Saturday, June 13, 2009


We went to look at the Portuguese Water dogs yesterday, after our dentist appointment. First we had to stop off at Magelby's Take Out, in Provo, to get the best chocolate cake that has ever been made. I bought an entire cake...and had them cut us three pieces for the road. What could be better, after a dentist appointment, and before dinner, than a nice big gooey hunk of chocolate cake and some ice cold milk?
And then we saw the dogs. We met the breeder and her husband. They had a new litter to show us, as well as the six month old "show dog" that we were interested in. The puppies were the only thing that Shelby could focus on. They lay there, at eight weeks of age, in a big furry puddle. Each one heaped on to the next, snuggling in to a pool of fur. Every so often Shelby could not resist the urge, and would reach over the pen and pet one. They would all wake up and vie for her attention...leaping up to lick her hand, climbing over one another to see her. She was in heaven. Then, after five minutes, they would all return to the floor, curling up on one another and returning to dreamland. She would stand there, like a hawk, watching over them...waiting for a tail to move, or an eye to twitch, so that she could rationalize that they were awake, and begin petting and playing with them all over again. Meanwhile, Dalton was petting the six month old dog. She was a beautiful dog. And this coming from someone who is not a "dog person". She looked like a stuffed teddy bear. Dalton was trying to hide his excitement, as the grown ups talked "business". I was not comforted by what the breeder was asking...she insisted that this dog get a "Championship"...said that it was up to us how long it took (months, years??)...wanted at least two litters of puppies from her, which would require her being away for a month and a half each time. Oy. As with everything, I want instant gratification. I don't want to put a tomato seed in to the ground and wait nine months for it to turn in to a plant with tomato fruit. I want to plant the seed and have the fruit tomorrow. So it is with dogs. I don't want these puny little puppies whom I have to potty train, and obedience train, and so on....I want this fluffy six month old "puppy" who has already had all of that done for her. Hmmm....she said there was going to be a PWD Potluck (kid you not) the following day, that we were welcome to come to. Another breeder would be there. So we left her with a deposit, (regretting that now) with plans to meet this other breeder and see if she had an equally wonderful dog, with all the hard work already done, with no strings attached. So, the kids were on a high...asking if we were getting all those puppies, and the big one tomorrow. Had to tell them that we would see more dogs tomorrow, and talk with Dad about when we'd bring ONE home. We then went for pizza at some fancy pizza joint in Orem. They looked at me, as I walked in with two scruffy kids, as if I'd just walked in with the plague. I guess this was not a kid-friendly place. The super hot metro-sexual host came and hustled us to an out-of-the-way table, where we hopefully would not make a scene. Then he recommended the closest thing to a pepperoni pizza, on the menu. We ordered, and then all went to the bathroom to wash the PWD off our hands. When the pizza came, it was a bit disappointing to look at. The crust was burnt (one of the fancy perks of the super-hot oven that makes it authentic) but to the kids it looked like a burnt saltine cracker with some slimy toppings. Thankfully they were starving, and knew that this was not a place where they were going to get a kid portion of mac-n-cheese, so after I had cut away the burnt crust, they gobbled it up. It did taste delicious. My drink tasted great as well. We ate at the speed of light so that we could get outta dodge, before the trendy "in" crowd came in for date night. I thought that they'd want to hustle home, but when I asked them if they wanted to see the house that I grew up in, they said yes, so we headed there next. As we drove down the main roads of Orem and Provo, I was overcome with a wave of nostalgia. There were memories attached to everything. At every marquee I'd shout "Kids, that's the gas station that I used to hang out at when I was in high school," or "Hey, there's the Village Inn that I used to get pancakes at after dances," or "That's the grocery store where I used to walk to get ice-cream cones". And then we got to my old street...Main Street. There's really nothing "Main" about it. We had a fire station, and there was the old church house, and beside that there were just humble little homes. It's interesting how different things look with time behind you. I had not been to this house for ten years. A lump in my throat appeared as we pulled up to the curb in front of the house. I went to the front porch and knocked...hoping that whoever lived there would let me come in with the kids and show them around (and not be serial killers). As we waited for someone to answer the door, I took a picture of the green turf that still covered the front stairs. I remember when my grandpa had glued that down. I thought it was hideous the day he did it, and always wished that he hadn't.
I took a picture of the house numbers, the door bell, the gutter. Everything had about a million memories attached to it. Across the street, the same man who lived there when I was a child, was out working on his fence. He looked old to me now, with his white hair. I didn't say "Hi". I hated that guy. He was nice enough. But in my view, as a child, he was unsafe. He had a crush on my mother, which I learned about by finding notes that he had written to her, with gifts attached. He always had an eye on our place. Always seemed to be lurking in his yard for no real reason. As a child, I think I was overly sensitive to leering eyes in the direction of my mother. I fashioned myself as her voice of reason, since to me, it seemed she possessed none. So, I am not sure if the extent of my hatred was justified, but regardless- it was there. And today I was not in the mood to mend fences. So, I just watched him, and waited for the door to answer. Dalton waited by the car. This was a strange neighborhood, to him, and he was not keen on the idea of exploring this old jalopy of a home...regardless of who used to live here. The door answered and one kid after another popped their head in to see who was on their porch. The smell that came out of that house, when the