Joe's Truck Packed to Work on the House in Arkansas
Visiting Grandpa in Arkansas
When our children were small, we made many trips from New Orleans to a small town in Arkansas, El Dorado, to visit their Grandpa. We all called my husband's father Grandpa with a great deal of affection. As we got nearer to his house, the kids would sit up and start looking out the windows. The five-hour ride that they had complained about all day no longer seemed important. As we pulled into the sloped driveway, they would see Grandpa standing at the backdoor, watching for them. This was long before the days of cell phones. He simply figured out how long it would take for us to arrive. As he picked them both up, he always said, "I thought you-all would never get here!"
I want to write about Grandpa's house today because my husband is in Arkansas repairing and painting it after our renter of eight years finally moved. He called a moment ago to say that he'd removed 72 small nails where the family had hung everything from Sponge Bob posters to religious material on the walls. There were dried black-eyed peas taped to the top of each door frame, I suppose to ward off bad spirits. I may try it. The back bedroom is painted lavender with purple trim. Oh, my goodness.
For six years after Grandpa's death, we were simply not psychologically prepared to rent the house. It seemed like a betrayal of some kind. It just didn't seem right to have someone living there who was not family. My husband, an only child, had no one to argue in favor of renting the house. We went up two or three times a year and stayed a few nights. The house became covered with mildew, slowly deteriorating. The doors and cabinets warped, and the house slowly became rundown. Eleven years ago, we reluctantly decided to rent it, and the third person who lived there just moved out after eight years. She was not the ideal renter, often getting behind on her rent, but she always caught it up. She had three small children and we thought Grandpa would like that.
The Living Room: My Children's Playroom Years Ago
The Living Room
The photo shows only about three-fourths of the living room. The other end has built-in shelves on which Grandpa kept "whatnots," as he called them. They are all packed away in the garage at our place in Kentwood now. The pretty things that were popular in the '50s and '60s are considered clutter today. Grandpa sat in his rocking chair and looked out the front storm door for many years of his life, watching football, Gunsmoke, or his beloved Lawrence Welk on television. His rocking chair is in our den in New Orleans. We moved it there when he came to live with us. The living room was my children's playroom when they visited Grandpa in the summer. I remember rocking them in the prickly green chair and sitting in the floor with them after their baths when they both wore white gowns that the drawstrings had long come out of and that floated free around them as they played with their toys. They loved to build things with their blocks or line up their dominos in a row, then touch the last one, making the whole line fall.
Grandpa always called the bathroom the "restroom." I have no idea why. I suppose he thought it sounded less crude than bathroom. It was painted a bright yellow. There was a line strung along the top of the shower for hanging clothes, still left over from Grandpa's wife, who died two weeks before I met my husband. There was also a closet with shelves that I used to love to nose around in. Grandpa had every sort of medicine known to man, but used mostly Dr. Tichenor's and BFI Power, his favorites. He thought those two things would cure any ailment.
After Grandpa was in his 80s, he would come stay with us for long periods of time. I took him home one year because my husband was tied up with business. The day before I left, I made him a huge pot of soup and cleaned his house. Grandpa was never one to accept help gracefully and kept trying to push a $20 bill on me to pay me for what I had done. I finally took it and left it taped to the bathroom mirror when I departed for home.
The Purple Room. Oh, My!
My husband's room remained Joe's room until Grandpa died. We spent many nights in that room. I remember the wind blowing across the bed from the attic fan and hearing Grandpa's deer hounds, Vick and Skipper, barking from their pen in the backyard. Then I'd hear Grandpa go out, turn the hose on and wet them down, telling them to shut up and go to sleep. Of course, they didn't, and I'm sure the neighbors were thrilled when they both finally died.
Joe's room still had the pictures of dogs that his mom had hung when he was young and on the bureau was a glass from Pat O'Brien's, located in what was eventually to become our home, New Orleans. Joe and some friends visited there when they were seniors in high school. The closet held the croquet set which my grandchildren, 8 and 10 years old, now play with every time they visit us.
I'm sure this was our renter's little girl's bedroom. The lavender walls do take a bit of getting used to, but will soon be a creamy yellowish white like the rest of the house.
My children used to spend three or four weeks every summer with Grandpa. They had beds in the small den. Grandpa had hung several sets of deer antlers on the wall of his former den. My young son and daughter told me that many nights they would get scared if it rained and the lightning lit up the antlers. They would run and jump in bed with Grandpa and stay for the rest of the night.
Grandpa kept the buffer for the hardwood floors in his room. It was a huge commercial-looking buffer. He always kept the floors shining and immaculate. In his closet, he kept huge cloth bags full of ammunition for his many guns. He was an avid deer hunter as well as a retired policeman. The children loved to look at all the old things in the top drawer of his bureau and they fought for the privilege of holding his badge from the police department.
House with a Soul
There is just something about that house that speaks of comfort and peace. I thought it was Grandpa's presence, but after his death when we stayed there at different times, I felt the same feeling. Perhaps there is a part of Grandpa there still, but the house itself has a certain appeal. There is nothing fancy about it. It is a small house by today's standards, although the living room is large. The whole house has beautiful hardwood floors, which my husband has hired someone to refinish. The kitchen is bright and cheerful. The counters are red. It has pine paneling that is a thing of beauty. I can still remember all those summers in the '60s with the attic fan going and the children running through the house. And Grandpa was generally in the kitchen, cooking a roast, black-eyed peas, corn bread, etc. The man was the best cook in the world. I still miss his squash with just a touch of bacon drippings. He also made the lightest, crunchiest peanut brittle in the world.
I remember many evenings watching Razorback football games with Grandpa and my husband in the tiny den before we made it into a bedroom for the children. Grandpa would prop his feet on his LSU footstool, bought at the one bowl game he attended, and light up a stinky cigar, then sit back to enjoy the game. His fat dachshund, Greta, would climb up in his lap and sit for the whole game. The attic fan was always on in the summer, bringing the scent of gardenias in from the backyard where he had the largest, most beautiful gardenia plant I'd ever seen. I have never seen one like it since. He rooted gardenias for friends by putting cuttings in Coke bottles (yes, glass) and filling them with water, then putting cotton around the opening of the bottle. I have no idea what purpose the cotton served, but they always took root.
The House Goes On
I asked my husband if our renter had a garden and he laughed and said no. I was thinking about when the children would visit Grandpa, he would let them pick pickles from his garden (cucumbers). Some houses have certain smells and sights that bring back memories of old times, and that house is definitely one of them. I can almost hear Grandpa talking about how the red-tailed hawks are beginning to make a comeback and starting to tell one of his many tales of his days on the police force. We have decided to put the house on the market. Part of me wants to keep it, an emotional part, and another part knows that we don't make enough renting it to warrant all the hassles involved. Of course, if it doesn't sell, we will rent it again.
I wouldn't want to live without air conditioning, but I miss the breeze wafting in the windows from the attic fans everyone had back in those days, and I miss the smell of gardenias.
I Can Still See Grandpa at His Stove.
I wrote this article several years ago, about six, I think. We never put the house on the market and about a month after it was written, the house was rented again. Two different people stayed a few months, then left because of lost jobs or transfers. Our current renter has been in the house for almost two years. She raises dogs. I think Lloyd would like that as he and Joe's mom raised dachshunds at one time. We drive past the house on Virginia when we go to our cabin to fish. It represents something for me. I haven't figured out what, but it is something important: Another kind of life where the air is not refrigerated, the lawnmower is not automatic, the fishing poles are cane, and Grandpa is in the kitchen.