2.14.2017

Sleepwalking

oonaballoona by marcy harriell | sleepwalking

Last night, I fell asleep walking through my Nan's apartment. I loved my Nan's apartment. I can see it clearly in my head, though I can't remember if the color of the two family house was yellow or green. It may very well have been blue or beige, but I lean towards yella in my head, because it was her favorite color

The entryway boasted three locking doors, which it had no business doing in such a tiny amount of space. There was a main front door, and once through, you could reach out and smack Nan's door to your right, or walk headfirst into another locking door protecting the staircase that led to the second story apartment. This was easy to do, since the tiny entryway was always in shadows. (This could also be a misremembrance. I might have put that third door there in my mind to keep Nan's space separate from the quiet, but unknown to me, strangers upstairs.)

Each time Nan's personal front door closed, the enormous spindly room divider in the living room would wobble in response, as would all of the pictures and keepsakes displayed on the open shelves. The questionable unit looked like it was made out of old thin table legs, with three large cabinets at the bottom to anchor it. A mini stereo system held pride of place in the center spot. She played Engelbert Humperdinck and Billy Ocean.

A growing collection of stuffed animals and dolls sat on one end of the amber hued, floral couch, several of us having found out in later years that Nan loved stuffed animals and dolls. You mean, all this time, we could have been buying her dolls?! We made up for missed opportunities at every chance, and our seating options suffered for it. The only other perchable spot in the room was a dusty blue recliner, right in front of the small TV stand, and that was Nan's captain's chair. 

We had several small TV trays for tiny spaghetti and meatballs, or cut-up-hot-dogs and beans, or yes, those special frozen dinners with the brownie dessert in the upper right-hand corner. We could eat those kinds of meals in front of the TV, but we always ate real dinners and any kind of lunch in the kitchen, at an old solid table that took no shit. You know the kind of table? You'd get a bruise the size of a baseball if you knocked into it. That thing didn't budge.

The floor of Nan's kitchen shucked and jived all over the place, like a ski slope. The vinyl tiling on the floor made this highly enjoyable, especially in socks. The sink took up about half of the kitchen, along one long wall, a big old set-in ceramic sink, with never a dish in it. I think she magicked the dishes away. Or maybe I was just unconcerned with the housekeeping details, as I ate my ham salad sandwich. Or maybe Nan did the dishes while my eyes were fixed on the basement door, which faced my spot at the kitchen table, and needed CONSTANT guarding. Though really, the steps leading down into that darkness were so creaky, our ears would have alerted us long before any visual evidence of monsters. 

The fridge was always stocked with jello, fruit suspended in the middle, and orange juice, which I would only drink for Nan.

A teeny bathroom barely existed at the far end of the kitchen. It was enough space to turn around on yourself. Even for a kid, it was ridiculously small. A shower somehow appeared when needed, through some kind of rip in time. I don't even know where Nan found room for her favorite (and only) tube of lipstick, but she did, because she'd always emerge with her color on. 

(When I grew to adult height, I spied the tube tucked away on top of the old, rusted medicine cabinet, which, like everything else in her house, was ridiculously clean, even if rusted shut and no longer useful.)

Although the solitary postage stamp sized bathroom made this next fact ridiculous: two bedrooms stood at the back of the house. One was a revolving room for uncles and cousins, always available for days, months, or even years when needed. My brother and I never slept in the second bedroom when we stayed over, even if it was empty, because it really wasn't an overnight guest room, it was a room ready for family to live. The room felt more substantial than a sleepover. There was a small antique drafting desk, a metal standing double door locker, a bed, a heavy chair which was lugged out to the kitchen table when needed. Also, the second bedroom housed another locking door, which led to an outside staircase that wailed at a steep psychotic angle down to the super creepy, wild backyard. No one ever used this staircase. If you didn't die on the staircase, you probably would in the backyard. 

So we slept in the living room on the sofa bed, opening our eyes on Easter to giant baskets, or in the middle of the night to thoughts of the creaky stairs leading up to the basement door. 

Come to think of it, every room in that house, except for Nan's bedroom, had a locking door leading to foreboding stairs. Could easily have been a kid's nightmare factory, but Nan overruled the cliches. 

