GRAMA IT’S ROSE
The small apartment was hooked haphazardly to the side of the house. It looked as though someone had just dropped it there and it had at some point just leaned into the house to keep from falling down. The house itself wasn’t much better. It was dowdy. The entire structure hadn’t been painted or maintained for years. It was very narrow and tall as though it should be one of many in a row. Tall and narrow to conserve the space next to it for another tall and narrow house and so on down the block. However, there were no other houses on the block in the small northern Wisconsin town. A block or two closer to the center of the town there were blocks with two or three houses until just as you got to the center of town where they were packed side by side as intended. Also crowded into this mixture downtown was the small gas station and the smaller yet grocery store that stood next to Al’s bar.
As Rose drove her small 1998 blue Honda Civic past the Presbyterian Church on the outskirts opposite the small apartment building she was flooded with memories. She noted the tall skinny houses and took a right turn by Al’s bar and drove past her childhood home. She seemed to remember that the reason the buildings were so tall and skinny was that they could put a serious slope to the roofs and the snow would slide off. She parked the Honda in front of the house and let it idle roughly as she looked out the frosty passengers side window at the porch of the broken down house. She could see that someone still lived there. A broken trike and a couple of cheap plastic sleds were on top of the snow accumulated on the porch and there was a fresh foot path through the un shoveled snow up to the door. Opening the door over and over had made half an angel wing in the snow.
She carefully shifted the Honda back to drive and it coughed hesitantly as she babied the gas pedal. She felt the tension leave her shoulders as once more the car was able to over come not having been serviced in years. She Stopped at the one stop sign in town. The intersection only had the one stop sign. It was designed solely to give drivers a longer look at the drunks leaving the bar.
Snow was crusted on the road and the snow banks on the side were way higher than her car. It started to snow and she carefully turned the car to the right and towards her Granma’s small apartment at the other edge of town.
As she edged to the side of the road a snowy rut more or less pulled her into a parking position and she wondered if she would ever get the car out. Rose sat there in her idling car and looked at the apartment. Unlike her old family home the apartment did not look occupied at all. There was an old shovel with the top broke off the handle leaning against the wall next to the two steps and the landing leading to the door. There was at least a foot and a half of snow covering the sidewalk and the entrance with no tracks. She almost decided to put the Honda back in drive and try to make her way back to Milwaukee but it was a five and a half hour drive and even though it was only four in the afternoon it was already getting dark. Rose gingerly turned off the Honda and pulled her coat tighter around herself. She picked up the heavy stocking cap beside her and pulled it down as far as she could. She put on the heavy wool mittens that didn’t match the hat and opened the door.
She decided that she would have to clear a little of the snow on the entrance and the steps in order to even reach the door to knock. She stepped carefully through the deep snow being careful not to let her threadbare tennis shoes get wet . She picked up the shovel and had to bend pretty far over to scrape the snow carefully from the door. Hunched over like that she felt like an eighty year old woman and not the fifty four year old woman she was.
Once enough snow had been moved she stood and arched herself to try to stretch out the pain in her lower back. She returned the shovel to its place and opened the storm door that still had the summer screen in it, rusted and torn in places.
Rose edged her body between the storm door and the entry door and removed her mitten and knocked on the door a little louder than she had intended. She waited for a few minutes then knocked again. She put her ear to the door and to her surprise she heard a voice saying something unintelligible. Rose took a step back and after what seemed like a long time the door opened just an inch.
“Who is it,” a small ancient sounding voice asked?
“Granma, it’s Rose.”
“Yes Granma it’s Rose. Can I come in?”
There was a long pause then the voice asked, “Rose, is it really you?”
“Yes Granma. It’s really me and my feet are cold and wet.”
The door pulled open all the way. The old lady looked ancient. She stood still holding the inner knob and squinting out at Rose.
“My God that is you Rose,” she said and paused before adding, “come in honey, come in.” She swung the door in towards her and took a step back to give Rose room to enter.
Rose took small careful steps off of the snowy entrance and came into the room. She turned and closed the door.
“Can I take your coat Rose,” Granma asked?
Rose pulled her mittens and stocking cap off and stuffed them into the large pockets of the old winter coat and then shrugged it off her shoulders. She handed it to her Granma. Granma held the coat out away from her body and carried it to a large pair of hooks in the wall behind the door. After hanging the coat next to her own she looked back at Rose.
“How long has it been Rose? Oh my goodness, I think it has to be ten years. Your mother’s funeral,” Granma asked?
“I think your right Granma,” Rose answered as she looked around the small apartment. “Nothing much has changed here. Your always so neat and clean.”
