I was doing fine with the fact that I’m staring down the barrel of departure day until my regular Wednesday night dinner with Grandma and Grandpa. It struck me that each event in our evening routine, now down to an exact science, might be the last I have with them. I come into the house, arms full of my laundry; carry it to the basement much to a stir of the household. Grandpa is trying to be helpful and yet is oppressively obstructive to the dinner preparation; much yelling ensues. I carry my laundry as well as theirs to the basement, down a treacherous and slick set of ancient steps, clinging to the wall with one hand trying not to fall. Extra kitchen towels are thrown onto the stairs behind me. I try to step on any live spiders and avoid the dead ones. Once, I SCREAMED at the top of my lungs b/c a sewer bug had crawled up through the drain and parts of its head had MELTED to the hot water heater but it was still alive and moving. If you’ve never seen one, they look like a praying mantis the color of a yellow wax bean and are partially translucent. In their basement, grandpa used to operate an antiques shop and without any lighting the packed, dusty, rusty tables of antiques cast creepy shadows. On the landing of the stairs is a door to the outside, to the east of the house, and I usually inspect the surroundings just in case someone snuck in and is hiding out. This is not an outrageous idea as there are many homeless people who use their lawn to cut through the neighborhood and to the rear alley.
Dinner is served in nearly as much chaos – I am trying to grab heavy things out of my grandmother’s hands while simultaneously keeping sharp objects from her that can be thrown in grandpa’s direction. Rolls are warmed, heavy things carried out. In the Stewart household to carry hot dishes into the dining room one must holler, “Hot stuff, comin’ through! Hot stuff!” so no one will be burned or get in the way of the carrier. Grandpa does dishes after dinner, I make up leftover tubs and make grandma, who has usually retreated into the living room, hot cocoa. She and I then have several minutes of quiet to visit. The newest show that we watch on Wednesday nights, in-between my up and down the stairs laundry tasks, is “Cash in the Attic” on BBC America. This is both interesting and frustrating b/c with her poor hearing and the heavy accents grandma can’t understand much of the show. I act as translator at commercials (which are ALWAYS muted the second the show segment ends). “Those two people, the blonde gal and the pudgy guy, are getting married. They have to raise 700 pounds for a wedding dress.” Then, usually a great discussion of pound to dollar translation follows.
Its that or Emeril Live and, while the guy is entertaining and I have learned much about the use of butter and essence in cooking, I was ready for a change. I had previously put my foot down about no more Andy Griffith. Two episodes a night, every week, for years, makes one want to pick off the good Sheriff with a rifle and free Aunt Bee from her domestic slavery. Someone sign Opie up for basket weaving b/c if that kid is actually interested in football I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. The greatest benefit of watching Cash in the Attic, other than catching up on English slang and practicing my fake accent, is a rather dashing antiques appraiser named Paul Hayes. He’s sweet and polite, and despite knowing everything about Victorian spoons really interesting. I think maybe it’s just those dreamy blue eyes. I inevitably get caught up in the family/group/couple’s auction and hope that they can reach their goal! If items fail to reach their estimate, dark and instrumental tends to play while they flash between headshots of the auctioneer and the group, adding to the intensity.
But this Wednesday I found myself looking around the room at my grandparents and the house that has been the only constant structure in my life. I studied the walls and the paintings, the way they look in their chairs, grandpa in his rocker and grandma in her green armchair. It was in that chair that as a child my granddad and I stayed up one night – I was probably three or four – and sang songs into a tape recorder and talked, playing it back for ourselves and laughing like old pals; intermittently sneaking in for Oreos and milk. It was in front of that same TV that they would baby-sit me, and I would fall asleep on the floor listening to their shows, although at that time they had no remote and commercials had actual sound. Like clockwork, at eight o’clock my grandpa gets up, loosens the lid on a bottle of Ensure for grandma to take with her to bed, affects the thermostat by way of flashlight in the dining room according to some mathmatical formula I have yet to crack, removes his glasses and kisses grandma. I then get my own hug, scratchy kiss and thanks. Then it’s best-friend time; grandma and I have an hour or so to visit, chat – sometimes to get advice or give it. And each time I leave grandma waits at the door, even though she is nearly blind, to watch my lights leave, pulling back the yellowed curtains at the front door. Should a pedestrian pass by, she gives a hard, nasty glare to the passerby as if to say, “I’m watching, you’d better not try any funny business.” A quick wave and then she disappears into the house.
Wednesday, I wanted to record every detail, memorize each sound – but I know them all. I realized this warm, mini-family we have built is going to be heartbreaking to leave but I’m sure will never leave me.