For the last post of the summer, my dear, we shall remember the place of many happy, lazy August days, a place of many high adventures and many a blood-curling episode – my dear Grandmama’s spare room.
I cannot recall anything I ate at her house, although I lived there for several weeks during several summers. I have no idea what we had for breakfast and no idea how anything got cleaned – I never saw her with any type of cleaning implement. I don’t recall her every writing (although she did write letters when I wasn’t visiting and was a firm believer in thank you notes) or yelling or arguing or complaining although there was a little bickering with grandpapa about the TV being on. He liked to watch the news and sports; she never watched anything. I can’t imagine her cussing – I am not sure if she ever drank alcohol. She certainly never gambled. She gardened, fed her two cats and she read – that was her life.
My grandparents lived in a tiny house that had been built after World War II. It had a tiny living room connected to a tiny dining which could fit the six-person table, a low serving table, and a china cupboard with dozens of tea cups decorated the flowers, but I don’t ever remember seeing her drink or serve tea.
There was a kitchen, one bathroom and two bedrooms – one for each of them. Grandpapa’s was spartan, with a few paintings of fish and his fishing poles leaning in the corner. Grandmama’s room was overcrowded with her four-poster bed, mahogany dressing table, three wooden dressers and several small bookcases. Every surface had a lace mat covered with framed photos, small silver or wooden boxes, figurines, old fashioned perfume bottles, jewelry boxes, small china bowls and carved animals. Every fabric had a floral print and there were chiffon scarves draped everywhere. There were small oriental carpets, an upholstered chair with a matching footstool and a closet full of dresses in plastic bags. Heaven!
But even more heavenly was the spare room – painted white with windows on two walls, the window sills were lined with clear glass bottles filled with colors water with plants in hanging pots in front of them. There was an old-fashioned iron bedstead with a white chenille spread, a closet with all her dresses from the 1930s and 40s, a little writing desk and… and entire wall of books. 15 feet long, over eight feet tall – the shelves had been built when they moved into the house, painted the same color as the walls and filled with every possible book that a mid-20th century gentlewoman would read,
Classics of course, from Shakespeare to Austen, but also every Mary Stewart, Mary Renault, Dick Francis and Agatha Christie. Daphne Du Maurier had a place of pride. Fairy tales from every culture. Louisa May Alcott in editions from her childhood, James Herriot, L. M. Montgomery, A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, a little suspense, sometimes a little information about a far-off place, bravery and fair play winning through. Elizabeth Barret Browning, Emily Dickenson, Edna St. Vincent Milly, and Christina Rosetti, but not Sylvia Plath. Kurt Vonnegut and A Clockwork Orange did not exist for her. She subscribed to Reader’s Digest for decades, not just the magazine but the book club with shortened versions of “great books.”
Long summer days I lay on the bed or on the back lawn and read, read, read, read and read.
These days, of course, there is a much higher standard – one must have a life devoted to something, one must make the world a better place and have a purpose. I can’t remember how she voted or any particular opinion she had on any political topic beyond the fact that she revered Queen Elizabeth. She never traveled but all of my adventures, my trips to Bali, India, Greece, Shanghai, Australia, Iceland, Gibraltar, the Seychelles, Hungary, Provence, Jordan, Italy, Hong Kong, Rhodes, Thailand, Norway; every plane flight, train ride, ferry journey and bus ride; Malaysia, Manchester, the Maldives, Maine, Munich, and Malta; Cyprus, Corfu, Cairo, Corsica, and Crete – everywhere I have gone, the journey started in Grandmama’s spare room.