Grandma’s attic was always a mystical place for me as a child; I didn’t realize until recently that it was a nostalgic place for Grandma. It has suddenly donned on me – Grandmas’ attics are time warps of nostalgia, not just playgrounds for children.
Old trunks in Grandma’s attic were locked to grandchildren. We always wondered at their mystery and tried fruitlessly to pry open lids with our tiny fingers.
Under the dormer window that faced the front of Grandma’s house was a mirrored, marble topped dressing table that we somehow knew we shouldn’t touch. It held a gilded hand mirror and matching brush that had belonged to my Great-Great Aunt Etta who had lived with my grandmother all of my grandmother’s adult years. Family whispers declared that the items on the dressing table were in the exact location that my aunt had last placed them before she died. I was afraid to look in the mirror because I just might see my great-great aunt drift in – vapor-like from her eternal home – to stare at herself in the mirror – unhappy with her state of decay. I imagined her brushing her waist length gray hair and it would fall out by clumps in her brush like a chemo paent. (Needless to say, I was very imaginative and read too many Nancy Drew books.)
Next to the dressing table hung a clear garment bag filled with colorful homecoming and prom dresses of taffeta, chiffon, lace, and itchy underskirts – memories of my mother’s high school glories. I longed to twirl in them, princess-like, but they also were a taboo to touch.
Against the east wall and directly across it on the west wall were matching brass beds. The attic had been my uncle’s room until he had left for college. His banners and wall decorations stayed on the wall from his high school years. Even as a child, I wondered why my grandmother never took them down.
This summer I am cleaning and organizing the storage section of my basement. I realize I have become my grandmother. Even though I almost pride myself in being “a pitcher” (Don’t keep anything you haven’t used in six months.), my basement tells another story. You can barely weave through its maze of collected – stuff. As I sort and organize, I also ache with memory of times gone by.
My mom recently moved into a long-term care facility and home to my basement came my grandma’s coffee tables – 3 of them – marble topped and scuffed from fifty years of use. “I’ll refinish them!” I proudly announce to my husband. He is skeptical. When have I ever refinished anything? I am a pitcher. But they take up one large section of the basement – reminding me of days of Gin Rummy on Grandma’s floor in front of the open French doors and these beautiful marble topped tables while sipping iced tea and eating cheese and crackers. I close my eyes and see Grandma’s rheumatic hands dealing the cards. I feel the gentle breeze blow my wisps of tuft that is barely hair because it is so thin – yet Grandma laughs and convinces me, somehow, that I am beautiful. Oh Grandma, how I adore you – still.
In the middle of the basement storage area are – count them – six file cabinets. When my dad retired from teaching, he gave me all of his teaching files. In God’s sovereign foreknowledge, I did indeed use those files when I returned to teaching following in Dad’s footsteps as a fifth grade teacher. This year, I retired from teaching. My mind skips back twenty years ago to when Dad retired. How can it be time for me to retire when he just did? I sort files. Will anyone ever use these files again? Nostalgia hangs heavy as I sift through files – what do I keep?
I close my eyes. There is my dad in his classroom. In one corner of his classroom stands the geometric fort that he and his students built – a reading nook. I see the fifth grade students hovering around him; they adore him – still. I adore him – still.
And then the scene changes – and the students are mine – precious fifth graders. I read through the files of notes they have written me over the years, and stare at their pictures in my scrapbook. I adore them - still.
Against one entire wall there are toys. Bins and bins of them. Memories of days gone by with my own delightful girls – hopes of days to come. “I’m keeping them for grandkids,” I explain to Nate. He just shakes his head.
In the furthest back corner are huge storage bins of keepsakes. One bin for each daughter. “You know, like LITTLE WOMEN,” I explain to Nate – “each child has a keepsake bin.” Nate has never read LITTLE WOMEN. I protest his skepticism, “The girls come down here and look at their stuff – they do!”
In front of Nate’s workbench are Chelsey’s “future” items. She is getting married, so her corner has wedding items. Nate can’t do any work at his workbench now. No worries. This pile will soon be gone – and so will Chelsey.
In front of the furnace are Sarah’s future items. She is moving to an apartment. “Those,” I declare triumphantly to Nate, “are leaving next week when she moves into an apartment of her own. You know, she has been using a lot of her roommates’ things the last four years.” Nate just smiles. Sarah’s ghost skates on roller blades around the basement. This basement was once empty and made a great roller rink. I shake off the daydream. The American Girl dolls and art supplies are packed away. Today Sarah is more interested in having silverware and a coffee pot.
Maybe some day my own grandchildren will explore the relics and treasures in my basement. They will be souveneirs to fuel imagination and questions about life before they were born.
So my basement is a mixture of seasons – generaons gone by – generaons to come. And now, I under- stand my Grandma – and all grandmas- beer than I have before. Perhaps my grandchildren will say, “When we get to Grandma’s, let’s explore the basement!”