My grandmother passed away last Sunday, and so I’m writing about her home on Flower Street in Costa Mesa, California, this week, which has always been a hometown of sorts for me. I missed hometown week because of her passing and a broken computer and other drama we really don’t need to discuss, but I’m back and I’m going to talk about hometowns, dammit.
My bike had streamers on the handles, flowers on the plastic, wicker-like basket, and a banana-seat, complete with purple daises. My brother and I rode up the big hill and through quiet neighborhood streets regularly to get to her house, the small, unanssuming one-story, which, when it was built, was in a normal lower-middle-class neighborhood of entrepreneurs, families and farmers, and is now disappearing next to McMansions and other vast signs of affluence.
We were careful to walk our bikes through the gate into the backyard, remembering our uncle’s warnings about our Grandfather’s booming yell when an errant bike was left in the driveway. By the time we came along, though, Grandpa had mellowed out, humming gently to hiumself as he and Grandma went about their daily tasks, calling me “darlin'” with his big, charming smile.
Their house has wide doors to navigate wheelcchairs through, something Grandpa had written into the plans himself – a special customization for him and Grandma’s needs in an age when ramps into businesses were rare and the ADA was a newly-conceived novelty.
Everything about their home reflects their life – the vases and cuckoo clocks that Grandma cherished, the flat, hard carpeting and low cupboards that spoke to their resilience and unwillingness to let decades of wheelchairs and crutches determine their lives, the avocado tree in the backyard that we loved to climb.
Grandpa taught me how to water plants and Grandma showed me how to wrap china. We went on grocery-shopping trips in order to help with reaching high shelves (sometimes we got to stand on the seat of a wheelchair, to our delight) and we heard stories of Ohio ice-skating ponds, Huntington Beach skinny-dipping, of a childhood shattered by polio, but built back up with love, hard work and family.
We laid on the hard carpeting on our bellies with coloring books and crayons, slept on the curved, seldom-used couch, watched The Wizard of Oz on an ancient wood-paneled television, learned to appreciate jazz music and spent hours perfecting somersaults and cartwheels on the front lawn. In the concrete outside the garage is carved the names of my grandparents and their kids: “Marv and Lucy – Lynn, Kathy, Diane, Dud”
Diane is my mom, and I always remember seeing those names and running my fingers over them before we raced down the sideyard to put away our bikes or clanged through the garage in search of buried treasure. It grounded my childhood, making me feel like part of a legacy, as though my little life mattered because it was built on the courage and generosity of the people who had carved that concrete before I was even dreamed of. I’ll always cherish that house – I don’t know what will become of it now that my grandparents are both gone – but I do know that I’ll never see an extra-wide door without thinking of them, or pick up an avocado without remembering climbing that tree on Flower Street.