Monday, September 28, 2009

Grandma's House

Grandma's House (south view)
The front porch is hidden by the garage.

When my Aunt Mary, the last of the Munros of Crosby, ND, died in March 2003, the Munro house had been in the family for over 85 years. But after Mary’s death, the house had to be sold. My sister, her daughter and I went back to Crosby over the long Memorial Day weekend to split up what few family possessions were left (Mary was a thrower, not a saver – more’s the pity).

After we finished, Glori and Kelsey went out to the car, but I remained inside to take one last look around. “Goodbye House", I mourned aloud. I could not believe I would never set foot in it again. This was my Grandma Julia's house. It was MY house – my first home. How could it be torn away from me like this?

My grandma, Julia Munro.

But in the ensuing years I have realized with great relief that Grandma's house is still with me, every nook and cranny of it. I know that this house, which is my heart and soul, will live forever in my memory.

My sister has heard that the people who own the house now have let it go to hell, but in my mind's eye it will always be perfect. That's not to say it was a grand house. In fact, it was a pretty funny house, with no discernable design. Single-storied, it had been cobbled together over the years as, one by one, rooms were added on to the original single room. Grandma and Grandpa managed to raise seven children in that three-bedroom house. My aunts and uncles used to joke that they slept three or four to a bed, two at the head and one or two at the foot.

Sitting on Grandma's front sidewalk.

I spent the first four years of my life in that house, until my mom got married. That last day, I remember putting my few toys in a wicker laundry basket and weeping bitterly at having to leave my sweet Grandma’s house. After we moved to Larson, however, we did “go up to Crosby" every Saturday. Dad would save his Crosby refrigeration jobs for that day. Mom would shop for groceries and go to the Laundromat. I’d go to the library or check out the five and dime or the drugstore.

From left to right: Aunt Ina, my brother Johnny,
Mom (with head bent), Aunt Mary (in back), me

Whenever I could, I would stay behind and spend a few days with Grandma after Mom, Dad and the kids had left for home. And just as her house was cobbled together, my image of it was cobbled together from so many things:

I recall taking a nap in the living room, covered with my late Grandpa Duncan's old brown plaid bathrobe, while Grandma entertained her friends at “lunch” (aka afternoon tea – but with coffee) in the dining room. Their musical, lilting voices as they spoke in Norwegian lulled me to sleep like the most beautiful lullaby ever written. Grandma and I would visit the pastor’s house or the pretty, china- and chintz-filled homes of her neighbors, Mrs. Hanmer and Mrs. Tweeten.

Sometimes we'd go all the way across town to Auntie Jenny and Uncle Albert's house. That was a long walk for older lady and a little girl, but I'd be rewarded by seeing Auntie Jenny's funny cuckoo clock people. After dark on warm summer nights, Grandma would take me for walks through the neighborhood. I was unafraid as long as Grandma was holding my hand.

Standing on the snowy back steps in my snowman jammies.
I always seemed to scrunch up my face for photos.


I remember sleeping in a double bed sandwiched between Grandma and Mary, flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood. On winter mornings before she went to work, Mary would warn me, "Cover up your eyes now, I'm turning on the light." I would watch, fascinated, as Mary pursed her mouth to apply her lipstick "just so". Summer afternoons, I would walk uptown to the Ford dealership where she worked, then we'd go to the Crystal Cafe for a strawberry ice cream soda.

I can’t forget going to the show (the movies) with Aunt Mary and bringing Grandma back a box of Nibs licorice; taking Sunday naps and afterward, Sunday drives (gas was cheap!); hearing Uncle Scotty claim that "pork gravy makes your hair wavy" (his was!); having Uncle Davy teach me to tie my shoes and watching Uncle Donny clowning around – making me laugh by wrapping a towel around his head to simulate Lawrence of Arabia, a Turk, a pirate. Sometimes we’d get whirlwind visits from Aunt Ina, who was a nurse in Plentywood, MT. Or Mary, Mom, Grandma and I would take the Greyhound bus to visit Uncle Billy in Minot. He actually LIVED in the Roosevelt Hotel – how grand.

With Uncle Donny

About once every two years, Grandma’s brother Olaf from the wilds of Northern Saskatchewan would come to visit. She would somehow manage to get him to shuck off his long johns for a washing (probably for the first time in two years!) It always gave me an unexpected fright to see those yellowed long johns hanging up to dry in Grandma’s front porch. But even scarier was Uncle Olaf, with his wild white eyebrows and rheumy blue eyes.

In the winter I would sit right on top of the huge square heat register between the living room and dining room until I got grid marks on my bottom (I loved being hot.) At lunchtime I would watch "Days of Our Lives" with Mary and Gram (my mom watched "As the World Turns" at our house). Sometimes Grandma would sit at the dining room table to read the "Decorah (IA) Posten" (Norwegian language newspaper) or write out recipes in her old brown spiral notebook.

On my rocking horse - I don't remember this toy.

I have way too memories of Grandma's House for just one post. I'll be back with Grandma's House Part II in my next post.

Grandma Julia with family dog Boots in the huge
yard. In the 1960s, to my great sadness, the family
sold two of their three lots and houses were built on them


Patty said...

Julie it sounds like you have some wonderful memories of your Grandmother and the time you spent with her. My dad's mom always lived in the same house and they did not tear it down until I was grown. I had all these wonderful mempries in it, but did not have any really good photos. Finally last year one of my first cousins send me some and I was so surprised at how small it looked.
To this day I sill miss going there.

Leanne said...

fabulous memories Julie. i dont really have many memories of my grandmothers house, apart from a big old piano with a snowglobe on it!!

Leanne x

Autumn Leaves said...

Oh Julie! I so love reading your words, seeing your memories...I'm telling you, you should write a book. I for one would read it in a heartbeat! What gorgeous photos, what wonderful memories. I am so happy that you are sharing them with us. I am always just so struck by the simplicity of life in the old days. Not simple in the hard work, but simple and true and whole in the family/neighbor/friend values. I was struck anew when I read of your grandmother writing out recipes in her spiral notebook. I look forward to part II.

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

Oh what fabulous memories you have and beautiful photos to boot! All my grandparents were gone before I was born so I really enjoyed reading about yous - and the pictures? That's another thing we seemed to miss out on - so treasure these ( I know you do!)

Can't wait for the next installment :-)

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

What lovely memories - looking forward to hearing and seeing more.

Shopgirl said...

As you know, I have never heard your voice, but in reading this lovely story, I heard you. My Grandmommy was the life breath of my family. She was the teacher, the Mother, and my saving grace. What ever is good in me is because she loved me. That you remember every corner of her house is something I understand. Thank you for this:)
I will be waiting to (hear) more about your life...we all have a story.
Hugs, Mary
There are about 5 antigue stores in Nampa. You were probably in places that I visit often. I think that is really neat!!!!

mxtodis123 said...

I'll never forget my grandma. To this day, I can picture her house at holiday time. The ribbon candy, apples, oranges, nuts...on the little stand next to the front door...the tree. I was 16 years old when she died, 46 years ago, yet I still can remember these things clear as day.

gma said...

Beautiful memories of grandmas house. I am trying to build some happy memories for my grandchildren when they come over here. I bet your grandma cried when you moved away too.