MAKING SOMETHING OF IT…

CHAIR WITH RADIATOR
CHAIR WITH RADIATOR

Grandmother’s house was always dark. That’s what I recall anyway. The heavy drapes were always pulled shut which swathed the living room in darkness. The living room became an unmistakable cave  when you entered through the front door. Grandmother’s house was always dark, but it also always smelled of blackberry jam. The scent was pungent. It was as if there was a permanent kettle of boiling blackberry jam on the cooker.

Grandmother’s house may have always been dark but it always smelled delicious.

The only time we ever visited that dark house was when The Mother needed her, The Grandmother, to watch The Sisters: Older Sister, Middle Sister, and me The Little Sister. I guess you might say that our visit was more than that, visits, since they were always based on The Mother’s need for a b-r-e-a-k. We were a rambunctious lot of girlie energy and early onset spitefulness. I could tell our numerous visits, didn’t really sit well with Grandmother because, as I recall, Grandmother didn’t really like little children and…we were somewhat little: nine, seven and five. Come to think of it I don’t think Grandmother liked Grandfather very much either,  but I’d rather we didn’t get into Grandmother’s proclivities for her disdain of little children and/or humanity in general. Not now.

Actually, there were four of us but I’m hard-pressed to count the Younger Brother at all because he was liked and muchly loved (being the only boy and obviously the heir-apparent to the family name) by everyone in the family even the extended ones except us, The Sisters. I’m pretty sure that was normal behavior for us, Sisters, at our ages but it still wasn’t right, or possibly fair. Most likely, as I recall, Younger Brother was picked on, harassed, badgered, tormented, bullied and made fun of. Constantly. Constantly. I’ve said it twice in a row. I remember constantly. You would probably like to know that The Younger Brother turned out all right in spite of all that menacing from The Sisters. Honestly? I’m surprised.

About that jam. Grandmother did have blackberry vines in her back garden. The Sisters were never allowed to play in Grandmother’s garden. Ever. Instead, we played on the pavement in front of Grandmother’s house…and on the railroad tracks that ran right by her house. The Sisters could only go in to the garden for two reasons: to watch Grandmother walk up and down the cherished berry vine-aisles counting berries (like a general in full dress uniform during inspection) and/or help Grandmother harvest her berry crop that eventually and obviously filled the jam pot that sat on the cooker permanently boiling jam. Or, so it seemed. Funny isn’t it? I don’t recollect ever eating that jam…the finished product…that blackberry jam although I’m sure we all did. Most likely on breakfast toast or in peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Most likely.

As The Little Sister I didn’t get a bedroom or a bed i.e., a proper bed with mattress and soft downy pillow, to sleep in at night during our…visits. The sleeping arrangements were doled-out based upon age. Doled-out isn’t the correct term because it makes it appear Grandmother’s house was a mansion of many bedrooms. It wasn’t. There were two bedrooms: one for Grandmother and Grandfather (which must have held all the family secrets including that jam recipe because The Sisters were never allowed in that room) (ever), and the spare room which was always given to Older Sister and Middle Sister who always argued over which side of the bed, the right or the left, they wanted to sleep on. In my  Little Sister mind they should never have argued. Really. Know why? Because my bed room was the entire living room and my bed was two chairs pushed together…seat to seat. It made a nice flat yet soft-upholstered surface on which to make a bed. Of sorts.

This arrangement, my living-room-bed-room-with-two-chairs-pushed-together-seat-to-seat was really all right except, if you remember what I said before…Grandmother’s living room was dark.   A cave during the day, and pitch-black scary at night. Was I afraid? Well? Yes. Yes, I was afraid. At the same time, however, it couldn’t have been more perfect even though scary with all the dark furniture looming shadows, and even darker corners where Grandmother kept the night-monsters.  I knew she had to have night-monsters. I was sure of it.

Here’s what I really remember: the living room was right next to the dining room, which was right off the kitchen. That’s where the blackberry jam scent kept being reborn in my five-year old mind. It was blackberry jam, after all. Dark with the scent of safe…and secure.

Delicious.

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79 thoughts on “MAKING SOMETHING OF IT…

  1. I want to draw you a picture but it has been so long since our last chat. You work is taking me through so many memories and it is always a joy to become absorbed in your words. R., you have such a skill and uniqueness, I doff my hat to you as I have a smile and happiness in my heart. Thank you

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    1. Janet….you funny funny person! Yes, the watercolours are mine. I’m just a beginner. Self-taught. It is really a humourous story, but also boring. So…you’ll have to make something up yourself as to why I feel the need to excel at watercolour painting. Go for it…..

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  2. This should really be in a book Jots. I love those crazy high backed chairs, they have a personality all of their own. Great rendering, especially the way you describe the volume and shape of the chair, in tone and pattern. Lots to catch up on here! Best, Russell.

