Adventures in Housekeeping Family

Channeling Grandma

In a few weeks, Bob and I will arrive on our daughter’s doorstep and welcome her new baby, Evelyn Fox, to planet earth. She’ll be two months old, born in October to Emily and her husband, Tyler. For a few days, we will fuss over Evie and her older brother, Nolan, and attempt to ease Emily and Tyler’s burden as new parents.

I have vivid memories of my grandmother, my mother’s mother, arriving a day or two before Mom was released from the hospital with her latest newborn. Grandma’s clean, starchy aroma preceded her, and there she would be, her long, white hair pinned up and the crinkle of a smile behind a pair of unadorned wire rims. She would set down her small, smooth-sided suitcase containing a starched white uniform — day-wear for the job ahead.

My younger brother, Johnny, and I would move forward tentatively and give her sturdy stockinged legs a light embrace, our eyes never leaving her avocado-colored bag. After greetings, Grandma would reach down and trigger the scuffed brass locks, lift the lid, and pull out a package of Chicklets. We stood, excitement scarcely contained, hands extended in humble reverence. Shaking the green pillow squares onto her calloused palm, she distributed two each to Johnny and me, and when he was old enough, Bobby — the big kids who knew how to chew gum without swallowing it.

Sufficiently sanctified, molars already at work piercing the candy gum coating, we would wander off to play or do homework depending on the season. Grandma would go upstairs to change out of her traveling clothes, tie on an apron, and get to work, the sound of her white thick-soled shoes reassuring on the gritty kitchen floor.

For a few days, order would assume its rightful place, everyone relaxed and well-fed, while Grandma swept the remnants of chaos from our home. By the time my mother arrived, all would be calm, laundry caught up, and a hearty stew simmering on our four-burner stove. Mom refers to her mother’s postnatal visit persona as “the eye of the hurricane.”

Mom would ritualistically hand the flannel-wrapped child to her mother, and Grandma would peer at him, arching her neck to inspect his fingers and toes. Her smile of approval made Mom glow with pride, Dad hovering casually in a doorway, one eye on the proceedings as was his custom. Grandma would nod at my mother her secret signal of “I’ve got this,” and Mom would sigh in grateful exhaustion and retire to her room.

I have waited a long time to pay my Grandma’s legacy forward. Somehow I missed out on little Nolan’s early days, but soon I hope to make up for that. Inspired by my Grandma, I envision myself cooking and cleaning, homing in on the rhythms of their household, and helping out where help won’t be intrusive.

I imagine Bob and I making it possible for Emily and Tyler to get the rest they so need at this time, while getting to know little Nolan and Evie. We’ll find out what they like to eat and how they like to play. We’ll see what attracts their attention, take them for walks, read them stories, and cook mashed potatoes and gravy.

When it came time for my grandmother to leave, the family would gather around the ’54 Ford Sedan, both women wiping at their eyes. Dad and Grandma would disappear in the direction of the bus station, Mom would go back to bed, and the baby would sleep on for a while before waking.

Johnny and I would stand, blinking at the disappearing car for a minute before turning to each other. Then we would climb the stairs to the room where Grandma had slept and find the bed turned down, sheets freshly laundered, her scent lingering with a sense of calm purpose. As the house below roared back into anarchy, we would find our compensation prize on the nightstand: a pristine box of green chicklets.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

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