Friday, March 23, 2012

Farewell to the Mother Ship

Last weekend, my grandparents house was sold. My grandmother went to be with God more than a decade ago, and my grandfather just passed this December. Grandpa was still living in the house he and Grandma designed together with an architect in the late 1950s, where they had raised their six kids and entertained their 12 grandchildren for decades.

In an area of the country where a house built in the 1970s is often called "old," the Kelley house gave us all a sense of being rooted. It was large by Southern California standards: five bedrooms and three baths with living and family rooms on a single level. And it had a yard, a glorious expanse of grass bordered by roses and Oleander trees, plus a fruit and vegetable garden.

I loved my grandparents' house. I loved playing in the room my mom slept in with two of her four sisters. I loved the ashwood cabinets that line almost every room and hallway, the retro frosted glass levered windows in the bathrooms, the big utility sink in the laundry room where all my siblings and I have washed ollalaberry stains off our hands after picking them from my grandpa's bushes. I loved the red and black bathroom that was my only uncle's, and bathing in the salmon pink bathtub in the "girls" bathroom. I loved the cork floors in the bedrooms, covered by round rugs that had been raked (raked!) into perfect lines. I remember tiptoeing around on the exposed corners of the soft cork to avoid making footprints on the spotless rugs.

I loved the sweet peas and roses Grandma would pick and arrange all over the house; she never visited my mom without bringing a bouquet from her garden. She made jam and cobblers from her berries. Grandpa grew tomatoes and enormous zucchinis and bitter green peppers that never seemed to ripen all the way.

My grandparents' house had its own smell. The smell of cork and old wood and good furniture and clean. The tool shed -- where we'd retrieve worn badminton and croquet sets to play with our cousins -- had it's own smell too: charcoal briquettes and gasoline and tools and pine and rubber hoses. To me, it's the smell of summer and childhood -- and bliss.

My mother's childhood home feels more mine than my own childhood home. It's our Mother Ship, where my parents had their wedding reception in 1972, my grandparents had their 50th wedding anniversary and we danced in the covered carport Big Band music played by a DJ; where we help my grandmother's wake, and my Aunt Mary's (the youngest of six children, who died in her 40s). I had sleepovers with my cousin Kelley here, shared laughs and secrets with Anne and Colleen.

Now it is all gone. But we gave it a good send off. On St. Patrick's Day, no less, which my Irish Grandpa would have loved and my Norwegian grandmother would have said was typical; somehow our Irish roots always got more glory.

We showed up -- Jeff, the girls and I -- in the pouring rain on St. Paddy's and found my mom weeping in the living room. She and I walked arm in arm in the house and saw it for first time all over again, the way you can see a space you've known forever when it's totally empty.

Then we took a shot of Bailey's Irish Cream, and put on some Irish/Celtic music. My brother and his wife showed up with their two children, and eventually, we were all jigging in the living room (none of us actually know how to jig). Then our kids played hide and seek -- paradise! -- and experimented with which cupboards were big enough to climb into.

It was a beautiful day, and instead of being depressing, it became one last good memory, the ashwood-lined hallways ringing with the Kelley's great grandchildren's giggles -- laughter from children Grandma didn't live to meet.

My mom was smiling when we drove off in the rain. And I, with a bouquet of my grandparent's pink camellia's in my lap, blew a kiss. Farewell to the Mother Ship.

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