Painting by Van Gogh
My family lives in a house that used to belong to my Grandma before I was born. It’s that big old house about halfway down Fenn Street, just off the town common. It’s the house my Daddy grew up in.
When Grandma moved to her apartment a long time ago, Mama and Daddy and Billy, who was about five then, moved in here. Mama still calls it “Grandma’s House” sometimes. But it’s the only house I’ve ever lived in, and it’s hard for me to think of it that way. All except for the front room.
Mama always refers to the front room as “the parlor” and I’m not allowed to play in there. I can’t remember if I ever even sat in it.
The sliding double doors leading into the parlor are always closed. Every so often, I slide the doors open a bit and peek in. Inside, the room is usually pretty dark and depressing, the rose-patterned drapes drawn. I often see dust motes dancing in the little stream of light that dares to find its way in through a gap in the drapes. I have a feeling that those bits of dust have the most fun anyone has ever had in the parlor.
The room is filled with tired furniture that seems like something you’d be more likely to find in Grandma’s attic, though why she or anyone else would want to keep it is beyond me. It looks as unfriendly as the parlor itself.
A davenport stands against the wall with its back up, hard and uninviting. Little lace doilies, antimacassars, Mama calls them, covers its arms and shoulders as if to say, “I know your hands are dirty, and your hair? Anything that so resembles a rat’s nest has got to be nasty.” I always hear Grandma’s unpleasant voice when I think about those little doilies, which are turning yellow with age just like her hair did.
Across from the davenport are two chairs flanking the fireplace, their backs held straight and tall just like Grandma is always reminding me to hold mine. In the middle of the seating is a coffee table. My best friend Susan has a table like that in her house, but her mom calls it the cocktail table. I’m pretty sure the table in our parlor has never seen a cocktail in its life. Across the room by the front window is a piano that lost its voice years ago. It’s covered with the doilies’ big sister, a yellowed lace throw on which sits an army of my framed ancestors, all looking as unhappy as the rest of the room.
Beneath it all lays a threadbare oriental carpet, so faded, it’s hard to tell what color it’s supposed to be. How the rug ever got so threadbare is a mystery to me, since no one ever walks on it.
I don’t much like that room and I guess Mama and Daddy don’t either, because we never use it. The only person in my family who seems like they like they might be comfortable there is Grandma.
We spend most of our time in the bright room at the back of the house that opens off the kitchen. Daddy says it used to be called the summer kitchen, but we call it the living room. Hey, maybe it’s called “the living room,” because we pretty much live in it. Billy and I do our homework there while Mama cooks supper, the smell of chicken and dumplings or meatloaf swirling around us.
After supper, we all used to sit around the Philco in the living room and listen to the The Green Hornet and The Great Gildersleeve before bedtime. Now that we have a television, the radio has fallen silent, except for ironing day. Mama still listens to Stella Dallas and The Brighter Day while she irons.
Billy and I get to watch two shows on television every night before bedtime. My favorite shows are Sky King and My Little Margie. Billy likes to watch cowboys and Indians, especially The Lone Ranger. Billy is fifteen, nearly four years older than me, so he gets to stay up later. But one night a week, I can stay up longer. That’s the night Bishop Sheen is on television. He’s pretty boring, but I like to watch for the angel who wipes off his blackboard.
Can you imagine any of that stuff happening in the parlor? Me neither.
Most of the time, we have pretty good fun. Well, except for the days when Grandma visits.
Grandma doesn’t approve of the television, and she’s not real happy with the radio, either. Now that I think about it, she’s not really happy with anything.
“You’re going to turn those children’s minds to mush, Mary,” she scolds my mother as if she were still a kid herself. “Mark my words. Besides, television is the doorway to the Devil’s workshop. It’s just plain evil, I tell you. In my day, children knew how to read.”
Sometimes, she’s so mean to Mama, I can tell she’s about to cry.
I especially hate when Grandma comes for supper. The food we have to eat when she is there is just plain yucky. Mama says she has the sugar disease, whatever that is. Sometimes, she even has to have shots and stuff.
All I know is that it means she can’t have anything good to eat. And if she can’t, we can’t either. I know Grandma must hate being sick, but she doesn’t have to take it out on us. And, boy oh boy, does she ever.
“Billy, get your elbows off the table.”
“Stop slouching and sit up straight, Alice. And wipe that frown off your face, Young Lady. If you’re not careful, your face is going to get stuck that way.”
Nope, the days when Grandma comes aren’t much fun at all, even in the living room.
She’s right about one thing, though. Your face does get stuck that way.
(Continued in Stuck That Way, Part 2)
This was written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory, where the theme is "Shooting the Breeze."