Thursday, November 2, 2006
Could it be one of my great-grandmothers?
Every kid needs some “perfect people” to believe in. For me, these were my paternal grandparents who indulged my every desire, and catered to my every wish.
As well as I can remember, they never uttered a harsh word. I also do not think I ever misbehaved in their presence, for when I went for my long summer visits Mother and Daddy solemnly admonished me to always say “please” and “thank you,” clean my plate, and do exactly as I was told.
Because those visits were so much fun, I tried very hard to be a good little boy and mind my grandparents.
My grandparents, three aunts, and a cousin six years older than I, lived in a grand old house in the Central Gardens area of Memphis. My grandparents were retired and all three aunts were career women. The eldest was a private duty R.N. at Baptist Hospital, the middle one was a trust officer at National Bank of Commerce, and the youngest, the mother of my cousin who was six years older and a much-admired playmate, taught senior English at Central High School.
At my grandparents’, I was allowed to stay up as late as I wished, to have all the apple pie I could eat (regardless of whether I had finished my vegetables), to spread out my toys in the living room, and to get covered in mud doing “road construction” in the pile of sandy loam in the back yard that Granddaddy used for his rose garden.
After supper we would set forth in the family’s new blue and white 1957 Chevrolet (with fins!), for a soft ice cream cone at the Dairy Queen on South Bellevue with the polar bear out front, and then, to watch planes take off and land from the side of the runway on Airways — (a big fence there now blocks your view). Or we would ride to West Memphis just to cross the (then new) Memphis-Arkansas Bridge, or we would go out to Chucalissa Indian Village and I would enjoy those ghoulish excavations with the skeletons still in place in their graves, just as the archaeologists had found them.
Did I mention my grandparents had television? (It was three flickering channels, and snowy WKNO), but that was way more channels than you could get down in Mississippi in those days.
And did I tell that I was allowed to actually sit in front of it and eat my supper from a TV tray? This was never allowed at home, and I remember that Granddaddy’s favorite show was “Gunsmoke” — quite a thrilling show for the time!
When bedtime finally came there would be tomorrow’s activities to look forward to — a visit to the Pink Palace (to shudder at the shrunken head from Ecuador, or watch how the black light made fluorescent rocks glisten as if they were radioactive — you recall, this was the era of the Cuban missile crisis!).
The afternoon would bring a trip on the electric street car — (I rode in the era when power came from overhead wires, but the vehicles rode on rubber tires — the original trolley tracks recently restored had already been taken up by the time I came along).
Then it would be a visit to the hobby shop in the Falls Building behind Gerber’s, or a stop at the Kress Dime Store next door for an ice cream soda, and usually we would go to the Malco (now the Orpheum) to see one of the wonderful Walt Disney feature-length cartoon pictures.
Memphis was a small boy’s paradise — even church on Sunday seemed like a cathedral compared to our small congregation in the Mississippi Delta.
Grandmother and Granddaddy would give me the choice of attending a children’s Sunday school class to be with kids my age or go with them to their class. I always chose to go with them, and I hope they were pleased, because I’d like to think they wanted to “show me off.”
My grandparents died when I was young. That is the reason I can remember them as “the only absolutely perfect people I have ever known.” Time takes its toll, and eventually my three aunts, along with my grandparents had all passed away.
The house was sold, and from time to time I would drive down Linden to see it and think wistfully about the good times I had in the old place. I hoped the house had found owners who would be creating their own memories.
Events took an unexpected turn last year when I was leafing through the Commercial Appeal and was stunned to see the old house featured in the Home and Garden section.
A young couple, Ted and Cathy Morton, had purchased the house and had done it over in grand style. He is a pharmacist, she a psychologist. They mentioned in the article that they knew little about the home’s history — so I sat down and wrote them a letter.
This spurred further communication, which culminated in an invitation to dinner with the Mortons, along with Reb and Mary Haizlip. (Reb, a well-known Memphis architect, had initially purchased the house when my aunts sold it about 1990.)
Mary, also an architect, had married Reb after he had sold the house to the Mortons, so this was her first time to see it also. They are all delightful people, the kind of gracious, down to earth folks who make you feel you have known them all your life.
We shared a delicious meal and toured the house from the basement to the attic. For all the wonderful improvements that have been made, it still felt like the “essential house” was the same. We told all the stories and reminisced late into the night. I even told them the memory I had of how you could hear the claws of the old family dog, a Spitz named “Lady,” clicking on the wooden stairway, every Halloween. (I did!).
The house is not really haunted, but in spinning tales, that is the best I could do. However, appropriate to the Halloween season, there is a mystery. The Mortons showed me a beautiful framed photograph they’d found in the recesses of the attic, wedged way out under the eaves. It is a picture of a beautiful young woman — the clothing leads me to guess it was taken in the 1880s.
Could it be one of my great-grandmothers? Or one of those great-aunts about whom I heard so many stories when I was little? I have the picture, and I am hoping Daddy’s cousin Fred will know the answer. I am sending him a copy and will let you know what we find out.
So the recollections of wonderful childhood visits in my grandparents’ home have a new chapter — one I could never have anticipated. Now there are happy memories again, and it is wonderful to know that the old house in mid-town continues to be a home with people who care lovingly for it and for each other. (I also liked that they had three dogs and two cats to complete the domestic scene!)
P.S. — The security code for my burglar alarm is the phone number to that old house. It was one of the first number sequences I ever learned, so I knew I’d remember it in a panic!
(662) 252-4261 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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