Our house a castle was, the castle keep
my Nana’s kitchen, shining yellow and pink —
her ovens in high gear, the table set —
cut-throat canasta, coffee, bites to eat.
The kitchen led into the dining room —
a breakfront filled with Wedgwood, ruby glass;
a claw-foot table dark mahogany;
mahogany the little bric-brac shelf —
between the windows ruffled with chiffon —
held ivory rickshaw and Calico Cat.
I loved “my” lamp, the elegant little man
who graced the table near the reading chair —
his buckled shoes, his silver curls beneath
a gallant hat with plumes, and on his shoulders
a sweeping cape with china lace that broke
each time my Nana washed it. Sad for me —
she didn’t know I loved him — sad the day
I saw he wasn’t there. But let’s move on —
Let’s roam the house of my imagining...
Past hanging door chimes singing like Big Ben
whenever someone called. Climb up the stairs,
for at the summit in a golden frame
is Jesus praying on the mountaintop
to bless and welcome you, to send you on
to heaven, with three bedrooms and a bath.
The bathroom filled with tantalizing color —
with fixtures dusky rose, a checker floor
of muted green and red linoleum,
the walls with yellow tiles and tiles pale blue,
smelling of clean, of Lifebuoy soap and Zest.
A door led up to creaky attic stairs
that launched into a bifurcated room
with slanted ceilings, lit by hanging bulbs —
that held a fleet of forty model ships
in one side; in the other, cedar chests
that held our towels and linens. Happy night,
when Nana made our cedar-scented beds
so we could snuggle in them safe and clean.
Let’s roam the house of my imagining,
a house that isn’t there;
that isn’t anywhere on earth, perhaps
was never anywhere. —
As kids we didn't know we were "poor". We never truly wanted for anything like food or material goodies. If our grandmother didn't buy us something new, like bicycles or skates, we got it from our grandfather's second-hand store; and a stash of paper and "free" Coca Cola came from Smith Printing.
My paternal grandparents owned this printing shop. My memories include the colorful raffle tickets and flyers done for local churches, small businesses and community events. My grandmother Nonnie took care of the business side while my grandfather, Dada, turned out the print jobs with his two sons. I didn't know till recently that small jobs like that were the only jobs they could get. Smith printing was not a union shop, so large profitable jobs were denied them, along with union membership.
In our yard we had a teeter-totter, a sliding board and a set of swings on which we did skin-the-cats. Mike, my big brother, even had a little vegetable garden — I recall three stunted ears of corn. (Baba was working on the roof one day and got scolded when he fell off onto Mike's garden!)
My brothers and our best friend Gregory made a little club house in the narrow gap between the house and the fence. (Although I didn't then, as a five or six year old, think of myself as an adjunct, I tagged along with my older brothers when they played with "our" best friend.) It was a rickety construction and had a poster of the solar system, but we really didn't use it that much. We played on the sidewalk in front of our house. We were so silly emulating the Three Stooges (I even stepped on a rake — can't remember if that was deliberate) my Mom made us stop watching them.
We played ball and red light/green light, squirted little plastic water guns and bought little bags of peanuts from the one-armed man who roasted them in a trashcan on the front of his small vehicle. And when we heard the happy jingle we first ran home to get money, then ran to the ice cream truck with our coins.
I did take one lesson to heart. Baba asked our help in demolishing a small brick barbeque pit. It was accomplished so quickly, and the new, improved barbeque pit took so much more time and attention to build, I have always understood that it takes longer to build something than to destroy it.
No matter what it is.
Oh, and regarding the fence mentioned in the poem "Home", my grandfather said with such force that when you put up a fence, you always put the good side toward your neighbor — I, as a little kid, thought it was a law; I don't recall if he said that in so many words. But even today I am shocked when people do the opposite.