When I was a boy, nothing beat a night at Grandma’s. It was free, the rooms were nice and cozy, and the award-winning food was, well, worthy of winning lots of awards. Even though she lived in Cleveland, her kitchen was sautéed in southern hospitality and smothered with goodness. One whiff of her chicken and dumplings drenched my taste buds with delight and turned my knees into Jello.
Grandma’s house was filled with things bought at garage sales, craft fairs and fabric stores. Grandma loved collecting treasures and making things. There was always something to do and see. I remember in the basement digging inside freezers the size of coffins for ice cream. She had every flavor in the book! Butter pecan was my favorite. I also remember my older brother locking me in the cellar with the canned fruit and vegetables. There were creaks and strange noises around every corner. There was something both soothing and unnerving about Grandma’s basement. She had this giant furnace that shook and rumbled any time a child under the age of 10 was around.
I will never forget Grandma’s attic. My brother and I hung out up there and spun 45’s on an old turntable. Bobby Darin and Bill Haley splish-splashed and rocked around the clock while we scoured the sports pages of the Cleveland Plain Dealer for batting averages and golden statistics. The attic was a great place to play hide-n-seek and other games with my brother. But I dared not venture there alone because of the sword-toting knight in the corner. I could swear on a stack of bibles he moved his eyes once! “It’s only a statue!” Grandma explained. “Grandma, it’s alive,” I cried. To make matters worse, it seemed like Grandma was always asking me to run boxes up there.
“Mickey, take these boxes up to the attic and I’ll make you some hot cocoa.”
“Uh, Grandma, wouldn’t you rather send Norm up there? After all, he’s older!”
After pleading my case without success, I’d run up, toss the boxes into darkness, and sprint like Jessie Owens back to Grandma’s kitchen. Waiting for me was a meal of grand proportions. Mouth-watering meat and potatoes with buttermilk biscuits. Or city chicken and stuffing with apple pie for dessert. And how could I forget those tiny wieners wrapped in flaky croissants. We’d gobble it up faster than Grandpa could say, “More pie, Eunice!”
Night fell on Cleveland and off to bed we went. The sheets were soft and cool, the blankets tight and snug. My mind drifted to morning when the smell of Grandma’s waffles tickled my nose and carried me on cartoon clouds to the kitchen table. My brother and I competed to see who could eat the most. Leftovers meant having to answer to Bo (a dog of unusually large size and appetite) who lived in Grandma’s garage.
“Mickey, take these leftovers to Bo and I’ll make you some hot cocoa…”
Years have passed. When I think of Grandma, she is wearing an apron and making waffles while I sit at the kitchen table reading the sports pages. Grandpa’s coffee is brewing. My brother is upstairs getting dressed. My baseball glove is on my lap, a grass-scuffed hardball tucked inside. If she were with us, I would ask her if she wanted to play catch.