This was not what I had planned. Cleaning out my grandmother’s house to sell it, using my vacation time to do the work, or sitting reliving my past, none of it was what I would have chosen to do, but it had to be done. I guess outside forces come into play, sometimes. That’s real life.
I readjusted my crisscrossed seated position on the old, beige shag rug, with the huge red stain by the empty bed frame. My foot was asleep from sitting on it. I had to shake it awake as I laughed to myself, recalling how that red stain got there in the first place. It was after my sixteenth birthday bash and my mom had made me, and my closest girlfriends, slash slumber party guests, strawberry daiquiris; virgin of course. I could still see her coming through the bedroom door carrying a tray laden with tall glasses, complete with straws and miniature, pop up, paper umbrellas, a fake coconut bra barely holding in her ample breasts. Thank God she kept her tee shirt on underneath. My mom tried hard to make up for the fact that we moved in with my grandmother after my father left us high, dry and completely broke. We had no other choice.
What a crazy birthday it had been. In the process of trying to sneak out to meet some local boys up the street, at the city park, my dearest friend, Nickie, kicked over a daiquiri from the nightstand onto the light-colored carpet. I remembered being so giddy and nerve wracked at our rebel attempt that I hastily dragged my bed over several inches to hide the spill before I scooted out the window, vowing to clean it up when we got back. A week later, while moving my room around, I discovered the crusty, set in stain. It was a lost cause after all that setting time and the stain remained as a constant reminder of that crazy birthday night running around unencumbered by parental rule.
I shook my head and smiled. It wasn’t always easy growing up in the small Cape Cod with my mother and my grandmother continuously involved in my comings and goings, but at least it involved them. Not every child can say that. I guess in the long run, as much as I fought against it tooth and nail, I was fortunate to have had them both in my life. I could recognize that now that I was no longer sixteen and under their thumbs. My father, on the other hand, certainly made no attempt to be involved. Even now, he lived in the same state as I did, a county over, but he preferred his new wife and her children to his own flesh and blood, and in my best Forrest Gump impersonation, “that’s all I have to say about that.”
I opened the small closet, the type that angles downward at the ceiling, because it’s built to utilize the space beneath the staircase. My teenage bedroom was on the first floor with my mother’s room above, in the house’s peak, an attic space that had been made into a makeshift bedroom and a tiny bathroom my grandmother had added for her. My room was originally my mother’s, and I always told her we could share it, but my mother said, “Every teenage girl needs her own private space”. I may have never told her, but I was then, and am still today, thankful for her sacrifices. I wished she was there now, so I could tell her. I made a note in my head to call her later from my hotel room.
My job currently, was to get the room emptied and finish loading the moving van and my car in preparation for the house to be thoroughly cleaned, painted and sold. I let out a heavy sigh as I stood there by the open closet door. I could admit it now, eight years after moving out, that I would miss this place. When you are twenty, you think there is so much more out there, and every place, other than where you currently are, is a grand and wonderful adventure. It’s not always the case. I’d love to turn back the hands of time and be that naïve teenager again, no bills, no vehicle maintenance and home upkeep, and no plethora of broken relationships. “No time to think about that, Olive. You’ve got work to do,” I audibly chastised my inner procrastinator.
I grabbed up a handful of hangers, picking through the clothing on them. Winter jackets I would never need back in California, flannels from my grunge phase, and stacks of tee shirts from every local pub, grill, and coffee shop in the tristate area, all landed in the donation pile. Beat up sneakers, slippers, and several pairs of blown out, combat boots went into trash bags for the dumpster, along with shopping bags of old magazines and young adult, romance novels. There wasn’t anything in the closet I would take back home with me.
Near the back, on the floor, where the slanted ceiling met the warped and weathered hardwood floor, was a cardboard box. I crawled in on all fours, reaching out through the dust and cobwebs and inched it forward out of the darkness. “I swear if any of you, ancient creepy crawlies decide you want to come out with this, you are meeting certain death.”
I glanced over the torn and dusty box, once I had it out in the open, out in the non-claustrophobic, non-spider infested, and non-asthma inducing environment. It was your standard, brown, packing box. On the top of one of the folded flaps, someone had written in large, flowing lettering, “Margo’s belongings”.
Why have I never noted this box before? Has it always been at the back of my closet? Wait, has it always been at the back of my mother’s closet? Wait, this was grandma’s closet once.
