Unc lives here with Gramma, Daddy, Kathy, Mary Ruth and me. But I don’t get to see him all that much, because when he’s not at work teaching arithmetic to big kids, he’s in Gramma’s basement making jewelry and pottery and radios. And I don’t go in the basement much. First because basements are dark and creepy and make great homes for spiders and ghosts and other scary things, and second because in Gramma’s basement there’s a big pile of black coal that Daddy and Unc take turns shoveling into this stove with fire inside. I’m afraid it’ll just suck me up if I go near, even if the door’s closed.
Daddy and Unc, they love me. But Gramma loves me more. I know this by the way we melt into each other when I climb into her lap. I lose track of where I end and she begins. Daddy and Unc lift me up high into the air sometimes. They each do it for all three of us in turn when they come in the front door. First Kathy, then Mary Ruth, and then me. I love it when it’s my turn, and they spin me around. I laugh and giggle and snort. It’s like I’m one of the sparrows outside soaring up, up beyond the trees. Then it’s over, fast as a slap, and they’re off to work, or to answer a phone call, or to fix a broken window. But Gramma with her voice so kind and hair white and fluffy is always here. It doesn’t matter if I make a lot of noise, or if my sticky fingers leave dark spots on the swirling patterns of her silky smooth house dresses. My fingers, my shoes, my spit, my tears are welcome in her lap anytime.
Sometimes she feeds me right in her lap, fruit cocktail in heavy syrup, but not from the can. No, the can she opens in the kitchen with her slow moving, gnarly fingers. They’re so different than mine, so lovely to touch. They have wrinkles and veins sticking up and looking like they’re trying to tell me a story I can’t quite understand, and long hard nails to press with my fingertips. These hands pour all the yummy chunks of pear, peach, apple and just a few cherries into a glass bowl of crystal that fits right into Gramma’s palm. Then she sticks in a spoon, a “Laura-sized spoon” she says, because it’s small enough for my mouth to get around without scraping my teeth. Then, ever so slowly, she walks into the living room. It’s always in the living room on one of her straight-backed upholstered chairs that I climb into her lap for fruit cocktail, even though in the kitchen there’s a table with a white-flecked top and shiny silver trim, legs that are cool against my fingertips, and matching chairs that I like to bounce on. We could feed me fruit cocktail there, but we don’t. There’s the dining room too, between the kitchen and the living room, with a lace-covered table and chairs with soft dark brown seats with faint golden stripes, and cabinets full of dishes and old stuff—antiques, Gramma calls them—like a box lined with royal blue velvet with Gramma’s silver inside. That was a wedding present from long ago when she married my grampa. He went to Heaven when Daddy and Unc were boys, and he never came back. Gramma has a picture of him. He’s got brown hair slicked down and a stern look in his eye. He’s wearing a green suit that looks a little too tight. We could feed me fruit cocktail there too, with Grampa in his frame, keeping an eye on us, but we don’t.
I have another grampa. Grampa O’Neill. He’s slow moving like Gramma with a fringe of white hair around a sad, plump face. He used to hold my hand and lead me down the stairs in front of his great big house on Garfield Boulevard. It has giant round columns that hold up the roof above his front porch. There aren’t any columns here on Birchwood Avenue. Grampa O’Neill never comes here. He’s never sat in Gramma’s living room with us where sunlight from Birchwood Avenue flows in, muted by the light layer of soot on the windows and curtains that gives everything inside a snuggly, smoky warm feel. I get plenty of sunshine outside in front, on the sidewalk. Inside I get this lap, this way of being with Gramma, where all the wonderful sounds and smells and rushing of the world stop for a while, until I’m ready to go into the bright again, which I do several times each day, happily, except for when Gramma says it’s time for a nap.
I hate naps. Whenever Gramma says it’s nap time I scream and cry and bounce up and down. I don’t do it on purpose; it just happens like when Daddy lights a match to a cigarette, it lights up. I light up like that when anybody says it’s nap time. But Gramma takes my hand and just walks me to Unc’s room, me bouncing up and down all the way. She lifts me into Unc’s bed saying, “There we go now.” And the funny thing is before she’s out of the room I’m asleep.
We don’t nap under Unc’s covers; we stay on top. And that’s not where we sleep at night because, well, at night that’s Unc’s place. He gets the room all to himself. When Daddy’s home he has the living room couch, and Kathy and Mary Ruth have the dining room. Gramma makes neat beds for them by putting dining room chairs together. She covers the seats with pillows to make them nice and soft, and then a sheet folded just so, so each group of chairs is like a miniature bed. Kathy and Mary Ruth climb in, and Gramma covers each of them with another folded sheet and a blanket and gives each of them a pillow for her head too. I don’t know why they don’t fall out, but they never do. Gramma says it’s because they don’t roll around as much as I do.
Each night I fall asleep in Gramma’s bed. Tucked under the covers, I clutch Binkie, my pink blanket, with both hands, and lean against Gramma’s soft breast. But once I’m asleep, Gramma says there’s no holding me still. I tumble and roll all over the place. She says it’s because I never stop being a scamp, even in my sleep. Every morning I wake up in a little cardboard box at the end of her bed that she’s lined with a soft yellow blanket to cushion my fall. I always fall off the foot of the bed. It’s just one of those things that happens sure as the sun rides through the sky. And Gramma leans down and says, “Good morning, Laura, you little rascal, you. In the box again, are you?” Laughing, she reaches her hands down, and I grab hold of her wrists. She lifts me up, puts me onto the floor, and I slide into my day, happy to leave my dreams behind because each night when I’m tossing around in Gramma’s bed, I’m having the same dream again and again, and I’m glad it skitters off to wherever dreams go once I’m on the floor in the morning light, ready to play.
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