Oh man. Saturdays at Grandma’s. My parents moved from Buffalo to Charlotte when I was only a year old, but we regularly visited New York every summer. We had family in Buffalo and in a small, weird little town called Gowanda in Western NY. It was the town where my parents met, one of those towns whose heyday was in the forties and fifties, but somewhere lost its verve and could never really regain it. Like a sad guy who always tries to relive his high school football days. Both my maternal Grandmother and paternal Grandfather lived there, just down the street from each other.
There were one or two years where I spent the summer with my Aunt Jeanne in Orchard Park and she’d sometimes take me to see Grandma for the weekend. My grandma’s house was filled with a sort of comfort for me, even though she had very few toys I could play with. We’d get there Friday night and I’d wake up on Saturday morning in that thin green Chenille bedspread and be so excited to be at Grandma’s. I woke up fairly early so I’d go downstairs and eat my Cheerios with about one pound of sugar poured in. Grandma was good about setting out the bowl, cereal, and utensils the night before, so I wouldn’t have to wake her up. Smart thinking, Grandma.
If by some chance, Grandma woke up while I was eating my cereal, I would go back upstairs to check. By about 9 am, she’d still be asleep. I spent some time in the upstairs hallway looking at old photographs of the family. Grandma had seven children and it was so neat to see my aunts and uncles when they were kids. I looked around for toys- there was a wooden doll in my room with red yarn for hair which was just sort of a let-down. So I would go downstairs and make my own fun on the porch. Grandma had a can of Tinker Toys. Those amused me for a little bit, but I quickly got bored.
Grandma would still be asleep by 10 am, so I’d go back downstairs, trying to avoid walking over the sharp areas where the floor rugs were stapled to the hardwood. I’d try to find something else to do downstairs, which would usually consist of walking around in the wooden clogs my Dutch aunt gifted my Grandma and which sat out on the porch on a metal shelf next to some dusty plastic flowers. Then I’d spend a little more time looking at the painting of the Jean Maio-esque big-eyed little blonde girl in the yellow dress and yellow umbrella. Those things were so popular in the sixties. I’d also wonder at the puffy toilet seat cover Grandma kept in the downstairs bathroom. I did not care for it.
Grandma didn’t wake up until sometime between 11:30 and noon. She’d get something to eat and I’d get dressed because it was officially daytime and Grandma was up! But daytime to Grandma only meant time to catch up on her stories. It was Saturday so she’d watch re-runs of Days of Our Lives or some other soap. I’d go outside, feeling the rough black sandpaper of the porch steps on my bare feet, and make my way to the creek in the backyard to try and catch crayfish for fun (yes, that’s what us northerners call “crawfish”). After that and some other stuff, like playing in my Grandpa Charlie’s old office, or getting up the courage to explore the creepy basement, I’d ramp up the porch entertainment a notch or two by shouting at random strangers who walked by outside and then hiding.
The afternoon would go on like this until dinner, when Grandma would whip up a nice Spam sandwich with chips and fruit jello on lettuce. She’d shuffle her feet under the table contentedly as she regaled me with scandalous stories about how when she was a secretary at a bank years ago, she knew her boss was cheating on his wife because she would type out letters from his dictation and watch him sign a romantic personal note at the end. The life of adults amazed me.
Dinner was followed by Strawberry “Whorl” ice cream. For some reason, Grandma couldn’t say the “S” in “Swirl,” so it became “Whorl.” I remember seeing it come out of that freezer drawer thing at the bottom of the refrigerator and thinking how novel that was. A freezer on the bottom! We’d spend the rest of the night chatting some more while we watched the Lawrence Welk show and I ate delicious Canada mints out of that red glass candy jar she kept on her coffee table. I think she had one in the dining room, too. Canada mints galore.
After Lawrence Welk’s riveting entertainment, I’d go upstairs and take a bath in the big bathroom with Suave shampoo and a window that overlooked a big tree that my Grandpa was always terrified my mom would climb up and see him doing his business. When I was a little older, she told me that when she and her younger sister Annie were teenagers, Grandpa Charlie would often pound on the bathroom door when he had to poop, and yell for them to hurry up because he was “getting pressured, god-damn-it!” I’d dry myself off in one of those thin, threadbare towels that barely passed for a washcloth, get in my jammies, and wake up to do it all again the next day.