My strongest memories of 407 Wilson Street are dominated by authority and laced with love. My grandmother holds unquestionable reign in her house. Being a mother of five in a government town, it’s just how she has learned to live.
Her living room had two focal points – the television and her chair. As a child, my seven cousins, three siblings and I secretly referred to it as “the throne.” It had three tables surrounding it covered in lamps, pills, pens, books, magazine articles, magnifying glasses, candy, and dried flowers. Behind the throne’s high back lived the switch: five feet of supple wood designed to invoke terror into disobedient childrens’ hearts.
The kitchen – decorated entire in a green ivy motif – was clearly visible from the throne. There we received thousands of lunches: peanut butter, margarine and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat with Lays’ potato chips and half a peeled carrot. We invariably had gingersnaps for dessert after lunch, and neapolitan or butter pecan ice cream and orange sorbet after dinner. Her cupboards always held more than food. All the sewing equipment and garden tools resided in the kitchen. The fridge was strictly off-limits. My grandmother’s kitchen conjures images of meatloaf, broccoli, potatoes, and TV dinners. Because of her, I eat plain rice cakes like candy.
The east end of the house held the bedrooms. Hers and my grandfather’s bedroom has always been decorated in browns and oranges – brown carpet, olive green shades, orange walls, brown bedsheets… One entire wall was papered with a photograph of fall foliage. There were two small cutouts of cartoon owls pasted above each of their twin beds. Anytime we as grandchildren were invited in it was to help clean or to hear a piece of family history.Next to the bedroom lived my grandfather’s den. He spent the majority of every day in the den up until the night he died. The den held the “Spinny” chair, the stereo, and near the end, his hospital guerney. The walls burst with college photos of my strikingly handsome grandfather and portraits of my grandmother in her nurse’s uniform along with the many awards he won for assisting with the development and production of the world’s first atomic bomb.
Entering the back bedroom was walking through the looking glass from the front (my grandparents’) bedroom. Two twin beds in the same place, dressers, windows exactly in mirror position. But the walls were white, the carpet cream, the shades rose colored and always open. When staying over, this is where we slept. Between the twin beds a small table supported a lamp and a cup & pitcher set. Before we slept, the pitcher was filled with cool water in case we needed a drink after the door was closed for the final time at night.Everything in 407 Wilson was immaculate. Always. Here I learned how to properly make beds and to dust correctly. I learned how to prune rosebushes and wash dishes. I quickly learned to keep my voice low and to put things back where I found them. Yet – there was one room continually messy. It was almost out of my grandmother’s dominion. The sun porch served as the toy room. Blocks, beanbags, dolls lived on the lovely sun porch. Baskets of books, tops and marbles stood like candy bins for us to raid. All treasures our parents spent their childhood breaking in for us. The shag carpet was soft, the walls were half windows with screens. The door (conveniently located next to the throne) could be shut without question so we could play in peace. This was our land.
The antithesis of the sunporch was the basement, a place we rarely visited as children. As soon as we set foot on the stairs, my grandmother noticed and hollered at us to be careful. We weren’t to touch a single thing downstairs, not that we wanted to. The washer and dryer squatted along one wall and the kitty litter boxes stunk up another corner. And there were two storage rooms: the washroom (nothing like a washroom)…and the box room.