When I was young, we usually drove up Provo Canyon to go to Grandma Jane’s house. When I was older, we went up through Salt Lake more often. I was never quite sure how to get there, only that each moment of the drive was familiar. When I finally drove up there by myself, I could do it mostly on instinct. I didn’t know which way was north or south, but I knew which way was the right way.
We didn’t stay for that long–just an afternoon or over lunch time. We would pull out the single toy box. Sometimes we would wander around outside. We came and saw parades in the summer; we went sledding in the winter. On occasion, we would stay the night too, pulling down the murphy bed in the living room.
They had an old motorhome that I would venture into, but it felt forbidden and a bit frightening. There was always stuff on the hillside, stuff in the garage, stuff in the storage areas–I never touched it. The backyard was full of weeds, but the deck in the front was perfect: we would get pieces of bread and throw it out to the ducks.
They almost always had a duck or two, and I would watch the duck paddle around, dunking its face in the pond.
There was often a dog to greet us as well–for a long time, it was the ornery P.C., who would yap whenever we came to the door. Grandma obviously loved that dog, squishing his mouth so he would say Mama to her as he growled.
Some of the furniture never moved–the bed always up against the wall; the heavy dining room table sat underneath the gold chandelier. There were placemats that we got out every time we ate there, protecting that table. We pulled them out of the black and gold buffet that separated the dining room from the office. I never used placemats anywhere else in my life except for at Grandma Jane’s house. She had a large hutch holding china and old love letters I couldn’t read.
Grandma always had a computer, and sometimes there were games we could play on it–old games that I don’t remember anymore, but they were always different games than what we had at home.
She had a TV on a tray by their bed, and another TV in the living room next to their pellet stove. We would stand by the pellet stove, heating ourselves up. And in the other corner of the living room, next to the murphy bed, Grandma had her electric piano. It could play itself, but Grandma also played it, often improvising whatever she felt like.
There were family pictures taped up on the back of kitchen cupboards. Remnants of a mission to the Philippines. Old paintings from art classes long ago.
The doorbell could sing different songs. The bathroom doors were accordion doors that never quite stayed shut all the way–and you had to walk through the whole bathroom and close the door on either side.
We sat on the reclining sofa or gently swung on the old rocking chair. We would go through their alphabetized movies and watch some of them. We would play with a single box of toys–space men with their space base and a sailor with a floating marina.
And then if I was brave, I would go outside and would wander on the white roof for a moment, or look in the root cellar were there was a large, white rock and a dim lightbulb shining on shelves of food storage.
Grandma’s house was magical. I never wondered too much about the trellis on the ceiling that held up shiny insulation. I never thought the walls of carpet in their laundry room were weird. They just existed.
It was always a sort of home for me, a safe place where I was loved.