Granma smiled, “Well, it’s how we were taught in the old country. You know if you get my age you don’t like much change in your life.”
“How old are you Granma?”
“I’m 92. Can you believe it? But don’t just stand there. Come in, Come in,” she said as she gestured with her hand. “Sit here at the table. And you, how old are you now Rose.”
Rose walked to the small table and sat down in the far chair. “I’m 54.”
“Oh my.” The apartment was very small. There were only three rooms. The kitchen, dining area and living room
were all one room. All of the appliances in the kitchen were small, apartment sized and the kitchen table
that sat just off the stove only seated two. A small love seat was on the far wall. There was just one small window to the outside next to the entrance door by the coat hangers. There was a small door to a bedroom that could fit little more than the single bed and a dresser. Another door beyond that was the bathroom. Almost every open space on the walls in the living room held pictures or porcelain pieces. Memories from the old country.
“Have you had your supper yet?” Granma looked at her watch. “It’s 4:30 already. I usually eat at about 5. I can’t eat to late because then I have trouble sleeping. Will you have supper with me?”
Rose nodded that she would. “I smoke Granma.”
“Oh well, ah, you can smoke out on the front step ok?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Okay I’m going to start supper. You go ahead and have your smoke.”
Rose put her coat on and got a cigarette out of her purse. She opened the door and went out onto the porch.
Granma busied herself setting the table and getting a casserole into the small stove. Rose came back in and hung her coat back up. She sat back down at the table. The table was set with fine china and linen napkins
“Your dishes are pretty Granma.”
“Thank you Rose. I brought them from Germany with me in 1946. They are Villeroy and Boch. I never took them out of the box for years. Thought they were too good to use. After your mom died, well I decided what’s the difference.”
Rose looked around the room. “You have lot’s of pretty things on the shelves.”
“Same thing. They were all in boxes. I don’t know what I was saving them for. Do you see your brother Jim at all?”
“He calls at Christmas.”
Granma brought a small steaming casserole to the table and set it on a wrought iron trivet. She went back to the kitchen and brought back a plate of white wonder bread and a small bowl of salad.
“I hope you will like it. It’s a pork stew with cabbage.” Granma sat down in the small chair across from Rose. “I try to cook something each Sunday that will last me most of the week. I don’t eat as
much as I use to.
Rose took the spoon and scooped some on to her plate. “Do you have anything to drink?”
“I have water or milk.”
“Do you have anything a little stronger,” Rose asked keeping her head down looking at her full plate.
“No, I’m sorry. I don’t.”
“It’s okay,” Rose said as she started to spoon food into her mouth.
“So Rose, tell me about yourself. What have you been doing?”
“I’m still in Milwaukee, Still with Bill. He’s been unemployed for awhile, but does some side jobs. I just do the same as always. Take care of the house. Take care of Susie and Bill Jr.”
“How are the kids, Rose?”
“Well, Susie got married.”
“Married, my. I didn’t think she was old enough to get married.”
“Well, not really. She’s 17.”
“And Bill Jr.?”
“He’s going to join the Marines as soon as he’s out of school.”
“The Marines. You must be very proud.”
“Yeah, I guess so. What with all these wars though.” They continued to eat in silence until they had finished. Granma got up to clean up the dishes.
Rose went out and had a cigarette and when she came back in she sat back in her chair at the table. Granma was sitting opposite her and neither said a word for almost a half hour.
“Rose let me show you some of my pretty things,” Granma finally said as she stood carefully and walked to a shelf above the small couch. She gingerly brought a porcelain elephant from a shelf and put it on the table between them.
“This elephant was made in Italy. Probably in the twenties. Your Grandfather got it as a gift from some of his employees in the tailor shop that he operated in Munich.”
Rose looked at it and slowly picked it up. As she turned it over she almost let it slip from her hand.
“Be careful,’ Granma barked sharply.
Rose looked at her and slowly put the elephant back on the table.
“I’m so sorry Rose. I didn’t mean to scare you. It’s just that these are all I have left.”
Granma picked up the elephant and turned it to face Rose. “You see these white tusks Rose?”
“They’re made of real ivory from a real elephant.”
Granma took the elephant back and came back with a book. She stood next to Rose and placed the book on the table in front of her.. She opened the first page that was full of carefully stored coins.
“This was your Grandfather’s coin collection. He was very careful to collect only the best. You never new your grandfather Rose, but he was a man’s man. Everything had to be just so. Or else. If you know what I mean.”
Granma slowly turned the pages. She put the book back on the shelf and brought over a framed picture from one of the other shelves. “This was a picture of your grandfather. He was still in the army then. It must have been 1942.”