Margo was my grandmother; this box was hers.
The flap popped open, spewing a cloud of dancing dust particles up into the rays of sunlight that filtered through the gauzy, pink curtains. Lying on top of the packed pile was a silver-framed photograph of a young girl, dressed in a long, blue lace dress. A scarf in one hand, a scroll of paper in the other, and a big, gaudy corsage pinned at her shoulder. I gingerly pulled it out.
Was this you, grandma?
I stared at the picture. It was originally a black-and-white photograph that had been hand painted with perhaps water colors. It had a feel of times long ago. My fingers turned the frame over and I carefully removed the black velvet back. It popped off with minimal complaint and a folded piece of paper fell to the floor. I picked up the paper and looked at the back of the picture. Someone had written in pencil, “Margo Jean’s high school graduation”.
My fingers flipped the frame back over.
So, this was you, Grams, at seventeen?
Someone painted her hair a murky brown which struck me as odd, my grandmother was Irish and her hair was the embodiment of her heritage, fiery red. I had inherited the same hue, along with her quick anger, sharp tongue and stubborn disposition, but looking at this photo, my grandmother stared back at me, frozen in time and she looked sweet, innocent and even a bit shy. Truly, not the woman I grew up knowing.
The paper behind the photograph had been amazingly preserved. I was still cautious about unfolding it as I returned to my cross-legged position on the floor, next to the box. A flowy, flowery, delicate script ran across the unlined surface of the paper. At the top was the underlined title, “My Future Husband”.
My God, Grandma, was this your plan for marriage?
I supposed that was the logical step back then; the girl gets her education and then, of course, would take the next step, marriage and raising a family. Thank the heavens, times had changed. I mean, I had nothing against my friends that had gone that route, the few of them that had, but times were different. Women went on to college and grad school. They set up careers and became self-sufficient. Hell, I was only twenty-eight. Getting married was the furthest thing from my mind, maybe in another seven to ten years. It was absurd to think about my grandmother at seventeen already plotting marriage. Even my mother, grandma’s only daughter, didn’t marry until she was a year older than I was now. “And look how that turned out.”
I scanned down through the numbered list, shaking my head as I read it out loud, “one - tall, dark and of good stock.” I laughed out loud, “big expectations, grams.” I wondered if my grandfather was tall. I’d never met the man. Men in my family rarely stuck around.
“Two - must have a decent job to support me and my dreams.” I could feel my forehead furrow and my heart tense with emotion. My grandmother had goals she wanted to achieve, given they may have been a simple home and a slew of kids, but she had dreams she wanted. She was right; a man who loves a woman should support her desires in life. “You go, grandma.”
“Three - gentle and kind, but strong and protective.” I scoffed, “that combination never exists.” In my experience, if they were gentle and kind, they were looking for a mommy figure and were clingy and wishy-washy. If they were strong and protective that equaled jealous and possibly overbearing. You can’t mix oil and water. Again, I wondered if her husband had measured up. I assumed grams disqualified by one of these items. If I knew my grandmother well, she would have put her foot down hard, and then some.
“Four - willing to speak his mind and hear my opinions.” I rolled my eyes. “Grams, you are a funny girl.” My grandmother was the queen of voicing her opinion and hearing no ones. How many times had I heard her and my mother argue at the dinner table? My mother making the claims she was an adult and fully capable of raising me right and Grams reminding my mother that her husband had abandoned us and we were currently living back under her roof, no man, a crappy job and rebellious teenager, who claimed to know it all. I sighed. I was difficult. I should have tried harder. You never realize these things until it’s too late to do anything about it.
I read the last item, “Five - a giving and skilled lover.” I gasped. “Grandma, you little tart.” I could feel the heated blush on my cheeks. She was seventeen, what would she have known about that? I mean, how could she even compare to qualify that last item?
There were a series of horn blasts from the driveway. I replaced the back of the frame to its original place and dropped the photo back inside the box. The moving company was there. I moved the box to the side, to go through later, stuffed the dislodged, listed paper into my cardigan pocket and went to let the movers in. As we loaded boxes and furniture, I couldn’t help but look at each one of those men, in their company coveralls, and wonder if any of them could measure up to my grandmother’s list. I doubted that there was a man in existence that could. I had to admit, if there ever was, we should award him a badge that read, “Mr. Perfect”.