One of the pages I follow on Facebook is entitled A Room With a View. The postings are usually a random collection of scenes…beautiful, unique, nostalgic, but always lovely. So I did a double-take recently when I saw this rather ordinary black and white photo. On second glance I realized it isn’t the photo that’s meant to be special, but the memories it evokes.
I was blessed to have both sets of my grandparents through my entire childhood, well until into my married years. (My hubby wasn’t as fortunate; he recalls having just one grandmother and only until he was four.)
There were several aunts, uncles and cousins in my family, but we weren’t big on hanging out together all that much…except when it came to the grandparents. Their homes were the gathering places. And what do I remember about them?
The earliest memory is of my paternal grandparents’ home on Charles Street in Vancouver, the Christmas I was four. In the darkened living room beside the decorated tree and below a large round mirror, the fireplace blazed with the enthusiasm of a typical McGuire fire and I sat on the floor in front of it , mesmerized by the flickering flames and the tree lights. I still have the fuzzy stuffed cat I received that Christmas. (I think it was intended to satisfy my oft-vocalized desire for a real live puppy…which I didn’t get until my tenth birthday.)
It was at their kitchen table that I learned how to ‘spool knit’, taught by my grandmother, using an empty spool into which my grandfather had obligingly hammered five nails.
That wasn’t their first home in Canada, but it was the first I was familiar with. I don’t know how often they moved, but I do know their first home was a claims cabin in Alberta.
I was nearing my teens when my grandparents moved from Vancouver to what was then a rural area of Surrey. My bricklayer grandfather, helped by my father and uncles, built a cement block house on property that we always referred to as ‘the farm’. It might have been a half-acre at best, but with an ultra-large vegetable garden between the house and the gravel road in front and a small chicken coop in the back, it represented the best of country living as far as I was concerned. The house is still there, albeit on a much smaller lot now surrounded by city homes.
I recall Christmas Eves when all the relatives would gather there. Those were evenings the living room was filled with music. We all sang, but various members also played piano, accordion, violin, melodion, and harmonicas. Some sat on the hearth, and when the chairs were full, others chose the floor.
I had no siblings and was the first, thus oldest, grandchild, but my aunt and eight younger cousins lived in a small bungalow on the same property so when I would occasionally spend a weekend or some holiday time there, I didn’t lack for playmates. The big treat was sharing a bed in the guest room with two of the cousins, and scaring each other as we told ghost stories in the dark.
While I can still visualize the floor plan, the outdoors was more memorable for me. I recall campfires in the middle of the driveway, and burying potatoes in the hot coals to be dug out in the morning and fried up with fresh eggs for breakfast. On summer evenings when we were allowed to stay up late, we sat on the grass close to the front porch listening to my grandfather’s tales about Ireland and basking in the potent fragrance from my grandmother’s Nicotiana bed.
As I think about it now, it’s surprising to me that I spent much more time in, but have fewer memories of time spent in my maternal grandparents’ home on 14th Avenue in Vancouver. I know we visited there often. Dinner on Sunday was a tradition. Sometimes we gathered at the kitchen table, but other perhaps more special times, around the dining room table.
I spent a lot of non-eating time in that dining room because it housed their piano. There were doors on both sides of the room to close it off from the kitchen and living room and supposedly contain the sound of my inept tinkering on the ivories. I couldn’t read music, but would attempt to play from my aunt’s collection of familiar pop songs, following the notes up and down, adjusting with sharps or flats as needed. In rotrospect, everyone must have indulged me with great patience since I doubt the doors truly stopped much of the racket!
The other room that I remember well is their livingroom which housed the radio where I loved to curl up in the well-stuffed maroon armchair to listen all Sunday afternoon. Are you too old to recall the Jack Benny Show, Superman (remember the “faster than a speeding bullet” intro?), Fibber McGee and Molly, Amos and Andy, Burns and Allen, Ozzie and Harriet, Our Miss Brooks – oh, and the Lone Ranger, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers?
The opposite corner of the livingroom housed a short, glass-fronted bookcase tucked in between the fireplace and outer wall. The couch took up much of that wall, so it turned the floor space in front of the bookcase into a little hideaway where I sat and read. I still have two large children’s tomes from that bookcase. I recall other books I probably wasn’t meant to read but did.
Back in the 40s and 50s the northward trek from the south coast along the winding Fraser and Thompson Rivers was an agonizingly slow one. Occasionally when my parents made one of their trips by Jeep into the Cariboo I was left in my grandparents’ care. Sometimes I got to sleep in my aunt’s bedroom, but if she was home to occupy it, my space was ‘upstairs’. Behind the kitchen was a flight of stairs, accessed by an almost unnoticeable door. It turned and led up to a long narrow room under the eaves. Its walls and ceiling were wrapped in dark stained wood (shiplap?) with only one small window at the front, street end, offering any natural light. Did I mind being up there all by myself? Not at all. An introvert even then, I liked having my own private domain where I got to read well after my normal ‘lights out’ bedtime because my grandmother didn’t like climbing those stairs so would call up from the kitchen, “Are you in bed?” and I could truthfully answer that I was. She rarely thought to ask if my light was out. (I must have been a devious child!)
One other memory I have of that house is the coal storage room in the basement. Delivery of coal for the furnace was made via a shute aimed through a window directly onto the cement floor. Thanks to the coal dust, the room was filthy, but until the supply of coal receded we didn’t have to go in very far since the bucket and shovel sat inside the door.
Apparently the more I think, the more memories I can conjure up. But enough’s enough. I think I’ve more than adequately answered A Room With a View’s question, don’t you?
~ ~ ~