Grandma’s house was tiny when I returned to see it, all those years later. She moved there after Grandpa passed, when I was young, perhaps three or four. They say the old place was just too big for her to handle. As a child I thought Grandma’s house was enormous and wonderful. I like the childhood memories best.
It was a block off the town square, on a quiet tar-and-chip street with a pronounced crown. Between the street and the cracked, uneven public sidewalk was a deep drainage ditch, deeper than I was tall. You could sit at the bottom, in the closely mown grass, lose sight of the world around you, and watch the clouds drift, puffy balls.
A massive spruce tree covered the front of the house. The boughs were allowed to grow naturally, sweeping down gracefully, as if in a deep bow, touching the ground all around. The house hid behind the boughs, the ends peeking out. An alley ran along the right side of the house, two cindered ruts through close cropped clover. Running parallel to the alley were two more cindered ruts, ending just before the house, parking for guests.
A narrow sidewalk ran from its intersection with the front sidewalk towards the house, along the second set of cindered ruts. As it reached the house, the little sidewalk turned left and disappeared into the boughs, seemingly swallowed by the big spruce. But an equally narrow, carefully manicured break in the lower boughs, just tall enough for a human, made a covered arch for the sidewalk to wind through to the front door.
The arch shaped break in the boughs opened up the interior of the tree, the space between the trunk and where the tips of the boughs touched the earth. It was like a separate room, dark, cool, fragrant from the pine needle floor and the sticky sap oozing from the boughs. Grandma kept gardening tools in a small shed that fit under the boughs, hidden from the world. Small children hid there as well.
The house was brick, covered in deep, dark green ivy. If the house had a color, nature had long ago replaced it with her own. The ivy seemed deep enough to swallow me, my arms too short to touch the brick through the thickest part. The ivy gave the house a soft and shaggy appearance, as if it had grown, rather than being built.
At the back of the house, at right angles to the little alley, was an aluminum carport where Grandma would park her 1963 Rambler American. Just off the carport, under a small but shady tree, was a glider swing, the kind made for two people, a fixed frame with the seat and arms and back suspended by heavy springs from the frame. And, as the heat of a summer day spent running and jumping and howling cooled, a small child was soothed by the embrace of Grandma in her apron and the rhythmic creak of the glider as it swung, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.