“What happened to Grandpa,” Rose asked?
“Well Rose he was killed in the Battle of the Bulge in Luxembourg.”
“Could I get a glass of water,” Rose asked?
“Of course, the glasses are to the right of the sink.”
Rose got her glass of water and came back and sat down. Once again they fell silent. At some point Rose went back out and had another cigarette.
When she came back she said, “Granma show me the rest of your pretty things and tell me the stories. That was nice.”
Granma smiled and stood. She walked over to the narrow wall that was between the bathroom door and the bedroom door and pointed at the ornate clock..
“This cuckoo clock was made in Germany way over 75 years ago. It hung on the wall in my fathers study. That would be your great grandfather. Wait I’ll get a picture.” She went into the bedroom and Rose could hear a drawer being pulled out. She came back in with a very old picture album. She opened it and scanned page after page until she came to the pictures of her father.
“These pictures look just like the old movies Bill watches all day.”
Granma pointed a withered finger at a picture of young man standing very stiffly erect posing brazenly for the photo. “He was a man’s man. He was an officer in the German army and he was very strict with your grandfather who was very strict with me. I was his only child and he wanted to make sure I was raised properly.”
“He was handsome Granma.”
She looked and smiled a crooked wrinkled smile. “He was handsome. Those were days that were regal. All things had to be done right and proper, and they were.”
She moved the open photo book over to the edge of the table and then continued to show her collection to Rose and tell her the stories. Rose seemed fascinated with it all. She asked some questions about the family at intervals and smoked at more frequent intervals.
“My goodness,” Granma said, “look Rose it’s 7:30. Oh my.” She walked into the kitchen and fussed over the stove top.
“I have to make my chamomile tea. I have to have it with my sleeping pill. It’s the only way I can sleep soundly all night.”
Rose sat at the table quietly leafing through the photo album. She was startled when the tea kettle started to whistle. She thought it a lonely sound.
Granma came back into the kitchen carrying a cup of tea and a large pillbox with compartments for the seven days of the week. Each of the compartments was divided between a.m. and p.m.
“I’m going to let my tea cool while I get my night shirt on Rose. Help yourself to tea.” She left to change and Rose went out to have a cigarette.
They both came back in the room at about the same time.
“All that door opening makes it chilly in here. Sleep on the couch dear. There is a pull on the back. It’s quite warm.” She sat down and sipped her tea to see if it were cool enough. She opened her p.m. pill cartridge and put four or five small pills in her mouth and washed them down with tiny sips of tea.
She finished the tea and as she stood and walked towards the bedroom door the sleeping pill was already taking hold. She stopped at the entrance and turned very slowly to face Rose.
“I don’t know Rose. Maybe if I would have been easier on your mother things would have been different. It’s just that, well I was trained to do things a certain way and I tried to do the same for your mother. She just wouldn’t listen and then wondered why things just didn’t turn out.” She sighed, “she just wouldn’t listen.” She turned and went into the bedroom and closed the door behind her.
When Granma woke up the next morning she lay in bed like always. At first she didn’t remember that Rose had come to visit. Then slowly it began to dawn on her. She wasn’t sure if she was enjoying the visit or not. She wondered how long Rose would stay. She got out of bed and dressed slowly and decided that if Rose stayed longer than two or three days she would have to ask her to leave. Rose was so much like her mother.
She got dressed and opened the door to the bedroom. Granma stepped into the small living room and saw the rumpled pull and the scrunched pillow where Rose’s head had rested. She looked at the front door and could imagine Rose standing huddled in the cold puffing on her cigarette.
She walked into the kitchen and took four eggs from the refrigerator along with the half package of bacon. She put on the coffee. She cracked the eggs and put them in a bowl to stir for scrambled eggs and she put four pieces of bacon in the pan. She reconsidered and added a fifth. The coffee was done and she poured herself a cup and walked to the kitchen table. She sat down and sipped her coffee and watched the front door.
Very slowly she got the sense of seeing something out of the corner of her eye. She turned and looked at the blank spot where her elephant with the real ivory tusks had been. As she continued to scan the room slowly her eyes adjusted and she saw the blank spots where her entire collection had been. She stood and walked into the small kitchen. She opened the cupboard where she kept the Villeroy. It was empty.
Granma turned the burner off from the bacon pan. She carefully put the eggs that were waiting to be beaten back in the fridge. She walked back over to the table and sat. She took a sip of her coffee and pulled the photo album closer to her. She took another sip of coffee and began to leaf through the old pictures.