door opened, hit me in the face like concrete. It was the smell of my grandparents...the smell of my old house. How can it still exist..after all this time? Nothing noxious, not a smell that you can put your finger on...but a distinct smell that is the combination of all the flavors, and days and memories mixed in together. And so, one darling face after another appeared, inquisitively. I told them that I used to live here...that my grandpa had built this house. And that I was wondering if I could look around outside and show my kids. Then their dad appeared. He looked a bit life had thrown him for a bit of a loop. I could see why with all of these darling, disheveled little smiles beaming up at me...and the mess that I spotted behind him. That would be enough to put anyone over the edge. He said that a cousin of mine had come there before, and that it was fine to look around outside. And thus began the trip back in time. I took pictures of everything. The big evergreen trees that had become enormous, the driveway lined with it's fruit trees that had seen better days, the back driveway that used to house all of the old beater cars that my grandpa intended to rebuild or take apart, the back patio where I used to play with my cousins, the back door handle, with it's combo lock that all the neighbors knew the code to, and so on. As we went from one spot to another, this heard of kids followed behind, around, and in front, asking questions about their home. "Did this tree used to be here when you were a kid?" "Does this look the same as it used to??" I told them about the area behind their swing set, that used to be a garden. I remember running out in the middle of the night to help my grandfather cover the tomatoes from a late summer storm. I remember rows and rows of sweet peas that we would eat off the vine. And raspberries that stained our lips a shade of fuchsia that always gave us away when we swore that we'd been no where near the raspberries. And grandpa chasing the birds away from the strawberries...they must have thought he was hilarious. He fashioned a rotating sprinkler in to a scarecrow of sorts, to try to keep them away. The garden was multi-functional as it also housed the remains of our pet cats. They thought that that was pretty sweet that they had their own Pet Cemetery in their back yard. There had been a small cinder block storage garage on the property. We never went in there. It seemed haunted to me. Old chairs hung from the ceiling. Dust covered old furniture. It is no longer there. There had been old barrels that bees would nest in, tools and house parts strewn back there as well. We even had a kitchen sink...honest. As a kid there was some security in it...the fact that I had so much stuff constantly surrounding me..and so many people...that I could never be in trouble. I could always rummage around some part of the property and find what I needed. If I was hungry- I'd go to the garden. If I was bored- I'd go exploring in the junk piles. If I wanted company- I would knock on my cousin's door, or find my grandfather and see what he was up to. I showed the kids the gooseberry bush that I used to ravage daily when I was little. No matter how many plump little berries I'd pick, the next day it seemed there were twice as many. I saw the old patio chairs that were on our deck, and almost burst in to tears. How many Sunday dinners had we been seated in one of those, out on the back deck? Everything about the house was better, and worse than I remembered. Seeing these rag-a-muffin kids, living in the same manner that I did, made it almost come back to if I had stepped back in time. One was climbing the cherry tree, picking cherries for Dalton and Shelby. One was skateboarding down the long driveway. The two big girls were following me around, hanging on my every word. I asked the eldest girl about her life. She told me that her mom was sick...that she'd been in and out of the hospital a lot the past year. She told me that she didn't get out of bed a lot. My heart sank. Here were these little scrappers, not so different than me twenty five years ago, with this little grey house trying to support them amidst it all. It was a support...this house. With all of it's quirks, and supported us. It was tear jerking for me to hear this out of this girl's mouth. This little girl, who was acting as the mother to her little band of siblings. I knew something of that role when I lived in that very home. I hugged her. Dalton, and Shelby, meanwhile had made new best friends with the herd. They were eating cherries and spitting out the seeds, skateboarding with all of them, running and laughing and climbing trees. So much of who I am was formed and fashioned within the walls and on the property of this home. A lot of my nostalgia came not from my memories, but from my grandfather who built the home. He is now dead, and I mourned him while I was there, as if I was visiting his grave site. This was the home that he had designed and built with his bare hands. Every nail hammered, every tree planted, every thing designed by him. So I grasped as I left...grasped at anything and everything I could get my hands on. I pulled clover out of the yard..the same clover that grew unyielding when I lived there. I pulled out one of the evergreen boughs. Anything tangible- I wanted. I wanted a physical part of my childhood...and even more- I wanted a physical reminder of my grandfather. I almost asked if i could take the lawn chairs with me. I snapped a picture of the mailbox before we left. Still visible were my grandfather's initials and last name: H O Johnson. I always had to explain to my friends, why my mailbox had the name "Ho" on it. Harold Otto was synonymous with sainthood, in my mind. As far as I knew, the Earth did not house a more perfect man than my grandfather. I truly could go on for days about the love that I felt for him. I will on another day. Suffice it to say, it was hard for us all to leave that little house that day.
On our way home we drove by my old elementary school, which has since had a makeover, and the house that Gavin and I lived in when we were first married. Not sure what the kids made of it all. Maybe it makes no difference to them. Maybe it makes all the difference in the world.

1 comment:

The James Family said...

Hey Ashley, its melinda (your cuz). I just wanted to thank you for this post about Grandpa, it helped me remember him and I too have my own memories of that house, so thanks for reconnecting me. Love ya!