Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Memory Day: To Grandmother's House

If you were to tally up all the vacation days I spent outside of my hometown as a child, the bulk of them would take place in Burton, Michigan (a small town of 30,000 just outside of Flint). Michigan was the home of my grandparents on my mother's side, and the defacto place for my parents to dump the kids on extended holidays and revisit that long-lost concept, the "quiet house". The town of Burton was on the dulling edge of modernism, boasting a shopping mall roughly the length of a basketball court with a Little Professor bookstore and an indoor fountain.

In Alexandria, we would pile into our peach Nissan Stanza (license plate XVX-881) at 7 AM for the ten hour trip north (despite continued attempts by my Dad to leave at 6) and journey forth with a McDonald's hashbrown stop in Breezewood, Pennsylvania, and a rest stop in Ohio chosen based upon a complex mathematical equation which included how many sodas were consumed, how many empty screw-cap bottles we had in the car, and whether or not the Pennsylvania Turnpike had made my sister carsick. Once we'd passed the "you must be this tall to catch a connecting flight" line, my sister and I would get bundled onto a Delta flight through Dayton, to arrive in Flint that much quicker.

The first dinner of every trip was always my grandma's macaroni and beef casserole, which is probably why I eat a lot of Beefaroni today (just like the mandatory manual labour in kindergarten is responsible for the fact that I am 125 pounds of unadulterated monster truck force now). My parents would then depart the following morning and the vacation would officially begin.

My grandparents lived in a moderately sized rambler with a backyard that could comfortably accomodate a herd of migrant wildebeests -- it had an attic room over the garage and a dank, scary unfinished basement that I refused to go into for many years because it resembled a scene from the original Psycho movie which I somehow ended up watching before I was 10. Every house in the neighbourhood had well water, which was slightly more appetizing than pee pee.

As a kid, I had vacations that were true and pure of heart, ones where there were too many days to plan out, and never any worries about a premature ending or the return of the school year. My sister and I would wake up leisurely in the morning for a homemade breakfast of pancakes and bacon (or a weekly trip to the local Scotty's) while watching poorly animated cartoons on HBO like Tom Sawyer and Belle and Sebastian, followed by the more high-class Adventures of Babar. After this would be a full hour of I Love Lucy which was deemed safe for kids.

At ten o' clock, we would be ejected from the TV room because HBO would start showing PG-13 movies. It might have been a conspiracy, since my grandpa's favourite game shows and soap operas started soon afterwards. For the rest of the day, we gallivanted between four major areas:

  1. The Attic: The little room over the garage was defined by its regulation-size pool table. Pool, though, is a little slow-paced for kids, so we would often play a variant of air hockey which involved my sister and I taking opposite ends of the table and rolling balls at each other in real-time, followed by much yelling from my grandpa. The attic also had a working bar where we could pretend to be raging alcoholics, and two closets filled to the brim with childhood artifacts of my mom and her brother. I spent plenty of time playing with a mock slot machine that ejected slugs when you got three cherries, or building an obstable course with the 1940s era building blocks and setting up dominos to knock down through it (because no one really knows how to play the game of dominos). This attic is also where I amassed most of my current record collection and learned the magic of the Peanuts through the original comic anthologies.

  2. The Neighbours': Next door lived the Beard family, whose house boasted a woodworking shop (where Mr. Beard made me my beloved practice sword which I wielded for years until my ADD friend, Tony, bashed it against a tree until it snapped), a full-sized pool, and an in-ground trampoline. Most mornings, I would spend a couple hours doing death-defying feats on the trampoline and then innocently wandering around the pool area until Mr. Beard noticed me and removed the pool cover for the day. The pool had a slide and a diving board, but strangely, I didn't really like swimming unless it was over 88 degrees. This was also where I got the scar on my knee (I was running in the Don't Run area). Going to the Beard's was a catch-22 some days, because they had some very spoiled grandkids that insisted things always go their way in games. One week, my sister and I convinced our grandma to tell them we were on a trip for a week when they came over, and we spent the rest of the week hidden inside.

  3. The Living Room: In the living room, we read books from the local library, played board games, invented new board games, had Easter Egg hunts, and tried to play with the surly cat, Cody, who would inevitably scratch someone. Once, Cody brought a dead bird into the house, hid it, and I stepped on it in the dark. This room is also where we did our mandated 30 minutes of practice on the piano, since our parents figured that summer vacation was the perfect time to turn us into little Asian virtuosos. Twenty years later, and I can play the first movement of the Clementi sonatina from memory. In the winter, the fireplace was a major novelty, not only because I am a pyromaniac, but also because our fireplace at home was always irrepairably broken and I thought this was a tragedy.

  4. The Yard: When I was a kid, Michigan had the largest, most painful mosquitos in the Western Hemisphere, and I probably caught malaria at least three times. When the weather was humid enough to prevent giant mosquito attacks, we would play in the yard, climbing apple trees, picking fresh vegetables from the garden, or making a fort in the tiny woods next to the property. I actually buried some treasure in my fort with a map leading to it, so it's probably still there today, buried under a decade and a half of dirt and pine needles. Since the treasure consisted mainly of slot machine slugs, I doubt it's worth the effort to dig up.

There were many more memories from Michigan, like the clay figurine painting phase, the mortifying playing of TAPS every night, and the week long Mankala championship, but these will have to wait for another day. What do you remember from your grandparents' house?

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