Friday, January 25, 2008


I like to think my grandmother would have enjoyed this neighborhood. It's filled with strong working people like herself (she brought in about $100 a week as a cashier in a
high-school cafeteria). And she would have liked the houses around here, which were generally built to last. Ours has lasted over 100 years, and we're banking that the updates we've made will ensure its survival long beyond our residency, which we'd welcome until we're as old as my grandmother.

She came to visit us once, although she doesn't remember it. Her memory is one of those tricky things that stores the most miniscule details of the past, but can't seem to recall what she told us five minutes ago. So she tells us again. This is how I've learned that she eats dinner every night at 4:30, and she has a driving penchant for bingo. And did I mention that her dinner is generally at 4:30, and she really enjoys playing bingo?

I like to imagine her living in this house at my age. My tool-and-die maker grandfather would come home for dinner--maybe a lasagna or Shake & Bake pork chops--and they'd sit together with the kids around the dining room table. My grandparents would have taken the upstairs bedroom that faces the street, which is where my grandmother would have developed the insomnia that still plagues her today (and which she passed down to my father, and he to me).

My father and his brother Jack would have shared the bedroom off the kitchen, for easy access to the refrigerator. Tom, the funny one, the heartthrob (who died unexpectedly from an infection picked up in the hospital during chemo last year) would be in the front bedroom next to the living room. And Barbara, my grandmother's pride and joy, would have secured the room at the top of the stairs, closest to her parents, who wanted to keep an eye on her -- their youngest, their girl.

My grandparents would have struck up a friendship with Mildred down the street, who's lived on this block almost 50 years and has seen the neighborhood tumble over on itself countless times. They would have sent the kids to the public elementary school two blocks north, and watchful Aloysious would have told them all to pick up their litter and be good to their parents. The kids would have listened.

My grandmother would have relished the joys of the neighborhood: the block parties, the children at play, the twinkling Christmas lights that seem to stay up until April. And she would have cringed at the violence: at seeing boys and girls she'd known as babies suddenly take a turn, getting enticed into gang culture and all the tumult that comes with it. She would have been something of the neighborhood conscience, loving the area for what it was, but sometimes resenting it for what it could be, but wasn't.

I saw my grandmother last weekend in Florida. Her quote of the week? . . . "That Giuliani. He's just such an asshole."


leslie said...

She holds her cards close to her chest and says it like it is!

Give Inez a kiss for me. I miss you!!

hjudson said...

What a beautiful take on the continuum of past to future. And a lovely punch at the end!