Baltimore to DC, and back to Baltimore again, there have been a number of places that I've "grown up" in. But really, it would be irresponsible not to mention one more place before I go any further- and that would be my grandmother's house on the eastern shore of Maryland.
If anyone were looking for a litmus test to see if they can classify themselves as a real friend of mine I'd have to say it has to do with my maternal grandmother. If you can retell 3 or 4 good "Granny stories" from my childhood, then you and I are pretty good friends. If you have been privy to a few of those stories then I've opened up to you and let you pretty far into my real world.
It was a "back door" kind of place. The only people who came to the front door were the ones that didn't come by that often. Most people climbed the rear concrete steps and entered through the kitchen without ever a knock on the door. For the most part that's where all the gatherings took place. Everyone found a seat around the Formica table that took up a good part of the kitchen and settled in for food and chat. Pop Pop's chair was the only reserved seat- he sat in his chair by the window. His was a perch that offered up a view of the garden out back, allowing him to be a part of the conversation when he wanted, while he kept watch over his pride and joy in the back yard.
In the early years my grandparents were without the comforts of a real bathroom and that was okay with me. I never minded heading out back to the outhouse. Yeah, it smelled kind of nasty, but it was just part of the way things were down on the eastern shore. When I was still small enough baths were taken in the kitchen sink followed by a thorough drying off by Granny as I stood on a kitchen chair by the stove. Dinnertime meant the best lima beans ever, fresh squeezed lemonade and homemade ice cream.
At night I would climb the wooden stairs to Granny's bedroom where I snuggled up next to her in bed. My grandfather slept in his own room down the hall- another story on its own- with a Mason jar of ice-cold water next to his bed.
We didn't spend a lot of time in the living room. There was a couch, which Granny always referred to as the davenport, and a black and white console TV. Next to the TV sat a wooden telephone table. It looked a bit like an old fashioned school desk except it was made for sitting while talking on the phone-something that may seem odd to the cordless phone culture of today, but was just right for the bulky, black rotary dial phone of the 60s and 70s.
During the summer the conversations moved out of the warm kitchen to the cooler screened-in porch out front. My favorite spot was the wooden porch swing where I could sit for hours and listen as the grown-ups talked about everything and nothing in particular. It was on that porch that I would earn a quarter here and there for massaging my grandmother's feet with rubbing alcohol helping to relieve the pains of the day.
That cedar-shingled house may not have looked like much to any passersby, but to me it was, and still is, the heartbeat of my childhood.
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