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    1. Oh, my, Russell….you really aim high don’t you…a book?? I’d like to get proficient enough [first] and brave enough [second] to aim for a small exhibition…just a wee one. Maybe from there a book might not be as daunting. You remain another artist “hero” who inspires….thank you.

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    1. I’ve saved you a seat ’round the table. You glass of milk (don’t spill it) is waiting along with a buttered and jam filled little treat! After we eat we’ll go play on the railroad tracks….!!!

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  3. 64 people beat me to saying how enjoyable – the accont and the picture! We were 3 girls and a boy. My gran was the only one who (briefly) managed to make my straight hair a bit curly, with rags and water. She had a much-loved cat, too, which we didn’t have. You started us all reminiscing, see!

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    1. This post has garnered many a comment, Anne, from others who shared (like you) familial reminisces. How wonderful to know though…that the 3 girls/1 boy family wasn’t just mine. My poor brother…I just love him so!

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    1. I keep missing comments…which usually die down after about two hours after posting. Not so this one. I thank you, Cecilia, for sharing your own good memories of days gone by.

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  4. My grandmother died when I was very small. But my mom had some elderly friends that we would visit frequently. They always lived in dark caves. Why is that? The heavy draperies…maybe they reduced drafts coming from inferior window glass. And of course, in the day I suppose 40 watt bulbs were cheaper than 100 what bulbs. But maybe, too, their eyes were sensitive to the light. Untreated cataracts or glaucoma or something? This is a great post. You took me right along with you and for a few minutes, I was part of your dynamic family.

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    1. So many memories…and it seems (for many) those memories are gathered around scents of the house and/or food from the kitchen! Thank you for coming along as I opened my Grandmother’s front door…The Italian side of her family always welcomed new friends.

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  5. Hey Raye, just giving you a heads up that my post tomorrow nominates you fir a blogging award. Don’t panic 😋. You can accept, ignore, change the rules, respond a year from now. Whatever floats your boat 😋. I don’t usually participate in awards but this one was fun.

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    1. Will thank you now, Sammy so I won’t appear rude if I choose to look like I’m not grateful. Trying to respond to the rules…dives me absolutely into an apoplectic state. You continue to make me smile…award or no.

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  6. Thank you for this story, Jots. The illustration with the chair, the tiny barrel table and the radiator back up the sparseness of the time at the “Grandmother’s”. You had me on the dark room and the jam you never remembered eating and having to sleep in the dark room. Five year old to a “T”!

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  7. Oh, and beautiful picture. How lovely it must be to have all that color and talent inside you.

    I have only happy memories of my grandmother’s house. We would sit on her bed while she rolled my hair with Spoolies (yeah, I’m that old) while we watched Giselle McKenzie on the Hit Parade.

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  8. Raye, my mother in law used to darken her house as well. She did it to cut the utility bill. So, her house in SC was always hot. Although, we smelled her sister’s pies as you did. Good with the bad. Thanks for sharing your memories. BTG

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    1. btg…Of course…why didn’t I think of that “cut the utility bill”. My Grandmother was the original Fruglar! From all the comments, it seems our sense of smell brings back so many memories. Amazing isn’t it that most all Granny houses were scented of sweetness…as we all recollect.

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      1. Frugal would definitely be a word to define my wife’s mother. Raised five kids on a $24K salary. My wife said if she stood with the refrigerator door open, she would be chastised.

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  9. My grandmother’s (and grandfather’s) house did not smell like blackberries or any berries at all. Despite the lack of aromatic similarities, your post took me back to their home, with my three brothers and I wreaking havoc on the peace and quiet. Thank you and kudos for writing such an evocative piece.

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            1. I was going to say I’m on my way… but now I think I should be afraid despite the rum being broken open…

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  10. What a ride down memory lane. A what a place you Grandmother’s (and Grandfather’s, too, but he is less part of this story) place must have been. My Grandmother lived in a big house. What I remember most is the big attic full of stuff that was a great place for kids to hang out. Your painting is gorgeous.

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    1. I’ve read your latest post, Otto, and have to say you are not only an accomplished artist but such a good good writer. Your words hit the mark every single time! I fail to comment most times because my words pale at the other comments left by your fellow photographers. I am hopeful that one day, on one of your many trips to our Northwest that we might meet and discuss our ART…at the very least share a cup of coffee or stein of Northwest beer! Thank you always for your comments about my…stuff. Smiling here.

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      1. That would be really great. So let’s make it happen. I am in the Northwest right now, but will be busy all the time. But maybe when I get back in end of June again?

