It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day; the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet.... As Ichabod jogged slowly on his way, his eye... ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly autumn. ~Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"
Monday, August 2, 2010
My Grandmother's House
My grandmother's name was Johanna. She was raised on a ranch, on the Silverado Trail, outside of Napa. Johanna married a man in the last part of the 1910's who was from Berkeley. He was the love of her life. She moved there with him and settled into domestic life. In about 1923 he got sick and died. He was 30 years old and left my grandmother with three children under the age of five.
She returned to Napa, and the Ranch, where her Italian parents and sisters could help her and she went to work as a cook at the Napa State Hospital in Imola. She was a widow and single parent in the early 1920's without any skills but she did know how to cook.
My mother remembered the ranch as her real home even though they frequently moved into town and rented a house, on Bailey Street near the fairgrounds, when Grandma got tired of living with her parents. She also worked as a dinner cook for a wealthy Italian family in town. My mother, being the oldest, would take care of her brother and sister until her mother got home. Even though Grandma was tired and worked long hours she would always read them stories before they went to bed. Sometimes she would bring home leftovers or a special dessert for the children.
The year I was born my grandmother built a house with the help of her only son. It was 1944 and she finally got to have a home of her own. She lived there until 1965, surviving two awful fires that came down through the canyon, threatening her house and destroying the surrounding vegetation. Both times the firemen were able to save her home and she would return to her house on the hill. Then in 1965 she got very sick and had to come and live with us. I think that this was the last blow. She lost her husband, then her youngest daughter, and then, finally, had to leave the home that she loved. She had cancer. She died in the Spring.
This was a dream of mine ... to live here with the huge rocks, the beautiful view and the memories. We cleaned and painted. We had to replace the floor in the bathroom because one of the renters had let their cat use a corner for a cat box and it rotted the floor out. We fixed everything. I made curtains and decorated "M"s room in blue cowboy things. The Prospector was going to get a job transfer up in the Napa area and we were going to live there forever.
We bought a brand new green truck (for me) and the Prospector commuted to Concord in our little Volkswagen Bug.
I enrolled "M" in a preschool that was in an elementary school in town. It was the same school that my dad had gone to when he was a boy. There was such a connection to everything. I felt as if I had finally come home.
One night when the Prospector was doing shift work and getting home at 11:00 p.m. he fell asleep driving down Silverado Trail. He was almost home. He woke up just in time to side swipe an oncoming car. He didn't wake me because I was sleeping. I found out the next morning. He was fine, but the Bug was totaled. The next weekend we went down and looked at homes in Antioch, Ca. The hour drive was too much for him that late at night and there were not going to be any transfers in the near future anywhere around the Napa area. Two weeks later we bought a house. It was a new house but it was already built. Everything happen so fast. I didn't have time to think about anything but the pending move. We had only been in my Grandma's house for about 6 months.We ended up raising our boys in Antioch. We were there for 23 years.
I love this photo of "M" and I, with our dog Greta. I was pregnant.....
We had a neighborhood and friends that lived close by. We had a babysitter who lived two doors down, in our court, who could called her parents if she needed help. It was wonderful for the boys to have such a safe place to live. This was where we needed to be. We didn't have to worry about Rattlesnakes or Poison Oak and the likelihood of fire was very slim. It was a beautiful home and life was good.....but....
When grandma was living there the kitchen was always a mess. She was not a good housekeeper. When I went up there every summer, I would clean up the kitchen for her. She always wanted to go for a hike or work in the garden rather than clean anything. But I remember the kittens in a basket under the wood stove and the Sears catalogs that I would spend hours looking through.These far outweighed the dust and dirt.
As a child, I loved the fragrance of the manzanita bushes on a hot day and walking down to the creek, taking my shoes off and splashing around in the water. I would find the biggest Banana Slugs and the smallest tadpoles. Grandma would tell me the real names of the wildflowers and bugs; the Latin names. Then we would climb back up to the house and take a nap together. She would read me stories and we would talk about things.
A few years after we moved to Antioch there was an awful fire up in Napa. It burned some of the huge homes to the ground around and above the Silverado Country Club. The fire was fast and intense.This time my grandmother's house didn't survive. The Prospector and I drove up there right after the fire and there was nothing left. I found a melted piece of the metal heater cover. That was it.
Someone had bought the house the year before the fire and I guess they had insurance because they built another house right away. It was ugly.
I have only been back once in 35 years. I will never go back again. The memories are inside of me now. I don't need to see the paved road, or the new house with no windows. The little brown house with the knotty pine walls and the stone fireplace is gone. My yellow kitchen is not there. The wood stove with the basket of kittens will never be again. What I remember isn't there anymore, but the memories survived the fire...., and the ghosts. I know that my grandmother is walking around up there looking for wildflowers and calling them by their Latin names. I know she went back. It was the only place she was ever really happy.