Nan's bedroom was a magnificent shade of blue that was so deep it seemed like you'd never be able to sleep for the color radiating off the walls. Little shuttered green porch doors, the kind that ask for fingers to get caught in, kept her room mostly hidden. She had a bed, and a dresser. Maybe a night stand. Once, I spent the night there with her--no idea why I wasn't on the sofa, maybe my brother and I had grown too old to share the sofa? But I remember being transfixed by that blue. It was impossible to close my eyes. Another time, the louvered doors were slid to one side while Nan chose a scarf for an impromptu trip "up the street." She had a small array of silk-like scarves behind the door of her dresser, and always tied one around her neck when we went out, which was pretty much every time I visited. They were part of her armor. You have to get up in the morning, take a shower, do your hair, and be ready to do something every day, even if you're not. That's whatcha gotta do.

Today is her birthday. I'm not sure of how old she would have been, much as I'm not sure of most of the facts in this story, except that all of them are true because the creaky stairs and beaten cabinets and vinyl floors of that first floor apartment were made different by her presence. This sleepwalk might not be for anyone but me and the people who loved the woman who lived in it, but I'm positive that on her birthday, the most important thing on her mind would be wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day--as do I. 

And now I gotta go do my hair, and tie on a scarf.

49 comments:

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, you're a great writer.

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  2. Oh Marcy, you brings tears to my eyes...
    I'm lucky enough to still have one of my Grandma, but the 19.000km between Belgium (where she lives) and New-Zealand (where I live) put a physical barrier between us that prevent me to see her as often as I wish. So I cherish the memories I have, the little things she taught me and the "stupid" habits she has that I love to make fun off, such as never put a cooking pan on the table but instead serve the meal in nice dish, even if it's just for her and GrandPa, even if it will double the dish washing time.
    And always match your shoes, handbag and scarf (her accessories collection is unbelievable, because she took great care of everything and never threw away a single item).
    And never mix gold and silver jewels, and when it comes to jewellery, less is more (her favorite combo: an old pocket watch as a pendant, a brooch to keep her scarf in place, and a wide jonc bracelet).
    And it's better to have not-so-gorgeous-but-comfy shoes than stilletos that would kill your feet and make you look funny: a lady in pain is never classy, and no-one really pay attention to the shoes if your overall look is neat.
    And you have to know how to cook, maintain a house and do the laudry BUT it doesn't mean you have to do it (even though she was a housewife all her life, she is a fervent feminist deep inside her, and I know she is proud to see that I defend my right to do as few as the man in the house!).

    By all the memories you share with us Marcy, you keep your Nan (and all our Grandma) alive in our heart, and that's gold

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    1. I have many instant favorites among your memories, but "a lady in pain is never classy" is just the best. Thank you for sharing your Grandma here!

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  3. thanks for a great story, sis! it totally made my evening :)
    and happy valentine's day to you too

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    1. you are always welcome :)). hope you guys had a beautiful valentine's day!

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  4. If that was the start of a book I'd be settling in for a long reading session. Beautifully written!

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  5. This is such a lovely post. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks Becca, and you're very welcome :)

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  6. This story wasn't just for you, or the people who loved her... It's for everyone who reads it. Lovely descriptions. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you, Nadine. I guess we all see our family in each other's memories :)

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  7. Thank you. Happy Valentines. You are truly a gifted person.

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  8. Thank you. Happy Valentines. You are truly a gifted person.

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  9. Thank you, that was lovely! I often "walk" around my grandparents' house. I miss them every day.

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    1. I'm with you on both counts. We're lucky to have had such wonderful grands to miss!

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  10. You took me back to 62nd and Artesian...thanks Oona (it's been way too long)!

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  11. Beautiful- I just had a stroll round my grandad's house [as I often do, we all lived with him until I was 9, and then only moved up the road so I visited him often. I remember the smell of Brylcreem and talcum powder, fascinating shelves full of books all covered in budgie-poo because he hated to lock his birds in their cage, and a rambling forest of succulents on the windowsill, all with a million babies because he never repotted any...and a great collection of showtunes that I would stack up 6 deep on his record player. Thanks Marcy x

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    1. You're welcome-- and thank you for the trip amongst your Granddad's bookshelves and windowsills!

