“Sometimes, ” said Pooh, “the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” A.A. Milne
Why fit in when you were born to stand out! Dr. Seuss
Last night I dreamed about the house on Washington Street. It was a magnificent house, one worthy of an uplifting dream, a sea captain’s mansion in a shipbuilding town in coastal Maine with its winding halls and front and back stairways and closets big enough for after-school clubhouses and an attic with dance floor and puppet theater and cedar closet playroom. It was every child’s dream to live in such a house and, indeed, I did during my elementary school years — and, last night, it was alive again fifty years later.
It was tulip season and I was seven, just finishing first grade, when we moved into our new home. And, even though our house seemed like a castle to me — partly wonderful with its six fireplaces and elevator in the hallway and huge kids’ bathroom with claw foot tub, and partly scary, too, with its never-ending corridors and closets and a back wing that might very well be haunted — we weren’t royalty and the house wasn’t in pristine shape and my mother spent the next months and years painting room after room after room. It wasn’t a whim for my parents to buy such a humungous dwelling. My mother and father, who were raising four kids, knew that, in the coming years, their aging parents, three of them, would be moving to Maine, in with us in our mansion-castle-house on Washington Street. So, with future grandparent-plans in place, we settled into our new home, and the scary stopped being scary and the wonderful became more wonderful and we four kids took over the attic playroom and the clubhouse closets and the front and back stairways and we made every bit of that castle our own. And, eventually, some years later, it did happen; Grandma Helen and Grandpa Perry and Grammie Emma moved in with us, and our house, the wonderful home that I dreamed about last night, was big enough to hold us all.
And it was Grandma Helen that I found myself thinking about a few days before my dream, remembering her gold bracelet, the one that her sister, my Great Aunt Florence, the jeweler, had made for her, the one with eleven circle charms on it, each inscribed with the name of a grandchild, remembering how I sat on her lap when I was small and fingered each charm, each name, of the boy cousins and the girl cousins and each one of my siblings and one for me, too. Grandma Helen was not a run-around-the-house-with-us type of grandma, a spunky take-us-for-walks sort of gal. She was old and arthritic, with swollen ankles and a walker and she sat in her chair and we came to her. That’s what I was hinking about, how it was the simple things that seemed special when I was with my Grandma. She loved her grandkids. I know that for certain, felt it in the charms of her gold bracelet and in the warm feeling that soaked into my bones when I cuddled up next to her. During mornings at Washington Street, I watched her brush her long wavy hair and twist it on top of her head into a tight braid, watched her pull on silken layers of old-fashioned undergarments and pat perfume behind her ears, watched her clasp the blue lapis necklace that is now mine around her neck in a ritual that readied us both for the day ahead. She spent hours knitting baby sweaters and booties and taught me to knit and to purl and though her knitting lessons didn’t take hold like they did for my big sister, I remember how fun it was to try. And, when I was older, Grandma Helen hauled out her tiny measuring tape, and, with all the professionalism of a real taylor, wrapped it around my Barbie’s breasts and waist and hips and made for my doll the most marvelous off-the-shoulder perfect-fit yellow mermaid-style dress.
And though I don’t have a physical bracelet with the names of my grandkids — Viren and Addie and Baby Girl Not Yet Born — etched on their own special charm, I wear a metaphoric one, jam-packed with the precious details of our time together. That’s what I was thinking about when Grandma Helen’s bracelet popped into my mind in the Seattle Airport on the way back from a recent visit with my kids and grandkids in Idaho, how it wasn’t a dramatic eight days, no one lost a tooth or had a crisis or won a nobel prize. It was not the type of week that makes for a good story, complete with lessons learned and fresh new perspectives carried forward. The moments of the week were strung together into a a bracelet of the ordinary, moments that maybe only a grandmother and her grandkids feel are extraordinary. On the two days that I spent alone with one-and-a-half-year-old Addie, I plopped her on the toilet seat and she watched as I smeared my face with lotion and brushed my eyelids with make-up. She gasped with delight and clapped her hands as I poked the wires of my dangle earrings through the holes in my ears. And together we chose our outfits for the day. Addie is a sponge for words and seemed to learn a hundred new ones each day of the week. And her cousin Viren, who is four-and-a-half is also a sponge for words and is spelling out every street sign and billboard that he spies from his carseat. And Viren skipped, a buoyant exuberant lift-up-each-leg-sort-of-skip, down the hallway, the whole length of it, the night he and I stayed in the La Quinta Hotel, and I followed him, slipping into my own exuberant skip as I caught the fumes of his enthusiasm. I could tell you a million things, how Viren climbs in Addie’s Pack and Play, unzips the little door for her to join, then together they grab the sides and shake and scream and Addie’s fine hair turns electric and sometimes she is wearing one mitten and one sock and the two cousins think it is just the most fun in the world and their grandmother does too. The week was like that, every day filled with those moments, moments that I now wear on my metaphoric bracelet. I am glad that I am a grandmother. And I am glad that I remembered my Grandma Helen’s bracelet and the precious ordinary details of our time together. And I am glad that I dreamed of the house on Washington Street.
In my dream, I am out west, perhaps in Idaho, and the setting is part family reunion, part yoga retreat, and it is sunny and warm, and, sometime during the activities, I notice it, the house of my childhood, sitting there on a grassy knoll. And I am amazed, confounded, in awe of how such a big place could have been moved across the country. But there it is, in front of me, and I am filled with excitement. I prop Addie on my right hip, take Viren’s hand, exclaim to my older brother who is present with us too, “Come on! Let’s go in!” I think I know as I am moving through this dream that this house that was so magnificent and fun in childhood is even bigger now, big enough to hold even more of us, east and west, young and old, living and present in spirit.
And from this dream, I woke up happy.
The house on Washington Street in coastal Maine; Grandma Helen and baby Helen,1956; Addie and Viren in the Chariot in Moscow, Idaho, March 2017.