Happy times at grandma's house

Posted: Sunday, June 14, 2009

Places disappear from our lives when loved ones die. We miss the person, but we also miss everything that surrounded them, made special by their dearness to us.

As a child, I traveled every summer with my family from St. Petersburg, Fla., to Baldwin, Mich., to visit my grandma. Grandma lived in a sturdy Craftsman house with lots of fun spaces for children. The builder wanted 9-foot ceilings downstairs and simply took the extra height out of the upstairs.

The bedroom my sister and I slept in had flowered wallpaper, white ruffled organdy curtains and a sloped ceiling that we could actually touch. I'll never forget the attic under the eaves, the steep stairs with the door at the bottom and the baby gate at the top, the basement with its dirt-floored root cellar and my uncle's knight and castle set. Woods surrounded Grandma's house; woods filled with deer and adventures and a yellow jacket's nest in the tall grass.

When I think of Grandma, I can smell the strong coffee and thick oatmeal in her morning kitchen. I don't so much remember the later years, when strokes left her in a wheelchair, and someone else, a stranger, did the cooking.

And then she died, the house was sold and I've never been back to Baldwin again. And a part of my childhood, a warm, safe and happy part, has disappeared.

But it lives on in memories of playing jail on those steep, dark stairs and finding my mom's old dolls in the attic under the eaves, and stomping on the yellow jacket's nest with my sister: "I will if you will."

And now I have Grandma's sewing machine. It's an old black Singer embossed with gold, mounted in a table and powered by a knee pedal. It only sews forwards, with no fancy zigzag or serging stitches. I can change the belts and service it myself.

I made my wedding dress on Grandma's sewing machine, as well as the kids' Christmas jammies year after year. It doesn't smell like coffee, and I rarely saw her use it, but I remember just where it sat in the corner of Grandma's dining room. And the house isn't quite gone after all.

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring children's author who lives in Juneau. She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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