A Place to Remember

I woke without moving my head.  I opened my eyes and found myself looking into the opening between the seat cushion and the back of the seat. It had crumbs, a pencil and the end of one seat belt all from a forgotten time. As I lay there I began to listen to the road noise as it moved through the car. As I listened it was what I could not hear that caught my attention, the rhythmic thump of the concrete highway was gone. It had been replaced with only the dull roar of side streets. This would mean that we were close and I sat up in the seat to look around. I was right, we had gotten off the highway and were only minutes from the place I would spend the summer.  The place where, up until now, I had only spent 3 or 4 days at a time and only around the holidays.  My sister and I had been looking forward to this day ever since our mother had told us that we would spend the summer at our grandparent’s house. 

To my sister and me, our grandparent’s house was a place of wonder.  It was full of holiday magic and was the place of endless adventure. The house was much bigger than the one that my sister and I lived in and to us it seemed to have an infinite number of rooms and places to explore. We would spend hours looking through the many rooms and closets to see what we could find from the past. We would laugh at old photos of our mother and our aunts that had been taken during their childhoods and now adorn the wall and the tops of most flat surfaces. The photos that did not have frames could be found in all corners of the house stuck in a book or in boxes that had been put away and forgotten. This summer was going to be great and we could not wait to get it started.

As we turned into the drive the limbs from the old pine that stood like a guard next to the drive brushed the side of the car.  The tree seemed to reach the sky and was larger than the car at its base. I had spent many a Christmas afternoon underneath that old tree fighting off Indians or preparing to attack the armies that waited across the battlefield of the front yard. We followed the drive around to the back of the house and pulled up behind my grandfather’s old black Ford LTD. As the car came to a stop my sister and I leapt out and headed at a full run to the back kitchen door. In the large picture window I could see my grandfather standing at the sink. I flung the door open and my sister and I ran into the kitchen and started hugging my grandfather as he called to my grandmother in the back of the house “Momma, the kids are here.”  As I hugged him I could smell the fresh onion, which he had been cutting at the sink, mixed with the smell of his cigar.  I let go and turned around as I heard the sound of my grandmother’s cane coming into the kitchen. “Mac let them go so that they can give their Dennie some sugar,” she said as she entered the room. I hugged her and as I did I noticed that at only 12 years old I was already taller than her.

My sister, Helen and I had noticed that we were the only kids that had Grandparents named Mac-Mac and Dennie and we liked the idea that it made us and them just a little more special.  Everyone called my Grandfather Mac, a nickname he got while in the Navy, except the grandkids, we called him Mac-Mac.  As for my grandmother’s name Dennie, it came about because when my mother was little she could not say granny.  It came out Dennie and so a tradition was born that continues today.  

After dinner Helen and I decided to play hide and seek with the entire house as our playing field.  My sister began to count as I headed through the large formal dinning room and den on my way to my grandfather’s studio.  The dinning room was dark because it was not used much in the summer.  I could see the large oak table with the silver candelabras that sat on each end. I remembered last Christmas when the table was full of food and the whole room was alive with family and friends that had come over for the holidays, and the whole house smelled of turkey and dressing with the faint hint of cinnamon from all the desserts and Christmas teas.

As I walked into the den I could picture the large Christmas tree where it had stood in the corner with a mountain of gifts all around it.  On the other side of the room was the large marble fireplace that now looked cold and lifeless but had been very much alive with warmth from a roaring fire just a few months ago. I ran out through the back of the den and into the long hall that went to the studio.  I could tell that Mac-Mac had been painting recently when I entered the studio because the room had a strong smell of paint thinner and his paint tray still had an assortment of paint colors laid out.  I could watch Mac-Mac paint for hours. It seemed like magic, how he could make things appear on the blank canvas.

Mac-Mac only painted as a hobby, but I can not think of any friend of the family or family member’s home, that I have been in, that did not have at least one of his works of art hanging on the wall. It was his art and not his position at the foundry as a chemical engineer that people want to share in. He was always working on one piece or another for someone. He loved the joy that it brought to others and I think that it was his way of giving back to the ones that he loved.  As I moved further into the room I could see a row of canvases set up to dry against one wall and in the back of the room was a large closet and this is where I hid from Helen.  I crouched down next to the old boxes and waited her to find me.  I could smell the dust and old cardboard as I lay my head back against one of the boxes. I sat there thinking of the summer to come as I drifted off to sleep.  I woke a short time later as my mother guided me to her old room and put me to bed.

I woke the next morning to the smell of bacon that Mac-Mac was cooking in the kitchen and I jumped from my mother’s large canapé bed.  It sat so high that my legs did not touch the ground when I sat on the edge.  I rushed into the hall bathroom and washed my face and brushed my teeth. After I dressed I headed to the kitchen for breakfast and I was not disappointed. Mac-Mac must have been up for hours cooking because the whole table was covered with food. I sat and talked to Mac-Mac while I ate until I could not eat any more.  But I knew by the end of breakfast that Mac-Mac had planned a great summer and we were just at the beginning.

At about noon it was time for my mother to head back home to Atlanta.  She warned Helen and I to behave while she was gone and hugged us both as she told us she loved us.  I could see in her eyes that she did not want to leave us but she made her self go.  This was the first time that Helen and I had been away from her for any length of time. When she got into the car Helen began to cry and so did my mother. We stood there and watched her pull out of sight and continued to look down the street even after she was gone. 

We started back to the house and Mac-Mac began to tell us of all the things that we were going to do that summer and it was time to get started.  After that day the whole summer becomes a blur of memories.  Memories of the fort that Mac-Mac and I built in the living room and the trip to the lake.  I can remember him letting me drive his old Ford and even letting me drive solo at the end of the summer when my parents returned.  I also remember the fourth of July with fire works off the back porch while we ate watermelon.  Mac-Mac taught me to play Chess as well as poker and blackjack on the nights we sat up late. In all it had been a great summer and we did not want to see it end, but end it must and just before school started our parents came to pick us up and take us home.

Now that I am older the house seems so different but the memories are still there.  The house is not as big as I remember and does not have as many rooms as there once seemed to be.  Most of the old furniture is gone and the rooms have been redone.  After Mac-Mac died my aunt moved in with her family and they built an apartment on the back for Dennie.  When I visit now it is so much different, but I will always have the memories of the summer Helen and I spent there.  I can always bring back in my mind the warmth and love that filled the house back then. I still like to sit and talk to Mac-Mac, if only in my mind now, so that he can still live my adventures with me and so I can carry a small part of him with me.


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