When I was young my parents would take us over to my maternal grandfather’s house almost every Sunday evening. I have a great many memories of that house and the people in it.
My Grandfather’s house was a small pale-green concrete-block structure built shortly after World War II in Kearns, UT. As originally constructed, it had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small kitchen, a living room, a small family room, and not much else. I doubt it was much more than about 1200 square feet. Grandma and Grandpa occupied the master bedroom with its rather small attached bathroom. As you came through the door to their bedroom, the wall on the left was covered with a number of cabinets enclosed with sliding doors. On the right wall was a small walk-in closet and the bathroom. The far wall and almost all of the floor was full with the bed. A desk and some shelving took the remainder of the space on the wall with the door.
The front door of the house opened into the living room, but we never used that door — friends and family came in the back door without knocking. If you did walk through it, you came past a small closet and entered the room with a black wood/coal burning stove immediately to your right and backed up against the wall to the closet. Beyond the stove on the right was the hallway to the kids’ bedrooms and the small shared bathroom. Grandpa’s room was across the living room to the left. A pocket door (that I never saw closed) opened into the kitchen from the back left corner of the living room adjacent to Grandpa’s bedroom door. I remember a piano on the wall between the kitchen and living room, a couch and a chair or two, but mostly I remember the stove.
By the time my memories become more than shadows, all of Grandma’s nine kids had grown up and moved away, so nobody slept in the kids’ rooms. However, there were only a few months between the oldest of my cousins and my youngest aunt. There was never a time when there weren’t a gaggle of kids around Grandma’s house, so the toys never got put away. Whenever we visited, we would eventually gravitate to the girls’ room (the one on the right), open the closet, and start pulling out the toys. In particular, I remember an old Fisher Price parking garage, Lincoln Logs, and Tinker Toys. All well worn and polished smooth with use, and all considered far too dangerous for young children these days.
I have fewer memories of the boys’ room. However, I do remember an electric exercise bike that was in there. The thing was built like a tank, and had an electric motor on it that could have driven a car. When you turned it on, the pedals would turn and the seat and handle bars would oscillate up and down. I never understood how it was exercise to let the motor push you around, but it was fun (if dangerous) to get on it in any number of unintended ways and turn it on — especially when we turned the speed all the way up.
In the hallway before you reached the kids’ rooms there was a cabinet built into the wall where Grandma and Grandpa kept games. Board games and card games like Uno were a staple at their house, but never face-cards. I have many memories of playing the game “Memory” with Grandpa. We would lay the tiles out on the floor in the living room, and Grandpa would play with us. As we took turns flipping over tiles looking for a match, Grandpa would invariably take the lead. He would always apologize with a giggle when he made a match at our expense, and we could tell he wasn’t even remotely sorry. Grandpa liked to win.
Behind the master bedroom and just off of the kitchen was the family room. This, along with the kitchen, was the center of the home. They had a television and two comfortable recliners where they would sit and enjoy shows like The Laurence Welk Show. I don’t remember if there was any other furniture, but there was another wood/coal burning stove set in a corner with brick behind and under it. There were nooks in the brick where there were small trinkets, and Grandpa hid his matches there under the bad assumption that we wouldn’t notice them. This room would house the Christmas tree (set in the corner and blocking the back-door to the master bathroom), and was where we did all the Christmas rituals.
When I was about eight or so, Grandpa and Grandma decided they wanted a little more space in the kitchen and somewhere to put a regular washer and dryer instead of the small stacking unit they had in the already crowded kitchen. I remember standing in the family room looking out the sliding glass door watching while Grandpa, Dad, and several of my uncles poured the concrete foundation for a small addition. I had been under the impression that I would get to help, but that wasn’t the case.
Grandpa’s yard was among my favorite places. Grandpa had grown up poor during the depression, and as such he worked hard to be self-sufficient. As a result, he always had series of gardens around the yard that grew all manner of vegetables that Grandma would can. There were also many fruit trees including at least two apple trees, an enormous cherry tree, a few peach trees, an apricot tree, and a plum tree. In case that weren’t enough, all the fences and a several trellises were covered in grapes. Anywhere you looked in Grandpa’s back yard, he was working to make it both beautiful and practical.
Towards the back of the triangular shaped corner lot he had built a play house and heavy-duty swing set with a teeter-totter. Behind the play house, he had built a sort of merry-go-round out of the hub and break drum of an old car axle. The swing set had to have been almost 12 feet tall, and you knew you were swinging high enough when your feet started to hit the branches of the nearby cherry tree. On more than one occasion, the teeter-totter functioned more like a human catapult than anything else.
There was a front porch across the house that had a few steel chairs that were painted white and designed so that the legs of the chair were more like leaf springs so you could rock/bounce in them. The driveway was on the left-side of the property, and was really quite long. It was wide enough for two cars parked next to each other, and long enough for probably four cars before it made it’s way back to the one-car garage. This large expanse of concrete was frequently full of cars from my aunts and uncles. However, one space was always occupied by the pop-up camper that Grandma and Grandpa used when we had our annual family reunion camp-outs in the Uintah Mountains or at Payson Lake.
The garage only fit one car, but it was rather wide given that limitation. Grandpa had built the garage with room for a workbench all along the right side of it. Under that workbench was a collection of tools and equipment, a bin for scrap wood, and the trap-door to a root-cellar he had conned my uncles into digging as a fort before building the garage over the top of it. I remember going out to the scrap wood box and getting out random scraps to play with and Grandpa telling us about how he used to do things like that during the Depression when money was so tight there weren’t any real toys to play with. I also remember going down into the root cellar and bringing up slightly withered apples to snack on.
Another feature Grandpa had built into the garage were coal bins on the right side. He would periodically buy a load of coal and fill the bins so he could heat the house with the two stoves. I remember going out with him to get a few shovels of coal on a few cold visits. Finally, the back three or so feet of the garage was a storage room that was only accessible from outside the garage.
Now… For some of the memories. There was always a small bowl of dried prunes, apricots, and apples sitting on the kitchen table. We would pick out the apricots and prunes because there were fewer of them, and they were sweeter. It usually only took a minute for us to clean it out, so grandpa would go to wherever he had more stashed (often the cupboards on the wall in his bedroom) and come doll out small handfuls with a warning that eating too many would give us belly aches. He seemed to have an almost endless supply thanks to the hard work he put into raising the fruit and harvesting it.
I also remember frequently coming into the kitchen through the back sliding glass door to smell fresh bread cooking and find my grandma there working on something delicious. Often we would ask for a snack, and she would offer up crackers. Almost always she would pull out salteens and graham crackers, then act surprised when we only really wanted the graham crackers. She knew before she offered that salteens were only acceptable if there were no other options.
I was always fascinated by the wood burning stoves. Fire has always had an indescribable draw, and I remember sitting on the fender of the stove in the living room feeling the warmth while I watched the glowing embers. One day, while I was quite young, my brother and I watched Grandpa build a fire in one of the two stoves. We realized that there was a place like that in our house. A metal box with flame inside.
Not long after, my brother decided to test that theory by loading the gas furnace with wood, starting with a broom sick. The end caught fire on the pilot light, and he pulled the stick out in a panic. It was very dry wood, and so it burned quite well and was sporting a two to three inch flame. My brother immediately snuffed the flame in the piece of carpet my parents had laid over the concrete under the furnace. It burned a perfect round hole in that carpet that stayed there for years.