This is a memory of the past, and some philosophizing on it.
Many years ago, in the early- to mid-1990s I’ll say, I was visiting my grand parents. My grand father stayed at home mostly watching political TV (C-SPAN etc.) while my grand mother would take when she went a-visiting.
One she always went to was an old widow’s place. It was a average size house in an old part of the already aging municipality, a check of the County’s Real Property Svc list shows it was from 1852 (!). Obviously it was modernized with time.
That side of the street was up hill from the road, so you had to climb sidewalk steps to get there. The littel 1 car garage was built at grade level, but it was always disused as she had resigned her license long ago. One of the little obolong windows had a crack that I always noticed, and if you looked in, you could see the cinder block wall being forced in by the earth in behind it.
Going up the sidewalk, there was a side porch I’m told was the kitchen. Through that and a step up was the living room. This is what I remember most of all. To your right was a door into a hallway to the bathroom that had been installed down there for her. There was a large old(er) radio on a table that she kept tuned to the local dispatch frequency(s). To the left was an outside wall with, I think, the TV. In front of you was another wall, but there was a rocking chair (I think, a wooden chair of some version for sure) that the owner and titular widow, Emma1, always sat in during those visits. I never remember seeing her anywhere else but in that chair, talking with my grand mother, who would sit on the couch along the right-side wall.
On the left-side (outer) wall there were some older (1980-ish) children’s toys I would play with (I was quite young, remember). I remember there was some kind of a plastic piano or xylophone I would sometimes use under the TV table.
A N Y W A Y, the right hand wall was actually the side of the stair case. To her left was the landing for the stairs and the couch to her front left. About 5 or 7 steps up these stairs was a curtain or drape. I don’t know what this was about, as I remember the side of the staircase was open all the way up and there wasn’t any curtain on the side.
One visit, I climbed the stairs in a kind of shy way. I was young enough that it wasn’t creepy or invasive, and they both were entertained by it. I don’t know if I said that I wanted to see upstairs. If I did, I know I wasn’t at all good enough with English to explain why. My grand mother said “You had better come back down now, [name]” in a normal tone2 and I did.
I still want to know what is in old widows’ and dudes’ upstairs. Not attics, those are entirely different. I mean the second floor of the old farm houses and town houses (not townhouses). If there are stories of those people, their loves and losses, their times and “lights of [their] days” that the world could make use of, I want to know them. I want to know those by talking and looking and asking and listening to the last one standing who was there. Listening to them, both of us at ease and unannoyed, in the master bedrooms and children’s bedrooms and linen closets and similar up there.
Occasionally I’d ask someone about this, but my grand mother, who is my introduction to most old people, always tried to disrupt me. Most likely she decided it would embarrass me to be told “no”, so should would be embarrassed ahead of time, on my behalf.
My consolation was that, for all that, I got to see what was upstairs in her house. I still get a tingly feeling that, as easily accessible as it is to me, it is intensely private to all but maybe 10 other living humans. I knew but didn’t understand, even so long ago, that things in my mother’s bedroom would be in exactly the same position come next summer vacation.
- To my mind, “Emma” has always been the quintessential “sweet old lady” first name. Although both my mother and her mother have pretty disused ones. ↩
- My point being, that phrase could be said in many different tones. My grand mother might be sad or disappointed with me, but I don’t think she was ever obviously angry. I am certain she never struck or threatened me. ↩