Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Power of Family

This is a revised memoir I wrote back in October 2008 about my grandparents and their old house. I took the first draft I wrote, Nostalgia House, and turned it into a story. Enjoy.


Today is a special day. It’s Papa Joe's birthday. I don't know exactly how old he’s turning, but it’s definitely a high number. Most grandpas don’t get to reach the ages that mine has. My mom, who is making final adjustments to her hair, is just about ready. I had, as accustomed, been sitting on the toilet seat watching as she unnecessarily applied makeup to her already beautiful face. I follow her as she and her heels click down the stairs. The rest of my family, my Dad, my brother Malcolm, and my sister Dinah, are in the kitchen waiting. My mom opens the door and we follow her outside and into the car in line like good little ducklings. I am squished in the back between Malcolm and Dinah as always. The baby of the family never seems to get the window seat. The sleek black car slowly creeps out of the driveway and onto the main road. We turn into the long, winding street surrounded by a sea of gravestones. We have been down these roads leading to Gran and Papa Joe’s house so many times. Almost instantly I find that we are climbing up the hill of Westmore Road. I look around at all the houses I’ve seen almost 100 times before. I smile as I see familiar faces and cars in the distance next to that big white and green two-family house. Daddy parks across the street and we make our way into the old memorable home exchanging hugs and planting soft kisses on cheeks. It seems like a thousand creaky stairs to the top, but we get there at last.
The door at the top is wide open, as if the whole house is inviting us in. We make our way through the rooms all mapped with loud, creaky hardwood floors and clustered with people giving our hellos only to end up in our little groups. In the kitchen, Gran helped by a couple of my Aunts are finishing up cooking a meal. There’s an opening to a miniature, closet like room to the right of the stove. Here the sink lies half full with the dishes used to make the big meal. The spices and such are stored in small cabinets. Back in the main part of the kitchen, the refrigerator stands tall beside the left wall. So many times before have I played with its colorful magnets. Next to it hangs a lonely window often unnoticed. On the far wall is a mysterious door that leads down to the back door and a labyrinth of basement halls. I was once so excited to finally go down those dark stairs behind. Straight ahead next to the right wall rests a worn wooden table draped with a colorful plastic cover. Grandpa often sat there listening to the radio on other days. Now, other adults, some of my many relatives, sit in the chairs at the table holding a conversation. In the next room, the guest bedroom, a baby usually slept or an elder was giving a minor stern words of advice. In the main room, also called the dining room, there is a big table, a case holding precious plates to the right, and two big windows half hidden by some of the many chairs around. Other adults relax and slip into various bubbling conversations. All the younger generation of kids and teenagers including Malcolm, Dinah, and I gather in the living room. We sit on the big beige couches or in one of the chairs in the corner. We sit in a loose circle around the rectangular wood and glass coffee table talking about school or funny memories. There are a few windows covering the far wall giving a view of the street. Several small tables hold up shapely lamps. A TV in a wooden case moodily sits unused for a big portion of the evening. There are enormous jigsaw puzzles finished by Papa Joe and my now deceased uncle Anthony some long time ago hung carefully in plastic along the walls. The second guest bedroom, to the left, is mostly still and dark. I don’t know why, but people don’t really go in there. As the night lengthens, we mill around and eat delicious homemade food. People go in and out of the small, single, blue tiled bathroom throughout the night. I end up wandering into Gran and Papa Joe’s room. I marvel at the wall of piled suitcases which cut the room in half wondering for the millionth time why they’re there. I walk around the bed to get a look at the things Gran has posted on the wall. I fill with joy and pride knowing that she kept her birthday gift from me (a picture of me) hanging on the wall for all to see. I walk back around towards the door, but sit on their bed ogling at all the knick-knacks scattered atop their dresser. I know that in one of those drawers Papa Joe keeps a stash of savory strawberry candies he gives out whenever his grandchildren come for a visit. I turn on their TV, joined by a few cousins, and watch quietly waiting for the cake. No one yells or tells us to get out.
Out the corner of my eye I see Mommy surrounded by some Aunts come from the kitchen with a glowing square in her arms. We all hurry into the main room just before the singing starts. With all of us packed in that one room, I swear the sense of love and togetherness and family can be felt a mile away. Papa Joe blows out the candles. A champagne bottle is popped and some sticky fizz is spilled on his head, as tradition calls for in out family. Loud claps vibrate the air. The cake is cut. Everyone in the room has a genuine smile on. Jokes are made, laughter is shared. In the two hours afterwards, cake is eaten and tin foil is passed around for people to take food home. Relatives slowly drip out the door one clan at a time. When it's our turn to leave, I give Gran and Papa Joe each a hearty hug and a warm kiss. I wave bye to the remaining family and walk down the countless creaky stairs. We load into the car and I stare out the window feeling the all-around good vibe of the car as we drive home. Every time I spend time with my grandparents, they teach me important life lessons, whether they know it or not. They teach me how to love and that family should mean good times and being yourself.

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