March 22, 2009

For my papa

Last night I dreamed of my Papaw and Grandmother's house on Chestnut St. in Clarksburg. They lived in a big old two-story red house across from the graveyard until I was about 12 years old, and I have so many memories of being in this house.

In fact, if I could go back in time and do anything, one of the two things I would do would be to spend a weekend with them at this house circa summer 1984.

In my dream they were still gone, but the house was frozen in time--down to an icy glass of Papaw's bourbon and Sprite sitting on the end table next to his place on the couch. I wandered through the house and took everything in.

I examined the threadbare flower-print couch. The clock on the horse and carriage still sat on top of the giant television, along with pictures of papaw and grandmother as children. There was the small set of shelves with my aunt and uncles' and father's senior pictures on it next to the living room doorway. The sheers hanging on the windows still smelled like papaw's cigarette smoke.

In the hallway was the old desk with years of doodling on it and the old yellow telephone with the dial. The china cabinets in the hall and dining room still sat silently, holding their fancy dishes. The organ waited to be played. As I walked to the back of the house, it started to grow dark outside and I felt my old childhood fears of what was waiting for me around the corner re-emerge.

The kitchen smelled of coffee and still contained my cousins' and I's Strawberry Shortcake mugs, the yellow tupperware sugar bowl, and the little ceramic figurine of a little girl that held the toothpicks. My eyes shifted to the dark doorway that was the entrance to the basement, and I knew I was too afraid to go down there. Instead, I decided to go upstairs.

I climbed the 17 stairs covered in old green shag carpeting, and along the way I touched the pieces of wood in the banister that I knew were loose. My memories of this staircase were particularly strong, because my cousins and I regularly slid down the steps on our butts, counting each step as we thumped our way down; my uncles Jim and Joe regularly put us on their backs and shoulders and ran down the staircase. We screamed with delight and terror as they yelled, "Who's your favorite uncle!?"

I came to the top of the staircase to the clothes hamper and the bathroom doorway, and recalled that my grandmother reported seeing her mother-in-law's ghost at this very spot. A shiver of fear ran down me. I gulped it down, wanting my dreamy reverie to last longer.

The bathroom still contained my favorite things: the child's backscrubber shaped like a giraffe (which I now own); my grandmother's robin's egg blue Estee Lauder power box with the giant silky powder puff inside; Close-Up toothpaste; a bar of Zest soap in the shower, and the bottle of Chloroseptic which I loved to spray into my mouth to make my throat numb. I smiled when I eyed the toilet paper, remembering the day Michelle and I had unraveled two whole rolls to wad up and stuff under our shirts to make us look pregnant. We got in trouble for being so wasteful, and the family used a plastic bag of wadded up toilet paper for the next couple of days.

That's as far as I got in my dream. I never made it into any of the bedrooms. But I was grateful to re-experience the sights and smells and memories of this house again.

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