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  12. Thank you. I could see you as a child at Nan's house. You make it sound all so real. Hope you had a lovely valentines day too.

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    1. Thanks, Vicki. And it was-- I hope yours was lovely as well!

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  13. Wonderful Nan and wonderful story. <3

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  14. Thank you for this charming remembrance. I feel as if I knew your Nan, just from reading your story.

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  15. What a beautifully written story. I also had a grandma with a very similar setup... and a mother who is moving in that direction to. So many things popped into my head as I was reading this... memories, questions, feelings. Truly beautifully written.

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    1. Thanks so much, Mimi. And I hope things are well with your Mom.

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  16. So lovely, thank you for reading this.

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  17. You've created a hearwarming and hauntingly detailed picture of the home your grandmother made with such care within her means, one that transports us right back to that time. Reading it also brought back memories of my own grandmother's house, except that her bedroom was unabashedly pink. Her home was full of mismatched used furniture from auctions and church rummage sales, which she and my grandfather would prize home to refinish and re-upholster themselves. Your word pictures are fascinating; and that they also could instantly evoke that long-buried personal memory is amazing. This is a rare gift that you have, Marcy. It's exciting to see you using it. Don't ever stop! And if this was a trial balloon for a possible book, it passed with flying colors. Cindy (Creative Hormone Rush)

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    1. :)) If I ever do get to that book, you'll be among the first to know!
      I can just see your Grandparents coming home with treasures to recover--creativity runs in the family! And a pink bedroom; I had ours painted fuchsia for a minute during our LA stay, and it was just my favorite.

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  18. You have a novel or series of short stories, etc rambling around in your head.

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    1. If I could just figure out how to ripe them into a cohesive collection!

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  19. What a wonderful story...it brought back memories of my own Grandma. Saturday mornings we would climb into her bed and play Nantasket boat. We pretended we were taking a ferry to the beach and having a lot of fun on the way. She had beautiful white frizzy hair that she always wore in a French twist, and she wore red lipstick (but no other makeup!). Her favorite song to sing was "Melancholy Baby". She's been gone over 20 years, but I still miss watching Red Sox games with her. Thanks for bringing back my memories by sharing your own.

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    1. Such beautiful and colorful memories! Thank you for sharing them. I especially love your description of her!

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  20. Love it! My Grandma Anna (my great grandma) had a mauve and gold and black bathroom, I kid you not. The walls were that old-time flocked wallpaper in gold and black, while all the tiling was that dusky pink they call mauve. You had to pass through a closet to get to it. And her kitchen had a window that ran the length of the entire room made from those glass blocks, through which everything was distorted and blurry.

    But our most favorite part of Grandma Anna's house was the bottom step of stairs. It lifted up, and was just big enough for a brave kid to drop down into the basement into the laundry basket on top of the dryer. (Of course someone else had to be with you when you did it, cause Grandma Anna's house was haunted by Uncle Frank, who didn't like when people moved things around, and would stare at you until your neck prickled if he was upset.) Once everyone was down the hole grouped together on top of the washer and dryer, we'd all jump to the floor together, and race up the creepy stairs to the kitchen. And then do it again and again. And again while Grandma Anna played solitaire at the kitchen table, her cigarette slightly trembling in her hand while she smiled sweetly at the rampaging girls trampling through her house. I do my sleepwalk through her house on April 3rd, just about every year. :)

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    1. I just love all of that so much! Wild children with Grandma's permission. What a great, fun picture you've painted.

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  21. What a beautiful post! Now I'm thinking about my grandmothers' respective houses---though the one I was at at Christmas, so not really misty childhood memories. I am so lucky to have it, and her, still around.

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    1. That's wonderful. I hope you get to enjoy all of it often!

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  22. It was for me, too. Thank you for helping me remember details of my own grandmother, long gone now but still so present that I can feel the soft crepey skin of her cheek against mine if I close my eyes.

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    1. You're very welcome. And so beautifully put.

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i thankya truly for taking the time to comment, i love a good conversation-- and hope you know my thanks are always implied, if not always written!