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        1. Yes please…end of June. Perfect! I was going to ask you about responding to my post so early in the morning…your usual time zone…but then thought you might be closer in miles (here) rather than your home (there)!! I guessed right!! Take care and safe travels.

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  11. I am at my parents’ house right now. My dad went into the nursing home on Monday, so there is a pretty big transition going on. My mom is almost blind and keeps the lights low too. I think it’s the drops that make her eyes sensitive. Like your grandmother’s house, my mom’s house always smells good. She still cooks and bakes. Right now there are gourmet banana bread, pineapple upside down cake and cookies in the house!

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    1. Susie it sounds as if you have a plate full at the moment, and not just yummy desserts! Having cared for both my parents as we transitioned several times…I am with you in heart and spirit. Take care…you have become precious for many. A lot of support coming your way from Portland….Raye

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  12. ‘Early onset of spitefulness’. … *snicker*. You described all of this so well. A little like a horror shoe with just enough pluck, mystery, humor and jam to make it bearable. I know your grandmother. She wasn’t mine, but if I mix several of my great-aunts and the one’s dark house plus the “children should be seen and not heard” admonition each time we visited … well there you have us, eh? My heart beat a little faster during those visits for fear I’d misbehave and bring the wrath of God upon me. Thankfully my grandparents were much more engaging.

    You write as well as you paint -so skilled at both.

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    1. Geez, Sammy…I think we are related. ALL my relatives sound like yours. So there you have it…twins…separated at birth, no doubt. Thank you for the comment…actually the chair watercolour is just practice for a much larger and more complex project I’ve got on the drawing table. Keep your fingers crossed I come out alive…….

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        1. Funny… I’m not even worried. Non only will you come out alive, you will come out on top of the world ~ I just know these things. Don’t bother arguing.

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  13. Dearest Raye,
    Your words, your art ~ I know not which is best ~ except that together, they always move me; never leave me indifferent.
    My Portland fund is growing…
    xoxo Dale xoxo

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  14. I was sad throughout the story for a variety of reasons … but at least the end caused a little smile. Meanwhile, I see that chair as part of the story. Was it one of the types you pushed together?

    How are the roses coming along this spring?

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    1. You scare me, Frank. It is as if you can look into my eyes and see my soul. Not fair. Don’t. Just don’t. Grinning, she asked. Not a sad story…glad you at least got a smile, albeit a small one. The roses in the park are doing well. Did I mention that I’ve planted 20 (count them) of my own in and around my house?

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    2. Oh, the chairs…seat to seat. No, this particular chair is a “draft” of sorts of a much larger and more detailed watercolour I’m working on now. A huge project for me! The chair(s) I slept on were the dining table chairs…not all that comfortable. I was 5…and what did I know about comfort?

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  15. It’s funny how my memories of staying with my grandmother are stronger than my memories of my own home as a child. Perhaps it’s the same for you. My grandma’s home always smelled great, too. And like you, my brother was the only boy out of four kids. But we didn’t pick on him. He and I were only 11 months apart so we were best friends growing up.

    Lovely post.

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    1. Thank you Carrie for the lovely memories of your own childhood. It is ironic what we remember, isn’t it? Yes. My brother and I are quite close now. It is a wonderful happening that deserves a story all its own.

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  16. As I read, I compared your experience of visiting ‘Grandmother’s house’ with my own. My grandmother’s house was dark as well, but thankfully there were enough beds for my sisters and me. I’ll never forget meeting a childhood friend of my mother’s when i was in my early 20’s. The lady said, ‘Tell her (your mother) that I was the one who slept on the fireplace mantle.’

    My grandmother’s home always smelled rich with culinary aromas, though her Parker-House rolls usually trumped other aromas. We definitely had blackberries, and she made a killer cobbler!

    Again, I admire your watercolor and still think your work is New Yorker worthy. Z

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    1. You always say that, Sista-Sista…re: New Yorker thing. I have trouble logging into my own WP account…let alone trying to figure out how to submit a story to a magazine. It just doesn’t seem to fly anywhere close to my abilities, She whined. Happy to see and hear you are having fun and feeling so much better!

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        1. You didn’t!!!! But I see that you did….guess I’ll have to do something now, won’t I….
          I’ve written down the contact www. Will let you know what happens…if anything. You HAVE to come to Portland…..xoxoR

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          1. haha! yes, i did – you’re that good, amiga, even if you did have to sleep between two chairs… hmm, maybe that’s why you became such a powerful spirit! yes, one day portland – i need to do a little magic carpet test flight soon..

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    1. Ah…the memories of the past, Barney. They now seem to take on a life much richer in sound, feel and memorialized vision. Probably for the better…..grin here!
      Thank you always for dropping in.

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  17. You had me the whole time great story love the way you describe you and your family and the jam,just great,Dark with the scent of safe and secure great line

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