Monday, August 2, 2010

My Grandmother's House

This was the very first place in my life that I truly and forever fell in love with. This was my maternal grandmother's house. It was a small two bedroom house in the hills above Napa, California. Before there were Wine Trains, fancy bed and breakfasts, balloon rides over the valley and golf courses with gate keepers, there was a very small town were everybody knew your name and folks lived in the same place their whole lives. It was a beautiful town.
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.
The Prospector and I got married that Summer. Mom rented the house to other people, but in the Summer of 1972 we took our son "M" and moved into my grandma's house. Our son was four years old.
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.....
That Spring we had our second child "J". He was the sweetest baby. Greta liked him too. Two boys, five years apart.... just like we had planned. Just what we wanted.... good old birth control pills.
"M" was such a good "big" brother. He helped me with everything. He loved bringing diapers and holding the bottle. He was my little helper.
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....
.... I will always miss the way the sun came in the kitchen windows at my grandmother's house. I painted the kitchen yellow and made blue gingham curtains for the windows. It was a pretty kitchen.
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.

15 comments:

castlewon said...

Thanks for your story. (I like your hair.)

houndini said...

OH what a beautiful story and post. Your grandmother sounded a great lady - and certainly had to endure a lot of heartache. Althoughit sounds like she had a good home and family. So sad to have read about the fire - but as you say, those memories will live no forever...God bless you and your Grandmother.

The 4 Bushel Farmgal said...

This is a wonderful tribute to your grandmother's determination and sensibility. She was an admirable woman, for creating such a place of peace and happiness using the tools that she was given. And it is wonderful that you were able to share that lifestyle for even a short time.

Unfortunately, people don’t build homes anymore, just houses. That new house will never have the soul that your house did. I'm glad you can keep it with you in memory and photos. I’ve often tried to capture the forgotten life of old homes (usually little houses) before they disappear from sight and memory. Thank you for sharing the story of your grandmother’s/your house with us!

Gail @ Faithfulness Farm said...

A beautiful post and a beautiful tribute to your grandmother :)

Blessings!
Gail

Chicken Boys said...

It's a shame such wonderful things can only survive in our memories. I, too, miss my grandmother. She died in 1998 at only 62 years of age. My grandfather is still alive. He will be 78 in December and still works as a commercial fisherman. My parents live in their home on the water. It has survived countless hurricanes, but it has certainly seen better days.

Sorry, I loved your post, and I started reminiscing a little. Thanks for the memories!
~Randy

Deann said...

What a lovely post... thanks for sharing your special memories with us!

Madeline's Album said...

Thanks for sharing this post with us. Your grandmother was a strong wonderful woman. We Italians are that way. Have a blessed day. Madeline

Sue said...

Your story was so poignant and enthralling, and you carry with you so many memories that you'll never forget. That is a special thing....
hugs, Sue

Jan Ely said...

Great story--loved reading it and learning more about your past. Seems like we're always trying to back to that special connection (or at least insure that it's remembered). I will forward this to my dad--he'll love reading it too!

Jan said...

Great story--loved reading it and learning more about your past. Seems like we're always trying to go back to that special connection (or at least insure that it's remembered). I will forward this to my dad--he'll love reading it too!

Anonymous said...

I LOVE THIS STORY SO. YOU TELL IT WITH SUCH TENDERNESS AND AFFECTION. WHAT AN INCREDIBLE LOVE AND BOND YOU AND YOUR GRANDMOTHER SHARED.
AS I KNOW YOU ARE AWARE, IN YOUR GRANDMA’S DAY, GIRLS BY TRADITION, WERE TAUGHT TO KEEP HOUSE AND IT WAS EXPECTED OF THEM. BUT I LOVE THAT SHE WAS SO INSTINCTIVELY INSIGHTFUL TO KNOW THAT IT WAS OF FAR GREATER SIGNIFICANCE TO USE THE PRECIOUS LITTLE FREE TIME SHE HAD “TO GO FOR A HIKE OR WORK IN THE GARDEN RATHER THAN CLEAN”, AND TO SHARE HER KNOWLEDGE OF THE “REAL NAMES OF THE WILDFLOWERS AND BUGS; THE LATIN NAMES. THEN . . . CLIMB BACK UP TO THE HOUSE AND TAKE A NAP TOGETHER.” READING YOU STORIES AND TALKING ABOUT THINGS FAR OUTWEIGHED THE IMPORTANCE OF SWEEPING AND DUSTING.
THERE IS A PHILOSOPHY THAT SAYS ALL THINGS COME IN THEIR OWN TIME AND STAY ONLY FOR THE TIME THEY ARE NEEDED. YOUR TIME LIVING IN YOUR GRANDMOTHER’S HOME WAS SHORT, BUT LOOK AT ALL IT FULFILLED. YOUR ACCOUNT OF FIXING UP YOUR HOME, IN YOUR GRANDMA’S HOUSE, IS HEART-WARMING. HER HOUSE MAY SADLY HAVE BURNED TO THE GROUND BUT HER HOME WILL STAND FOREVER IN YOUR HEART AND IN YOUR MEMORIES. IT SURVIVED THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT FIRES AND SUCCUMBED ONLY WHEN IT WAS TIME. I DON’T THINK HER HOME WAS MEANT TO BE SHARED BY ANYONE ELSE.
~ Dawn

Kathie said...

I so enjoyed this story. You really borught the Napa house to life and your grandmother was my kind of woman. She knew how to MAKE a home, not just clean one. You LIVED in that house, that's why your memories will sustain you.
What I would give for a kitchen with a sunny windows and those beautiful gingham curtains. I am not great at house cleaning but I LOVE to cook! Thanks for sharing this beautiful memory.

jojo said...

one of your most beautiful posts. I think I felt a tear or two running down my cheek and several times memories of my family washed over me...sweet memories. You tell a story well.

Roslyn said...

Obviously you adored your GM, & also obviously she was a wonderful lady!You honor her with your memories, Farmlady.

Kerry O'Gorman said...

I know your grandmother is up there too...her memory is kept well and alive by the people who mattered most to her. I always wished I would have known my great grandmother when I was old enough to appreciate and really listen to her stories. It's people like you who care enough to point out the details. There is a quote that says "An unexamined life is not worth living" (Socrates) Thanks for the beautiful examination.