Wednesday, November 30, 2016

My Grandmother's Living Room

Last night I dreamed of my grandmother's house in Salem.

Small for a family of six, the three-bedroom, full-basement structure probably encompassed about 1200 feet, if that. My grandfather had it built when a small subdivision sprang up along The Roanoke River.

The basement flooded at least three times.

The living room housed a couch, my grandfather's recliner chair, a rocking chair, a television, a dry sink, and an upright piano. The room never seemed crowded to me, but looking back on it, it must have been. I don't think the room was bigger than 12 x 14, if that.

The foyer held a bookcase and another smaller moveable shelve set that held the telephone. The bookcase held a cherished set of World Book Encyclopedias.

My grandmother rocked the piano sometimes, when she thought no one was listening. When we were outside playing on our bikes, maybe, or on the swings. But I would come to the door and hear her. She had no formal lessons that I am aware of; she played by ear and with passion. She sang, too, though the songs she sang when she was at the piano were not the lullabies she whispered in her grandchildrens' ears when she tried to calm them or help them sleep.

They were songs from the 1940s, from her childhood. And I don't remember any of them, I'm afraid.

A few months before my grandmother died, she was in the hospital. She kept hearing music. She would ask if we heard it when we visited and wanted to know when the City of Salem began piping music all over the land. I always told her I heard the music, and sometimes asked her if she could sing along with it.

Once or twice she did, singing old songs I didn't know, floundering with the words and then stopping. It was better to listen than sing then, she said.

My grandmother's house had a divider between the kitchen and living room. It served as a place for us grandchildren to run around on rainy days. We chased each other in circles until she couldn't stand it anymore and sent us to the basement. Down there we played with balls or read comic books in a half-light, while she, at least, had a little quiet upstairs.

I don't know why I dreamed of my grandmother's living room last night. I haven't seen it since about 1987. She moved into another home with my aunt after that, and the old house was sold. It still stands, though I think it is one of the few left along that part of The Roanoke River Greenway.

I wish I had a picture.

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