Last year, my grandmother decided to move from her country home of nearly 60 years to an apartment in town closer to us. Her declaration surprised us all. We’d thought we’d have to blast her out of that home with a dump truck full of TNT when the time came. But she was slowing down considerably and, I think, a little scared after a couple of minor incidents with her health, and so we went on a big journey. Her 90 years old and me feeling like I was 90 years old.
We spent many days going to Grandma’s house to clean, sort, box, and toss decades of living packed into her three-bedroom home, garage, and two large outbuildings.
And that’s what we called that space in the country: Grandma’s house. Or for short, just Grandma’s. Even when Grandpa was living, it was Grandma’s house. Maybe because she was always in the kitchen and he was always in the yard or in one of the outbuildings. I don’t know why, exactly. It was just Grandma’s.
Back in town, we signed the lease for the apartment and learned when trash day was. We readied the apartment with the essentials like toilet paper and a shower curtain before she came. On moving day, the apartment was filled with helpers and her old Corelle dishes in Butterfly Gold and her country furniture. And that’s what we called that space: The apartment.
Until she arrived at the apartment, never to spend another night at Grandma’s house. Then the apartment became Grandma’s, and the farmhouse became the farm. Just like that. Decades of country = Grandma’s… gone.
I returned to the farm several times to clean things up and keep the yard mowed. The two-story white cinderblock home with green shutters became more and more of a shell for foggy memories than a home, the life sucked right out of it. It was simply a structure that needed upkeep.
Within a day, maybe even hours, of her moving, the name of the spaces changed to match the occupant—or the lack of one.
Within a day, or maybe even hours, of her death, we started calling her apartment the apartment again. Something that needed cleaned and purged and it, too, became a shell of memories, some foggy like the ones that run together because an activity happened every day like the rundown of Fox News reports or what she ate for breakfast, to more vivid ones like putting up her last Christmas tree or playing the last game of Scrabble.
We had no roundtable discussions on these nuances. We didn’t plan it. But all of us adopted the name changes quickly.
They just happened.
What’s this have to do with writing? I’m not sure yet. I’ll likely use this phenomenon in a story someday and worked it out here on the blog. Noted it down for future reference. Or maybe I’m still grieving.
Trying to hang onto what the farmhouse smelled like during canning season and memories of rolling down the cellar hill with the neighbor kids and climbing the apple tree with a book in my hand, trying not to get stung by wasps and picking daffodils (before I was allergic to daffodils) to arrange in a glass vase to take to the morning church service on spring Sundays.
Or helping her buy curtains for the apartment and teaching her how to use her new library card and fixing the remote control for the tenth time in a month.
Maybe it’s to give myself permission to name that space inside me brimming with memories and full of all things Grandma a name: